CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Elia Morrison, Ward 2 Councillor

“I am running because while Guelph is an amazing place to live, we have a long way to go to ensure that we are a city that is equitable and affordable for everyone. As a city we have been unwilling to make the bold choices that will lead us to a greener, more affordable, and inclusive future – a future that I hope to help move us towards.”

Why are you running for city council?

I am running because while Guelph is an amazing place to live, we have a long way to go to ensure that we are a city that is equitable and affordable for everyone. As a city we have been unwilling to make the bold choices that will lead us to a greener, more affordable, and inclusive future – a future that I hope to help move us towards.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a city councillor?

I’ve lived in Guelph with my partner since we moved here in 2013, coming from Toronto. I’ve worked at Ed Video Media Arts Centre since 2015 and my current position there is Technical Director. In my work at Ed Video I’ve had the privilege of working with a wide range of people who live in Guelph, and working with a number of community organizations and groups. I have been able to support artists and individuals at all stages in their careers, groups working with immigrants, B-Corporations, entrepreneurs, charities, and folks who just want to preserve some precious memories. This experience has given me a unique perspective of the people of Guelph, and the common goals we all have – the hope for a better life and a brighter future.

In all the positions I have held in the past, and all my personal projects and endeavours, I’ve always done my best to be transparent and responsive to people’s needs, and find positive solutions to people’s problems. I try to always act with empathy and understanding, and make sure that people are receiving the supports that they need – even if I am not the one to be able to provide them.

What do you think was the most consequential decision made by city council during the 2018-2022 term?

I think the lack of ambition, the desire to stick with the status-quo, is the most consequential “decision” of the past term of council. Guelph is a rapidly growing and changing city, and we need to stop acting like decisions that worked for a semi-rural university town are going to continue to serve the people who live here into the future. The recent assessment of Guelph’s plans by city-building expert Brent Toderian should serve as a good wake up call, we’re not on track for our climate and growth targets, and we can’t keep building car-centric sprawl in the way we have been.

Another example is the ward boundary changes and the opportunity to change the structure of council. I won’t claim to know what the right decision would have been, but I do feel that the previous council was happy to let the boundaries be shuffled, and to stick with the same system of 12 part time councillors that has been good enough. There was an opportunity for significant change and modernization, but we didn’t take it.

Council needs to be making bold decisions to build for the future and stop holding on to the Guelph of the past in the way that we have been.

Guelph has to make accommodation for 208,000 people and have 116,000 jobs ready by 2051. What’s your growth strategy, and how will you co-ordinate with developers, neighbourhoods and community groups to achieve it?

We need to grow upwards, with amenities where people live and work, and with a focus on transit, walking, and cycling instead of the private vehicle. Density is the only option if we want to be able to reach these targets sustainably.

We do have a lot of what can be considered NIMBYism in Guelph, particularly where it comes to increasing density in areas that are historically populated by single family homes, and with concerns around increasing traffic and adding more cars to neighbourhoods. We should be respectful of these concerns, and work to ensure that we increase density smartly and with understanding of the established character of neighbourhoods, but we can’t be held back or stop densification simply because some people don’t like the idea of an apartment building or student housing in their neighbourhood. Taller buildings can have stepped designs to ensure streetscapes are more pleasant and open, and we should encourage parking to be included within the structure of the building instead of dedicating huge swathes of land to stationary cars.

We must also ensure that transit is a viable option so that fewer parking spaces are required, and that we encourage neighbourhood scale retail and other amenities to it is possible for people living in neighbourhoods with increasing density can access what they need where they live.

Homelessness and the mental health and addiction crises are having a profound impact on Guelph, what can be done at a council level to address these issues, and what will you do as an individual councillor to address them?

People suffering from mental health and addiction need to stop being criminalized and instead be provided with properly funded services to receive the support they desperately need.

We must ensure that anyone who needs safe shelter is provided with it, and in providing this shelter we can further support people through addiction counselling, overdose prevention, mental health services, etc. It is widely understood that it is far less expensive to simply house people than it is to let them remain without anywhere safe to stay, and by providing housing and other supports it enables people to support themselves and eachother, and to eventually escape cycles of poverty, addiction, and mental health issues that our current systems are essentially built to trap them in.

Would you support a more collaborative relationship between the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington? What would that look like?

Absolutely. We can likely work more closely together on any number of points, especially considering Guelph is the urban centre of the county. This is admittedly an area I am not as well informed in, but things like regional transit, supportive housing, and protecting our scarce groundwater are vitally important and will serve to benefit everyone in the region.

How would you increase accessibility at city hall? How will you make sure that your constituents feel well-informed and well-represented in council?

