Ward 6 Debates

Tonight Jen and I attended our second debate/all candidates meeting for our Ward 6 city council candidates.

As I was mentally organizing my notes on each candidate, I was struck by the notion of grading them all like a report card, or listing their pros and cons.

Then I thought, “Well, I’d better include some disclaimers.”

Then I decided the disclaimers were more important than being witty or snarky about how these people performed in a very artificial scenario.

These six people are working hard and really putting themselves out there for their community. I believe all of our candidates really care about our city and would work hard to represent our ward. Even my least-favoured candidate is plainly very committed to making things better that’s nothing to mock.

Unfortunately, a debate tells you more about the candidate’s performance skills than anything else. We had one candidate tonight who was confident, poised, and articulate. Still, that person didn’t convince me they would be a good councillor, only that they would get a lot of votes.

So after two debates and tons of reading, I have two really good candidates and two pretty decent ones. Not exactly decisive, huh? I am very fortunate to have a tough choice in Ward 6. I’ve eliminated two-thirds of the field, but that just makes it tougher to decide between the remaining two. Jen and I had a good chat on the way home about the temptation to vote strategically and to support the person most likely to beat the candidate we’d rather not see get in, but I don’t think either of us is going to go that route since we just don’t know enough!

Finally, it was neat to see the meeting held in a public place, where we could watch the reaction of passersby to stumbling across something political. It was quite comical how many people seemed to look at it like a freakshow or a punishment to be avoided – shielding their glances and hurrying past. That’s unfortunate – because the real freakshow is what we get by voting without paying attention.

Ward 6 Candidates Questions

I’m looking forward to the Municipal election and the possibility of significant (and positive) change in the way our city is led.

We’ve got no shortage of candidates running in our ward (full list here), but apart from a few personal endorsements, I felt like I knew very little about them. So, I came up with my best cub reporter questions, and sent an email to:

  • Alasdair Beaton
  • Marie Blosh
  • Mike Bloxam
  • Shiv Chokhani (has since withdrawn)
  • Cynthia Etheridge
  • Amir Farahi
  • Phil Squire

Several of these candidates have decent info on their web sites, but I really want to compare apples to apples. Here are the replies I have received:

 

 

Alasdair Beaton

 

1. What topic or issue do you think deserves more attention from our City Council?

We need to create a supportive environment for businesses of all kinds. We need to encourage city staff to give entrepreneurs direct answers and find creative ways to meet the needs of businesses within the existing regulatory framework. A municipal organization that is flexible, and easy to work with, will attract and retain entrepreneurial talent.

 

2. What is one simple, practical change you think you can make if you are elected as our Councillor?

Civil dialogue and consensus-building among councillors makes everything else possible. Good council behavior is the responsibility of all members of council. The Mayor or Presiding Officer needs to have control of the discussion at all times. I will behave in a civil manner in all public forums and encourage other council members to do the same.

 

3. Dream big. What is one thing you’d really like to see happen in London over the next 4 years?

A downtown core which is pedestrian-friendly and which has convenient parking.

 

4. What do you think is an important topic that is specific to Ward 6?

Ward 6 is part of the Near Campus Neighborhood, and is largely residential in nature. The balance between long-term and short-term residents is changing. Many residents are expressing concerns to me about these changes. The city has by-laws in place to deal with certain issues such as number of unrelated occupants, noise and parking. However, our neighborhoods need more than simple enforcement to thrive.

One of the ways to accommodate change is to encourage Heritage Conservation District status for the remaining eligible areas in the Ward. This will help to ensure that change is consistent with the existing character of the neighbourhood. Experience in existing Heritage Conservation Districts is that the sense of community is greatly enhanced.

 

5. What makes you personally the best candidate to represent Ward 6 us on on council?

I have been a proud resident of Ward 6 for over ten years, and have lived in London since 1978. I have a history of bringing the community together and getting results at City Council. I have taken a leadership role in promoting neighborhood issues, and am sought out as a resource by neighbours.

 

Marie Blosh

1. What topic or issue do you think deserves more attention from our City Council?

Public transit. London needs to think of itself as a city of half a million people, not a small town. We will soon have that population and must have an appropriate transit system. Western students have told me over the years that they have been late for class because the bus was too full and did not stop.

 

2. What is one simple, practical change you think you can make if you are elected as our Councillor?

I would stop sending out paper copies of minutes to every person who speaks at a public participation meeting unless requested. These minutes could be sent out via e-mail. This simple change would save staff time and postage costs. An added bonus is that speakers would not have to state their address. I know that some people are hesitant to speak for this reason, especially now that meetings are live-streamed. There is a concern that anyone watching would know that the person is not home and their house could be broken into.

