“Ward 4 is my home. I love our rich diversity and caring culture. Every single day I connect with people, as a volunteer with our neighbourhood food support program, at community gardens, dog walking, speaking to parents at playgrounds, and at many community events. Volunteering and public service has always been important to me.”
Why are you running for city council?
I am running for healthy communities, people-centred neighbourhoods where residents can afford to raise their families, today and in the future.
I am running for Council to work for a community where everyone can afford to live, we have public transit that is seamless, affordable, frequent, convenient, and connected to other active transportation. We have safe streets and spaces for cyclists, pedestrians, and mobility devices. And that we value and want to preserve our tree canopies, green spaces, and activate our commitment to fighting climate change with targets and action plans.
Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a city councillor?
I immigrated to Canada with my parents from Malta/Italy. My family’s experience has informed my perspective, our language barriers, cultural differences, difficulties with certifications and employment, poverty, and not understanding community systems. This experience has informed my advocacy and community development work.
Ward 4 is my home. I love our rich diversity and caring culture. Every single day I connect with people, as a volunteer with our neighbourhood food support program, at community gardens, dog walking, speaking to parents at playgrounds, and at many community events. Volunteering and public service has always been important to me.
I believe I bring skills as a community connector, action-oriented change maker, and experience as a four term elected school board leader in the city of Guelph.
I have held various leadership roles and am the current Chair of the Upper Grand District School Board with a budget of over $500 million and 4,700 employees in Guelph, Wellington, and Dufferin County schools and operations.
My experience includes:
- Operational and Capital Budget processes and priority setting, with a committed Equity Lens
- Audit, Policy, Property, Building, Accessibility, Student Senate and Environmental Management, a few Operational Committees
- Meetings and communication with Mayors of Guelph, Wellington, Dufferin to discuss sewage treatment, child care, new school construction, and support for climate change motions
- Regularly communicated, advocated, met with MP, MPPs, and Provincial Ministers
- Elected Ontario Public School Board Association Board Member, Central West Ontario Vice Chair and Provincial Policy Chair
What do you think was the most consequential decision made by city council during the 2018-2022 term?
I have a two part response to this question.
The first part is that for me the Community Plan that was developed with almost two years of community conversations and input is a significant city document. During the consultation process I was able to engage the city to come to a Ward 4 community Fall Fair event at Margaret Greene Park where families from many backgrounds and lived circumstances were able to be engaged in the conversations. That was the first time I
have seen the city actively engage and have people-to-people conversations with residents in Ward 4 about their values and what their vision for Guelph would include.
The second response to this question is that this past winter 2022 the city revisited the Community Plan through an Equity lens. This deepening and elevation of the city’s commitment to identifying and eliminating systemic racism is significant and important in the city’s operations and in the boards and agencies the city supports.
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?
I believe that in order to plan and support the city’s growth, and work toward meeting our city’s net zero targets, that investing and building a transportation system that is reliable and accessible is an important focus. The Transit Future Action Plan starts to move the city in that direction but more needs to be done to create a public transit [first] culture.
There is a need for a mix of housing developments, along a continuum of supportive, cooperative, not for profit and other forms that provide for options. Families ask for
development with amenities, parks and connection to services.
As we transform our community to grow there will be a need for many ongoing conversations and engagement with residents and neighbourhoods, developers, all levels of government and community agencies such as cooperatives, church groups, and not for profit agencies. As we develop we need an engagement plan and not just Planning Act community information meetings.
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?
Mental health and homelessness is not an issue exclusive to Guelph. This national and provincial issue and will need the advocacy, engagement and commitment of all levels of government. While the city can facilitate a community caring vision, facilitate local partnerships and collaboration, the major funding commitments need to come from the federal and provincial governments.
To support mental health in the city I believe that the Parks Master Plan has to intentionally recognize that the natural environment, woods and parks are safe places for people to go for their mental health and ensure that these spaces are welcoming and inclusive in their planning.
Would you support a more collaborative relationship between the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington? What would that look like?
Yes, absolutely this is really important. The county is the lead for daycare services, housing, Ontario works and other support programs such as the SPACES work transition program.
What has worked well in the past has been the development of the Wellington County Child Care plan. All stakeholders were engaged to identify needs and priorities and a collaborative plan was developed to inform the allocation of resources. I would think similar processes could be done, or are being done, for housing and other services.
How would you increase accessibility at city hall? How will you make sure that your constituents feel well-informed and well-represented in council?
My experience and conversations with Ward 4 residents has been that they do not feel connected to their Councillors. Finding out information is difficult and that being directed to a website is not helpful.
I like plain language newsletters, social media, getting out to community events and listening to people, community meetings, and being available by phone or email to help navigate and connect with the understanding that community systems are complicated and my role would be to make it easier.
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?
I believe that leadership development starts with engagement and that the city’s community appointments policy and process has started this process.
The agencies funded by the city of Guelph should also demonstrate and be accountable for a commitment to equity and inclusion of our diverse voices on community boards. The work of agencies such as PIN and Immigrant Services who provide information, on-boarding, governance training and support for volunteer directors and committee members is needed in order to raise the confidence and effectiveness of community
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?
This is a long process and not a quick fix, moving to renewable energy will require a commitment and significant capital investment. In the capital work with the Upper Grand DSB we have been investing in solar energy and other energy reduction systems for many years. The community needs to understand that the ROI will be realized in the long term. That being said it starts now.
Excluding 2-way/all-day GO Train service, how would you work to expand regional transit options to and from Guelph?
The response to this requires provincial support including legislation and funding. Metrolinx must address regional connectivity to KW, Cambridge and Hamilton for work and services.
Like two hands clapping there is also a need to have the city of Guelph work with the County of Wellington, KW, Cambridge and Hamilton to identify how to address the lack of good public transit.
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?
Transit and Housing.
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?
My experience with budgets is that they are a complex and integrated process, teasing out one aspect has unintended consequences elsewhere, staffing, operational, capital.
I believe that all of these items are important and would be woven into a Budget conversation with other priorities.
Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?
Transit, housing and equity.
Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?