21 October 2022 (age 32) Politics

Who I’m voting for this municipal election

This Monday, we go vote for our Mayors, councillors, and school board trustees in the municipal election. You’ll remember to vote, right? Set yourself a calendar reminder right now before you continue reading, I’ll wait.

In Waterloo Region we’ve got a few different ballots to pay attention to. If you live in Kitchener, Waterloo, or Cambridge, you’ll vote for your city mayor and ward councillor, and also for Regional chair and multiple Regional councillors! Plus school board trustees! So let’s get into it.

The Regional government handles transit, social housing, public health, paramedics, and major roads. It also sets the Official Plan for urban growth, and we’ve got a draft Official Plan that is actually quite good right now. It envisions “15-minute communities” where people can get all their daily needs within a 15-minute walk from home. It took a lot of hard work from community advocates for this plan to get approved by the current council, and it will be appealed by speculative landowners who want to sprawl more into the countryside. We need a council that will defend this plan effectively.

The Region also approves the (bloated) police budget, and while they’ve started taking baby steps toward funding upstream services, we definitely need new faces on council to pursue defunding the police and reallocating those resources.

All that said, my picks for Regional Councillors for Kitchener (4 positions available) are:

Taking a look at city council now — lower-tier councils for Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wellesley, Wilmot, Woolwich and North Dumfries are responsible for the fire department, parks, community centres, and most libraries. They’re also responsible for approving development, and considering applications for exemptions to the zoning by-law. City council is where many of the juicy fights about 30-storey towers and not-in-my-backyard reactions happen.

Where I live in Ward 10, the incumbent councillor, Sarah Marsh, has stepped down and there is a wealth of choice for good candidates to replace her. In fact, I waited so long to write this post because I couldn’t make up my mind between two of the frontrunners — Aislinn Clancy and Stephanie Stretch.

Both of them are an active part of the downtown community. They’re engaged neighbours and both have a background in social work. Both of them would make for a great representative, but I can only place one X. So I had a close listen to the debate hosted by the Olde Berlin Town Neighbourhood to help me make up my mind.

In the debate, both Aislinn and Stephanie agreed that the downtown development boom has mainly served the interests of investors and provided little progress for low-income residents and families. They have both worked with social service agencies in the communities engaging directly with our unhoused neighbours. Both of them gave detailed, knowledgeable answers about how to support small businesses and the local economy.

On snow clearing, both candidates agreed that lack of accessible sidewalks is an issue in the winter. Stephanie was concerned that having the city take responsibility for clearing sidewalks would be too costly, and that it wouldn’t be a top budget priority for her (instead advocating partnerships with charities to help people who physically can’t shovel their sidewalks). Aislinn believes that the city should invest in sidewalk clearing, and take care of it just like we do for roads.

On reducing greenhouse gas emissions, both candidates talked about the need for expanding electric vehicle charging stations. Aislinn advocated for efficiency standards and embedded carbon audits for new buildings. She also wants to see Kitchener Utilities move away from natural gas. Stephanie wanted to see the city show leadership by building net zero facilities and fast-track the missing gaps in our active transportation networks.

On new housing development, Stephanie detailed the importance of connecting the dots between our 10-year waiting list for regional housing, and new builds. Any conversation of “affordable” targets needs to meet the real needs of those people on the waiting list. She also wanted to see well-designed development with green space. Aislinn spoke more about promoting medium-density development that fills the “missing middle” and setting standards for sustainability, family-sized units, and affordable units. She also mentioned the importance of eviction prevention policies to keep tenants housed in their current homes.

On street safety, we heard a proposal from Aislinn to do a thorough scan of traffic calming and active transportation pilot projects that the city has done in recent years, to evaluate which ones have been most effective. Stephanie emphasised the importance of street design over speed limits, and making sure that ongoing street repairs include narrowing lanes to discourage speeding.

On reconciliation with Indigenous communities, Stephanie mentioned completing training and relationship-building with Indigenous leaders, and that her understanding of equity means acknowledging structural harm and committing to accountability. She wasn’t familiar with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy moratorium on development, but committed to learning more about that particular issue. Aislinn was familiar with the moratorium, and was pleased to see a push for colonial governments to respect Indigenous processes. She looks to Indigenous leadership as “the first environmentalists”. She is supportive of the fee waiver for booking space at city facilities, and wants to co-create new community spaces in a process led by Indigenous groups.

Both candidates have been energetic about campaigning in the community and getting to know neighbours, and they both have an enthusiastic team behind them. Like I said, this was a tough decision to make. I tried to summarize the two candidates’ policy differences as I understand them in the previous five paragraphs, and by my count it’s 3–2 for Aislinn Clancy. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess which of the five issues I thought she had the best answer for.)

Lastly, let’s take a look at the public school board trustees. There’s a nasty, right-wing, Christian fundamentalist, transphobic, racist movement that is running trustee candidates in many Ontario school board elections this year. We need to counter that energy by voting in some inclusive, equity-driven, anti-racist, LGBTQ allies who will help support students’ self-confidence and affirm their sense of belonging to set them up for success. My votes for Kitchener trustees (4 positions) are going to:

So, there it is. Doing your research during an election can be a chore at the best of times, and even more so when there are too many good candidates to choose from!

My advocacy in recent years has been focused at the local level of government: pedestrian streets, preserving farmland, smart growth, reallocating the police budget. No matter who wins in Monday’s election, a strong community of activists is always going to be necessary to keep pushing for progress. If you’re interested in getting involved after the election but don’t know where to start, send me a message with the issues that interest you and let’s get you connected.

Sam Nabi

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