Township, county, mayoral candidates have final say at Black Committee event

ABOYNE – There was a much more conciliatory tone at the “Conversations with the Candidates” event hosted by the Centre Wellington Black Committee on Oct. 13 than was seen at a similar event the day before. 

Moderator Kerry Lee Crawford was able to smooth over any rough patches with humour and good nature and that put everyone at ease. 

“As much as I’d like to have a rebuttal to the rebutted rebuttal, I think we should move on,” he said at one point, as the conversation between the mayoral candidates started to heat up. 

Each of the candidates for township and county council were given three minutes for an opening statement and then one minute to answer a question tailored to each candidate. 

The three mayoral candidates had four minutes for their opening remarks and two minutes to answer questions and the first to raise their hand had one minute for rebuttal. 

Township council 

Lisa MacDonald is running for the township council seat in Ward 1. 

Her question: How will your experience in governance bring new ideas to Centre Wellington and what would these new ideas look like? 

“I will draw on all my experience in governance,” MacDonald said.  

“I’ve had experience working with ministers in our government, achieving education plans that support governance for police boards across the province. It has enabled me to work with mayors and councillors across the province. It shed a light on things we can change.  

“I look forward to bringing those to the council table,” she continued.

“I’m blessed to be privy to that experience in my life that I can now bring it forward to have some of those hard conversations that a new council will have to deal with.” 

Kimberly Jefferson is running in Ward 2. 

Her question: Finding parking in Elora is a serious problem and is going to get worse. What are your proposed solutions for these parking challenges? 

“I think we’re going to need to go up and I think we’re going to actually need to use some of the money we received in lieu of parking to purchase property somewhere” for multi-level parking, she said. 

Jefferson mentioned the shuttle bus that ran over the summer between parking at the Elements Casino Grand River to Elora and Fergus and noted this could be the start of a transit system. 

“We really need to solve this because of all the visitors coming,” she said. 

Incumbent Kirk McElwain is running again in Ward 2. 

His question: Why have the property taxes risen so high over the past two years, which seems to be higher … than any of the other comparable sized cities. What should the council do about it? 

“According to our staff reports, we’re median – we’re not higher than our surrounding communities, very honestly,” McElwain said.

“But our taxes have risen too much over the last eight years and I agree 100%.”  

McElwain said taxes have risen by 30% over the past eight years and spending is up 50%. 

“Hopefully our asset management plan will change that and other than that it’s just diligence and oversight by council,” he said. 

Barbara Lustgarten-Evoy is running in Ward 3. 

Her question: In the last several years, suicide has had an enormous impact on various communities in and around Wellington County. How are we as a community going to prevent and reduce suicide? 

“We are not going to prevent suicide, but we can change the numbers. We can lower the numbers,” Lustgarten-Evoy said.

“We are very fortunate here to have an incredible suicide prevention plan.” 

Lustgarten-Evoy listed numerous mental health initiatives to help people: the Canadian Mental Health Association, school boards, the Grove youth hubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Here 24/7 distress line and Here4Hope. 

“We have the resources at hand. Our job is to get used to accessing them and fine tuning wherever we think is necessary,” she said. 

Neil Armstrong is also running in Ward 3. 

His question: What specific jobs/professions do you envision creating and bringing into Centre Wellington and how would you ensure diversity in selecting the candidates for those positions? 

“Parking, transportation’s kind of my thing,” Armstrong said.

“Having parking lots outside of the downtown cores and having transportation in town will help. I’d be interested in seeing the data we have this year on the shuttle.  

“So the jobs would be service – would be drivers; people that can enhance the service levels of the community.” 

Ray Trafford is also running in Ward 3. 

His question: Travel to Centre Wellington communities is not an easy endeavour without a vehicle … What is your vision of an affordable, safe and reliable transportation service that would not only create jobs but support the reduction of individual vehicles on the road and a stronger link to communities around CW? 