People should feel like city hall isn’t a monolithic entity that they can’t access or even approach, and there are a number of ways we can encourage people to participate. Firstly, councillors should come to the people, creating opportunities for people to interact with them in their neighbourhoods – this can be simple like setting up for a few hours in a park or something more complex like a multi-day forum exploring a variety of topics.
I also believe in providing people with information from city hall in plain language so it is easier to understand the by-laws, zoning plans, and other vital information that effects their lives.

Movements like Black Lives Matter and the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools have made the creation of more equity and inclusion at city hall a top priority. How will you help promote greater representation and work to create more equity and inclusion at the City of Guelph?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential at all levels of government and in all political action. As a cisgender white man in my mid 30s I’m definitely aware of the fact that I am not a representative of any traditionally excluded group, and that any work I do to promote greater representation or create equity and inclusion needs to be in collaboration with these groups. I believe in providing space, sharing my platform and privilege, and amplifying voices instead of speaking for or over them. I also believe that consultation and education efforts undertaken by members of traditionally excluded groups needs to be recognized for the labour that it is and compensated fairly.

This is probably a good point to acknowledge the lack of trust that many in our community have for the Guelph Police Service, and that in many circumstances the presence of police will make people – particularly racialized members of our community – feel unsafe. As a city, and as a society, we need to create alternatives to policing so that in moments of crisis people can receive actual support instead of being needlessly and wrongly criminalized.

The City of Guelph, as a corporation, is responsible for three per cent of emissions locally. What will you do to encourage and assist the Royal City to reach it’s net zero and 100 per cent renewable goals?

Electrifying the municipal fleet in an obvious and important component of reaching our goals, along with ensuring that new builds and renovations are done with sustainability in mind. We can also look at simple retrofits such as ensuring municipal facilities are heated with efficient heat pump technology rather than natural gas, adding rooftop solar or green-roofs wherever possible. Properly funded (electric) public transit, with transit-priority lanes and traffic signals, will not only make our transit system greener, but also faster and more reliable which will encourage more people to choose transit to get around the city.

We also need to protect and expand our green spaces and the urban tree canopy, as trees and green spaces are an excellent passive method of CO2 capture and storage, as well as simply making our city a nicer place to live.

Excluding 2-way/all-day GO Train service, how would you work to expand regional transit options to and from Guelph?

The Link the Watershed proposal already exists, and is exactly what we should be doing. We can, and should, be lobbying higher levels of government for increased funding for regional transit connections, and advocating for the idea that these connections can be more than just an option for people to commute for work but also a way to enable easy movement between cities so people can visit, shop, dine, and experience cultural events all without the need for a car.

As a bonus, make sure there is ample room for people riding transit to be able to bring a bike with them!

If you could dedicate your time on city council to one issue over the next four years, like you were a federal or provincial cabinet minister, what would that be, and why?

This is a tough question, since there are a number of important issues I would love to be a part of addressing in our city that have been discussed by other candidates, so lets assume my colleagues on council are taking those on and I can explore something that isn’t getting a lot of discussion.

I’d like to dedicate my time to election reform. Starting with ensuring elections in Guelph are open and accessible (we’re already doing a great job here, but can always do better), I’d also push council to lobby the provincial government to give municipalities more control over how we elect our representatives.

It would be great if as a city we could move to a system better than first-past-the-post – ranked ballot, single transferable vote, and mixed member proportional systems would all be worth exploring and provide voters with better representation. Another election reform I’d like to see in Guelph (and beyond) would be lowering the voting age to 16, giving young people the ability to participate more fully in democracy, especially at the level that effects their lives so immediately.

Check out fairvote.ca and vote16.ca for more info on these points.

It’s budget time: You have a heritage building redevelopment project, the modernization of a key city service, or you can reduce the proposed budget increase by a full percentage point. You can either fund one of these endeavours in their entirety, or you can assign each option a portion of funding. What’s your motion?

What a hypothetical! It is hard to say without having real information about what the redevelopment or city service would be, however having seen just how much more things like the new library or south end rec-centre are going to cost after having been delayed for so many years I think that it is better to take a smaller hit up front instead of postponing until the bill to taxpayers balloons to be essentially unaffordable.

Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?

It seems like I’ve taken long enough filling out this questionnaire that I don’t have to fill in the blank. I’m very disappointed that we’re on track to hit the end of the election without any debates. These open forums are valuable opportunities for new voices to be heard and for incumbents to defend their track records, and are an essential part of the democratic process.

Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?

My website is www.ward2elia.ca and my under-utilized twitter is @ward2elia

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