“I became an environmental ecologist to help solve social-environmental problems. At this stage in my career, I can make a bigger impact in politics than in science. Our overall goal is to improve the wellbeing of Guelphites with the resources and influence available to us. My training and experience in multifaceted problem solving will help the city make objective and balanced decisions.”
Why are you running for city council?
I became an environmental ecologist to help solve social-environmental problems. At this stage in my career, I can make a bigger impact in politics than in science. Our overall goal is to improve the wellbeing of Guelphites with the resources and influence available to us. My training and experience in multifaceted problem solving will help the city make objective and balanced decisions.
Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a city councillor?
I have lived in many places across Canada and value people from all walks of life. My proudest career accomplishment is restoring and maintaining the health of rivers in our mountain National Parks.
I’ve been involved in politics for over five years. I was the Green Party candidate for Guelph in the last federal election and still serve as an environment critic for the party as well as the CFO for the local riding association.
My ecological restoration work reinforced the value of local knowledge in solving social and environmental problems. It also reinforced my belief that each individual can make a significant contribution if barriers are identified and removed.
My approach will be to listen to diverse voices, build consensus and identify efficient and practical solutions.
What do you think was the most consequential decision made by city council during the 2018-2022 term?
I was disappointed when city council went against recommendations and decided to maintain part-time councilors rather than transition to full time representation. Whether Guelph continues to prosper socially and economically depends on the decisions made now. For example, council influences the delivery of essential services and how resilient our infrastructure is to the ensuing impacts of climate change. These do not seem like evening and weekend decisions to me. City council work will be my main focus.
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?
Our mandate should be to maximize the wellbeing of people with the resources we have rather than achieve a prescribed level of growth – unlimited growth is unsustainable and a growing number of proven alternative models exist. That said, the area around the Great Lakes has a wealth of resources so the solutions in both scenarios are similar. Solutions include promoting equity and fairness, density over sprawl, a circular green economy and protecting the natural resources we rely on for water, food and recreation. We need to prioritize wellbeing and sustainability in all decisions.
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?
Tackling the homelessness and mental health crises will require coordination from all three levels of government as well as other individuals and organizations. We are lucky to have strong and knowledgeable advocates in Guelph that have mapped out paths to success. For example, supportive housing has been shown to be a barrier to ending homelessness and through a coordinated effort, Guelph has started to build it. As a councilor, I will listen to those affected by the crises as well as advocates and experts to identify specific problems and solutions.
Would you support a more collaborative relationship between the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington? What would that look like?
The City of Guelph and County of Wellington should increase collaboration in areas such as emergency and social services and local food initiatives.
The City of Guelph administers emergency services for the county. Emergency room staffing shortages have resulted in many Code Red situations – no paramedics are available because they are keeping patients stable while they wait for care. The city and county can advocate for offload nurses to minimize the problem.
The county administers social services but many people that require the services live in Guelph. The city should receive quarterly reports and representative city councilors should attend meetings as well as have a mechanism to communicate what is and isn’t working in Guelph.
Existing local food initiatives are another opportunity for increased collaboration between the city and county. There are opportunities to make our food supply more accessible, healthy, resilient, environmentally friendly and less wasteful.
How would you increase accessibility at city hall? How will you make sure that your constituents feel well-informed and well-represented in council?
Better communication between constituents and city hall is important to me. Like many councilors, I would solicit opinions and share information using various platforms. I would also continue to promote city wide initiatives such as Have Your Say and Open Government.
As a biostatistician I can help improve surveys which in turn improves the quality and clarity of feedback we receive from residents. I will also hold town halls to achieve more consensus on important and/ or controversial issues such as the downtown library and budget.
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?
Justice, equity, diversity, inclusion (JEDI) and belonging are also important to me – more diverse voices lead to better solutions and a stronger society. I have worked with the city’s Equity and Anti-racism advisor in our volunteer work and am keen to support her and the new Indigenous advisor. I would adopt a continuous improvement approach – speak with community members with lived experience, identify barriers to progress, implement potential solutions and evaluate their success. My background in education will also be helpful in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action directed at municipalities.
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?
The wellbeing of people and the environment we rely on should be considered in every council decision. In addition to setting an example as a corporation, the city can reduce emissions city wide through updated building requirements, protecting ecosystem services and zoning for more livable neighbourhoods. There should be updated requirements for any new buildings and incentives for upgrading existing buildings. Wetland and forest management decreases the need for man-made infrastructure to protect us from climate impacts. Our goal should not only be increased housing density but more affordable, sustainable and connected communities.
(P.S. Can we talk about “the Royal City”)
Excluding 2-way/all-day GO Train service, how would you work to expand regional transit options to and from Guelph?
Current programs such as Ride Well on demand transit within the county and the Guelph to Owen Sound options show that private regional transit is feasible. If we can show that there is demand for a service, providers will offer it.
A significant portion of the Canadian population lives in the corridor between Windsor and Quebec City. The City of Guelph should join in advocating for a high-speed rail system to connect urban centres in this populated corridor.
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?
Elected representatives should prioritize issues important to their constituents above their own interests. I share concerns such as affordability, lack of services and traffic safety with the residents of Ward 1.
My overall goal is to advocate for the wellbeing of people and the environment over large profits for big corporations. I also think Guelph is well positioned to show leadership in areas such as ending homelessness, becoming sustainable, adopting a voting system that promotes more diversity and collaboration, and lobbying for more municipal funding/ autonomy.
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?
I would need a LOT more information before deciding on a motion but the most likely outcome would be to assign the heritage building, service update and budget reduction portions of the funding. Throughout my career I have advocated for setting clear priorities/ guidelines before decisions need to be made – it ensures objectivity and highlights when our strategic plans need updating. As mentioned, every council decision should prioritize social and environmental wellbeing, incorporate diverse viewpoints, and consider whether there are new efficiencies and/or innovations we can test or incorporate.
Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?
… the negative effects that rising inequality is having on society – within Guelph, Canada and around the world.
Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?
Visit www.michellebowman.ca to learn more about me and my campaign and for contact information and links to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.