“Most importantly is the development of businesses here so we don’t have that large migration out every morning and back in every evening,” Trafford said.

“There will always be people who commute, and it can be a fixed service into Guelph to connect them with the GO system. 

“Over the next 25 years, we are not going to be as reliant on cars as we are now,” he added.

“So some of the needs we identify will change. You’ll see more rapid transit as we build, more urban transit and lower need for parking. As we plan, we have to be able to accommodate and adapt to a changing future.” 

Dave Kenny is running in Ward 3.

His question: What programs would you put into place to ensure people can afford to stay in their homes and have access to housing? 

“We need to create housing,” Kenny said. “We can’t afford to pay $1,700 a month in rent.” 

He suggested homeowners converting their basements into apartments is one way to provide more affordable housing.   

“These are the kinds of things that can be done cheaply and can be done quickly, and we can save a gentleman like that who is now living in Bissell Park,” he said.

“If we need to convert some buildings into housing, let’s do it.” 

Jennifer Adams is running in Ward 4 

Her question: Please elaborate on your meaning and vision for a safer and healthier active Centre Wellington. What does that look like to you? 

“When I’m at the door I’m hearing concerns about traffic safety. Our town is growing, and we have a lot of traffic,” she said. 

Adams said some drivers will cut down side streets to avoid congestion on the main arteries and that’s very dangerous for children, seniors, pedestrians and cyclists. 

On top of that, “We have infrastructure where sometimes we don’t even have sidewalks.” 

As for an active healthy community, “We have fantastic green spaces, a beautiful environment. But our recreation spaces could be better,” she said. 

Bronwynne Wilton is running in Ward 5 

Her question: Most of the money spent on capital improvements benefit the owners of businesses on main street. What would you do to ensure that tax dollars spent on improvements are spent on the retail sector that benefit the entire community? 

“I’d like to speak up for the farmers and agricultural businesses in Centre Wellington,” Wilton said.

“There have been multiple bridges out of commission, some of them for 12 years. Farmers are having to go extra miles around to separate concessions; school buses are having to make extra trips.  

“Farm businesses rely on moving equipment from farm to farm. That’s difficult for those businesses and dangerous from an emergency services standpoint.” 

She continued, “I do think we need to look at equitable spending of money across the rural parts of the community.” 

Rick Schroeder is running in Ward 6 

His question: Richard Pierpoint has officially been recognized as a person of historical significance to Canada. What is your view on the proposed bridge bypass on (Wellington Road) 29 over the Grand River through the Pierpoint heritage site and how will you ensure his legacy and land in our community are protected? 

“First, I need to learn a bit more about the park itself and the area designated for that. I don’t know enough about it,” he said. 

“We certainly do need a bypass route. We need a way to redirect the traffic around downtown so we don’t have a major highway going through town.”

Schroeder added, “Personally, I think that the route being proposed is probably still a little too close the centre of downtown and certainly it affects not only that park.

“Anderson Street goes through a lovely quiet community that would be really affected by any kind of traffic moving through that area. So probably the best solution for a truck bypass would be further out. Maybe the next line over.” 

Dennis Craddock is also running in Ward 6.

His question: Could you elaborate on what you mean by protecting the community? 

“I would protect or be an ally to the community. In terms of individuals that maybe don’t have a voice, I would align myself with them,” Craddock said.  

“Community is such a broad term. So, it would include heritage and I would be an advocate for heritage. And advocate for the individual.

“I would do my best to represent all of you as best I could in my heart of hearts to do what I think is right.” 

Township council candidates absent from the event were: Ward 1 Jonathon Davis, Ward 2 Eric Nealson, Ward 3 Debora Taylor and James Mantelos, Ward 4 Brock Aldersley and Ward 6 Peter Viol (he attempted to withdraw but after the deadline so his name will appear on the ballot).

County council 

Incumbent Mary Lloyd is seeking reelection in Ward 5. 

Her question: Waste management is a huge issue and expense for families large and small. What is your vision to end this problem going forward? 