 

3. Dream big. What is one thing you would really like to see happen in London over the next four years?

For people, I would like to see a return of civic pride. When residents tell me they like the way the city was decades ago, it isn’t nostalgia so much as a way of describing a city where it is fun and safe to go downtown, and a city council that is respectful to each other and the public. For animals, I would like to see thriving adoption and spay/neuter programs for all healthy, adoptable cats and dogs at the city pound.

 

4. What do you think is an important topic that is specific to Ward 6?

The neighbourhoods in Ward 6 that are near the university are very concerned with student housing. There is pressure to provide more accommodations for students. At the same time, permanent residents want to maintain the character of the neighbourhood, its architecture, and its desirability as a place to raise children and walk to work.

 

5. What makes you personally the best candidate to represent Ward 6 on council?

I have a track record of speaking at city council meetings and getting things done. Over the 13 years I’ve lived in Ward 6 I have been very involved with my community association. As its president I worked on noise, parking and garbage issues. I have also served on city council advisory committees on heritage and animal welfare. My educational background is in law and librarianship, and I have studied municipal and planning law in particular. I am not talking about issues like student housing, urban sprawl, public transit, heritage and animal welfare because I want to be elected. I’m running for city council because I’ve been talking and taking action on these issues for years, and I’m ready to take the next step.

 

 

Mike Bloxam

 

1. What topic or issue do you think deserves more attention from our City Council?​​

Making decisions in a sustainable fashion: we have to balance the economy, the community, and the environment equally (the “triple bottom line”) in order to make the right choices for both the immediate future and the long term. This includes ensuring that citizens get value for taxes, encouraging responsible growth, strengthening our neighbourhoods, and protecting our natural heritage.

 

2. What is one simple, practical change you think you can make if you are elected as our Councillor?

A simple and practical change is getting more open data on the City’s Web site. One of the ideas I’d like to see implemented is a “citizen dashboard” that allows Londoners to keep track of milestones and ongoing progress so that it is easy to understand how we’re doing against our goals.

 

3. Dream big. What is one thing you would really like to see happen in London over the next four years?

An overhaul of the transit system, including some form of rapid transit (or at least get more express bus routes going), better service to industrial areas while matching shift schedules, and overnight service. All told, more users of public transit means less congestion for those who need to drive.

 

4. What do you think is an important topic that is specific to Ward 6?

Absentee landlords are one of the biggest problems. There are too many rental properties being left unattended in all areas of Ward 6, with negative repercussions for neighbours. The tenants are normally not the problem: it’s overgrown lawns and gardens and unkempt exteriors that bring down the feel of a neighbourhood.

 

5. What makes you personally the best candidate to represent Ward 6 on council?

I have a solid background as an entrepreneur and business owner, as a dedicated community volunteer, as someone who cares for our natural environment, and my experience on the Advisory Committee for the Environment at City Hall. I am an honest, hard-working Londoner who will represent the best interests of Ward 6 and the city by making decisions using facts and common sense.

 

Cynthia Etheridge

(Has acknowledged my request but has not sent her answers.)

 

 Amir Farahi

1) What topic or issue do you think deserves more attention from our City Council?

Over the last four years we have talked a lot about the fact that our City Council hasn’t been working for Londoners. We’ve been frustrated by the actions of our Councillors and the lack of integrity around the Council table. However, I think that we’ve generally shied away from talking about tangible changes that London’s Municipal Government could make in the way that it works with citizens. We are starting to see our civic administration take the lead on this conversation by implementing greater public consultation in the budget process, but I think that there is a much more profound conversation to be had about the relationship between City Hall, City Council and Londoners.

We need to have a serious conversation about reforming our public engagement processes so that government is actively taking information to citizens instead of always asking citizens to come to us. This means more than just allowing citizens access to public data, it means intelligently packaging data for public consumption and using it to inform processes that bring citizens, administrators and politicians together to co-create solutions that lead to greater public value. It also means empowering citizens to take an active role in developing and implementing strategies to address issues in our communities.

We’ve seen great community successes when governments act as facilitators and leverage the collective knowledge of citizens to create public policy solutions. In the United States we can look to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for an example of the benefits of engaging citizens in the design of major public projects. London can and should explore these kinds of ideas as we look to develop innovative solutions to the challenges faced by our community.

2) What is one simple, practical change you think you can make if you are elected as our Councillor?

In the words of our Mayor, I would take care to READ THE REPORTS before each meeting of Council. However, I think that this answer is a bit too obvious so I’ll suggest something else.

