Erin mayoral candidates talk environment, development and community teamwork

It was a full house at the Erin Legion on Oct. 8 as mayoral hopefuls took the stage for a final chance to convince voters they are the right person for the coveted top seat.

The event, hosted by Transition Erin, had a decidedly “green” theme as many questions were directly related to combatting climate change. These were offset by concerns about economic and recreational development and what some see as council’s damaged reputation.

In terms of Erin’s future development, both residential and economical, all candidates agreed there is much work to be done – particularly in light of an aging population in a town that has limited affordable housing.

David Lyver says high property taxes and limited options for seniors are causing rapid emigration in the community.

“Everybody is selling because of the high taxes. People can’t afford to stay here,” he said. “Most people who have children in this community, when their children are gone, they leave. We need to look after senior growth.”

Rod Finnie says the housing development around Guelph’s Arboretum is something Erin should work toward.

“The arboretum is an excellent example of how you can produce housing that is very compact but also very beautiful and attractive to people. We need housing that will work for families and we need to encourage developers to create developments in a community friendly way,” he said. “We need more compact housing for seniors and young people.”

In terms of much-needed industrial and commercial development, Finnie said Erin needs to change its attitude. He cited the proposal for a whiskey distillery on the 3rd Line that council previously rejected and said they should have found a way to make it happen.

“We [would have] attracted tourism through the creation of that business. Once you get one that’s successful, you’ll get another one coming right in behind it,” he said. “When somebody comes with an application for a new industry, we have to find ways to make it happen, not keep it from happening.”

Allan Alls said the issue of wastewater needs to be addressed before any industrial development can even be considered.

“Without some kind of wastewater disposal system it’s going to be very difficult for either Hillsburgh or Erin’s commercial sector to develop.”

Lyver said the prospect of large industries coming to Erin was a pipe dream, but suggested that lowering developmental charges may make the community more inviting to smaller businesses.

“You’re not going to find some large corporation that’s going to say, ‘Hey, let’s move to Erin because we can build a huge plant there. They don’t have sewage capacity, but let’s go there.’ It’s not going to happen,” he said. “There is some potential for growth, but we’re scaring people away with the level of taxes.”

When asked specifically about the sewage treatment issue, all three candidates agreed it would not come to fruition without some form of outside assistance.

Finnie suggested working with the province through Infrastructure Ontario or a private benefactor.

“We need to work with the province … and a private partner who will fund, design and possibly operate it. We’ll pay for it through our monthly water bills so you will not see a huge downloading of $60 million all at once. You’re paying for it as you use it,” he said.

“We probably won’t be able to do it without federal or provincial help,” said Alls.

Lyver suggested additional septic systems could be a cheaper alternative and suggested the town appeal to the Region of Peel for a loan.

“Maybe Peel might support a possible loan for us to provide a treatment plant,” he said. “They have a vested interest and they have put in money.”

Another question posed to candidates brought up the new net-zero housing development in Elora and asked if they would advocate for a similar venture in Erin.

Finnie said this type of project would create the opportunity for green-incentives to be put forward and offered to developers.

“The more that they can create homes that are resilient and require less in the way of servicing, the lower their charges will be. I believe in using carrots as an initiative and if they don’t listen to the carrot we can always use the stick.”

Alls was unsure of how effective such incentives would be in practice.

“As much as we can incent a developer to do so, yes I would, but you have to be careful because it’s free enterprise,” he said.

Lyver suggested the idea be taken a step further and applied to current building permit applications as well.

“What about individuals that are building homes now? Or doing additions or renovations to their homes … Maybe we could be encouraging them to be more energy efficient there. Maybe that is a possible way of creating revenue in the community because by lowering that we’re encouraging them to stay here.”

One of the first questions pertaining to the environment asked candidates how important climate change was to them and how they intended to take action at the town level.

Lyver said he would like to focus on the reduction of CO2 emissions by working with the climate change committee at council and advocating for a GO bus station in Erin.

“We could have the GO bus come into town, have a park and ride area … and that would save us a little bit of emissions,” he said.

“We could go even further and have a bus going into Guelph and utilize their transit service.”

Finnie said as the shift continues from a driving to a walking society, there is an increased need to adapt communities and make them more pedestrian friendly.

“We need to allow for safe bicycle and pedestrian networks as well as cars. One easy thing to do is pave shoulders of secondary highways in the county and in the town,” he said. “We need more compact communities so you can get around without using a car.”

He also said he plans to reevaluate the community’s emergency plan in wake of the ice storms last winter.

“When storms like ice storms happen we have to be able to deal with them and have an emergency management plan, particularly for dams – those are the most vulnerable point in our community,” he said.

Alls was also interested in pursuing the idea of a GO station. He said he wants to “try and get GO transit to Mount Pleasant or Georgetown station. If you’re standing at the road here on an early morning you’ll see a lot of traffic heading south.”

Alls said he would also look into getting solar panels for municipal buildings.

Candidates were also asked if they would be in favour of banning bottled water at municipal facilities and in the county council chamber.

Alls was in favour. “I certainly don’t agree with using bottled water unless you absolutely have to. There’s nothing wrong with the water that most municipalities have and that’s what we should use.”

Lyver agreed.

“We have to live by example, the reality is there’s nothing wrong with our water,” he said. “The only thing I would recommend is maybe removing any chlorine that might be in it.”

Finnie had a slightly different take on the subject.

“I don’t believe in banning anything – I leave it up to the individuals,” he said.

Issues surrounding what has been called “dysfunction” among council members were also brought to the table. Candidates were asked how they intended to improve communication in the chamber and out in the community.

If elected Alls said he would like to incorporate a free period before council meetings where members of the public could approach him personally and ask questions. He is also interested in forming a mayoral advisory committee “made up of people from all across the Town of Erin who could meet with the mayor once a quarter and say what issues we should be addressing and looking at as a council.”

Finnie said the problem arises from a lack of communication and mutual respect between councillors.

“It is good to have a difference of opinion but we have to listen to one another and hear what one another are saying, otherwise the job of politics is compromised,” he said. “We have to realize that everybody possesses a grain of the truth and together we can make the right answer happen.”

He also suggested holding meetings outside of Erin in other parts of the community.

“We should continue to expand meetings and hold them in other communities rather than just at the town offices, particular if there’s an issue of interest to another community. I think it’s important we reach out to people.”

Lyver said part of the problem is the committees’ lack of power and influence over council when it comes to decision-making.

“I’m on the environmental committee and sometimes I wonder what we’re doing – we need more like an ad-hoc committee,” he said. “We need more teeth … and most of all to listen to them, listen to their concerns and go back and have discussions with them before we implement.”

Finnie also made communication a priority when asked what his first goal would be as mayor. He said after speaking with some of the councillor candidates he is optimistic about the new team.

Whether they work together or not will “be measured by the line column inches in the newspapers,” he said. “With all due respect to the press, we want to get away from being the laughing stock of the county.”

Lyver said he plans to be involved in the community.

“You’re the mayor, you should be at a lot of these meetings, you should be dropping in and be a part of the discussion. You’re here to learn,” he said.