“I know that it costs $2 to put a yellow bag out every two weeks. Yes, that’s a cost that goes on to the consumer,” Lloyd said.

“But I also know that we instituted the green bins in the last two years, and we reduced waste into our landfill site by 50%. That is enormous.”

She added, “We’re also creating more space in our existing landfill by doing that. When you reduce green products going into a landfill site you extend the life of your landfill site.  

“We just opened a new cell in Riverstown that will give us another 25 to 27 years life in waste management so it’s very substantial.” 

Randy Vaine is running in Ward 5 as well. 

His question: Please elaborate on your water concerns and proposed solutions. 

“The water concern terrifies me to be honest with you,” he said. 

Vaine said he met with Save Our Water, a local water watchdog group, and got a real education. 

“They say in nine years, if we don’t find new water, we’re going to reach our maximum. That’s just not a way for a town to run and unfortunately every town in the county is in the same place.” 

He continued, “We have to look at other towns being able to get water and getting the resources they need so they can take some of the development that keeps getting dumped on Centre Wellington. There’s lots of issues to look at. It’s not a simple answer. And it’s been going on too long.” 

Melanie Lang is running in Ward 6 

Her question: On your platform you have social progressiveness as one of your key points. Can you please explain what social progressiveness means and provide us with an example in the area of education. 

Lang spoke of her experience at the University of Guelph in developing an entrepreneur program, “and the notion around fiscal responsibility, social progressiveness and thoughtful development were at the core of our programming and seeking out partnerships,” she said.

“It really is a values-based approach to development. So, with respect to experience in the academic sector, it comes back to the notion that if we are going to have innovation and new models of development, we need a foundation of inclusivity. 

“I am a firm, firm believer in human-centred approach to decision making and using those mindsets to solve complex problems.” 

Incumbent Diane Ballantyne is also running in Ward 6.

Her question: What policies would you propose as a county councillor that would have a positive impact on CW? 

“Over the past four years I’ve learned this role is more complicated than it looks on the surface,” Ballantyne said.  

“One of most important skills to have is the ability to absorb a massive amount of very complex information and be able to distill that down so you can have effective discussion around the council table and share it with constituents.”

She continued, “So, what kind of policies do I want to bring? I want to continue to work with climate change mitigation. The green bin program has been great. We had a 50% diversion rate. 

“We also have a role to play in active transportation to make sure that the infrastructure that we’re bringing on county roads is dovetailing with the work the town is doing to make sure we get people out of their cars and moving in a more healthy way in the long term.” 

The mayoral candidates 

Shawn Watters, Neil Dunsmore and Bob Foster are running for mayor of Centre Wellington. They had four minutes for opening statements and then took some prepared questions. 

Their responses are summarized here. 

Question: If elected mayor, you’ll be working with a council relatively new to public office. What steps will you take to ensure that the council gets up to speed quickly and that the township benefits quickly from the diverse talents and experiences they bring to the table? 

Foster said he’d let every councillor speak their mind freely and that as mayor, he would lead by example.

He added that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario offers an excellent training program that covers law, the Municipal Act, accounting and other related topics. 

Watters said he has already reached out to council candidates and feels he’s already begun building a team.

The township offers a four-day training program for councillors. He urged councillors to do their homework and come to meetings prepared. 

Dunsmore also noted the township’s orientation program and warned prospective councillors that there are 117 pieces of legislation that govern the role of council.

He said the most valuable lessons are how to communicate with each other, and how to communicate from and to constituents. 

There were a few questions about diversity, equity and inclusion:

  • How would you advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within Centre Wellington?;
  • Share a time when you advocated for diversity, equity and inclusion;
  • Share your experience working in a diverse environment; and
  • What would be the most challenging aspect of working with a diverse tapestry?

Dunsmore said he recently took a course on the topic with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington, and when it comes to inclusion, it’s about building a bigger table so everyone is included.

He said being inclusive is an act of respect. 

Dunsmore added issues that crop up aren’t as much about not understanding different cultures, but not understanding different perceptions. 

“You can’t fix conflict until you fix perception,” he said. 

Foster said his experience as a young lacrosse player put him in the company of First Nations lacrosse players and that whatever their differences, they came together for the game. 

He spoke about organizing a lacrosse tournament about 15 years ago and reached out to African-Canadian and First Nations teams to be part of the tournament.

“We live diversity through action, deeds and thoughts,” he said. 

Watters said he is of Metis decent and while he hasn’t experienced discrimination first-hand, “I understand and feel for First Nations people.” 

He said when building a team at work, he looks at qualifications and not ethnicity. Yet he did end up with a diverse team, he said.

He said he wants to know about all people – that’s how you create a family, how you create a team, and how you create a community. 

Question: How do you define attainable housing and how do you increase the supply in Centre Wellington? 

Watters said there are no rentals available in Centre Wellington and the average price of a home is about $800,000, making all types of housing out of reach or out of stock. 

He advocated for alternate forms of housing as a stop-gap – micro homes, garage suites, basement apartments and granny flats that can likely be built and occupied quickly. 

“We need to think outside the box,” he said. “We need to look at other options.” 

Dunsmore said affordable housing means 30% of your income goes to housing and that’s a big challenge. 

He said the Community Planning Permit System (CPPS) is a way to compile what the community wants and doesn’t want in terms of height, setbacks, parking requirements and such and to get it approved by council.

Builders who don’t comply, don’t get the permit, he added.

But once it’s in place, it will streamline the process for builders, so they are not stalled by bureaucracy and red tape, Dunsmore noted. 

“We come together as a community up front,” he said. “We can have it all if we plan it right.” 

Foster agreed that 30% of income is the standard measure for affordable housing. For someone earning an average income of $55,000, affordable housing would mean $1,300 a month, and that’s a tall order these days. 

However, the official plan does recognize that heritage areas shall be preserved and he’s leery about what affordable housing will do to the heritage areas in Fergus and Elora. 

“Attainable housing cannot destroy our heritage,” he said. 

Question: Water and electricity prices are high. What can you do to stabilize the costs? 

Foster said hydro rates are set by the Ontario Energy Board and there’s very little wiggle room.

Similarly, the Ministry of the Environment regulates water, and the township is obliged to deliver clean, drinkable water to its residents. 

Foster sits on the board of Centre Wellington Hydro and assured attendees it is a well-run operation. 

Centre Wellington Hydro only serves customers in Elora and Fergus although it would like to expand its service area, Foster said. That process is also highly regulated, he noted. 

Watters said council had the opportunity to sell off Centre Wellington Hydro when he sat on council some years back. 

“I was on council and said no to that,” he said. “It bears out to be a good decision.” 

Question: How can we celebrate the cultural heritage of Pierpoint Park? 

Watters called the park “the jewel of the community” and said he can’t understand why council would consider putting a truck bypass through it. 

Dunsmore said the land was donated and it was never intended that a truck bypass would go through the park. 

“We get accused of not doing our due diligence. That’s why we’re taking our time with it,” he said. 

Question: How would you advocate for smart growth? 

Watters said the traditional way of building subdivisions gobbles up prime agricultural land and said it’s the most expensive way to grow. 

“We have to be smarter,” he said. “The most efficient way to build is where there are already lines (infrastructure) going by.” 

That means more infill and intensification and saying goodbye to single family home subdivisions. 

Foster said the township’s infrastructure hasn’t kept up with growth already experienced, “and we will have bigger issues if we don’t manage it,” he said. 

He added council needs to form a development review committee, “so council has input on how we grow.” 

Dunsmore said smart growth means growing higher. 

“We could lose up to 1,000 acres (of farmland) if we don’t start building up,” he said.

The event was the final all-candidates meeting in Centre Wellington prior to the Oct. 24 election.