I think that the City of London should redesign the signs that it uses to indicate land use changes. At the moment, the signs used to indicate land use changes disincentivize public participation because they communicate very little about what is happening on any given site. I would look to other municipalities for guidance on how to develop signage that more clearly articulates the kind of land use change being considered.

3) Dream big. What is one thing you’d really like to see happen in London over the next 4 years?

There is a member of our campaign team who believes that the London Airport should be retrofitted to accept commercial space travel and insists that this could be done relatively inexpensively. I won’t think quite that big, but I will propose something that I believe would indicate a real shift in the way that London thinks of itself as a City.

I think that a major success for London, over the next 4 years, would be to commit to shaping our city around transit. Our current development strategy is not rooted in transit or active transportation planning and has led both to inefficient use of land and transit resources. London needs to prove that it is serious about building our city around transit instead of building transit around our city. We need a well designed system that inspires riders from all parts of the city to think about leaving their cars at home.

Imagine a London that: sets a target of a 50% increase in transit ridership over the next 10 years; where each BRT line replaces 100+ cars and moves on average 110 passengers every hour; where our investments in transit infrastructure lead to significant job construction and post construction job opportunities; where residential and commercial developments begin to intensify along transit routes; where our economy sees an 11.3% rate of return over 30 years; where people recognize transit as the fastest, most reliable and most flexible form of transportation; and where the implementation of BRT allows us to avoid a $290 million spending on road widening costs.

Leading cities recognize that transit investment is about more than moving people around a city, they realize that it is an effective urban development strategy that can define a community and create civic pride.

4) What do you think is an important topic that is specific to Ward 6?

Most candidates will talk about the importance of maintaining balanced communities and protecting the character of neighbourhoods. I am committed to do this, as well, but I think that the way to do this relies on a much more comprehensive approach than just limiting the number of students who live in a dwelling.

I think that we need to take an active role in advocating for a strong plan to protect our community hubs. The loss of Sherwood Forest School is significant because of the value and civic pride that binds the community together. Through a concerted community consultation effort we can design a green space that provides the same kind of meeting space and civic pride that the school did. It will take effort, but I think that we can do it. We also need to do a better job of recognizing and celebrating our natural heritage. We can continue to tell the story of our existing heritage districts and push to create a new one in the area of St. James and St. George streets. Our natural heritage must also be protected. Ward 6 residents care about protecting the environmental integrity of the Medway Creek. Policies help to protect natural heritage, but stories help even more. Let’s commit to learning as much as we can about our historical connection with the Medway Creek so that we can create a narrative that will withstand any threat. Lastly, we need to take a good look at the way that we work with landlords. We must challenge them to be part of our community and to take the same pride in maintaining community standards that we do.

5) What makes you personally the best candidate to represent Ward 6 us on on council?

Two things uniquely qualify me to serve as the Ward 6 City Councillor.

First, I spent a year as a Youth Councillor for the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) learning what it means to be a public representative. My experience with the LYAC helped me to develop an understanding of the commitment that it takes to represent constituents. Quite frankly, it takes a lot of time to be a good public representative. Effective representation means more than just showing up once every four years to ask for votes. It means making a concerted effort to engage in a continuous conversation with citizens. As a young person, I have a unique opportunity to make the role of City Councillor my main occupation and to devote significant time to developing a strong community conversation in Ward 6.

Secondly, I intend to take this community conversation seriously. I will demonstrate a sustained commitment to traditional outreach tools like focus groups, canvassing, coffee meetings and community forums, while simultaneously incorporating new technologies such as Nationbuilder, online discussions, social media and other direct democracy tools to obtain a more representative perspective on our community. It will take time to bring these efforts to the attention of community members, but I intend to maintain my commitment to reaching out to Ward 6 citizens through as many different mediums as possible.

 

 

Phil Squire

 

1. What topic or issue do you think deserves more attention from our City Council?

I would say it is a 50/50 split between our school system and revitalizing our downtown area.We need to be more proactive about working with elementary and secondary schools to ensure that they have the resources that they need to provide quality education to our children. There has been a pandemic of school closures these past few years and we need to work harder to keep local schools open.Our downtown area needs to be restored to its former glory. This goes hand in hand with a primary focus of my campaign, which is jobs and growth. If the City of London takes a more proactive approach in marketing ourselves as a destination to do business, we can rebuild the downtown core.

 

2. What is one simple, practical change you think you can make if you are elected as our Councillor?

Implement rapid bus transit and revitalize London’s transit system. This is necessary to maintain an efficient, cost-effective, user-friendly transit system that provides adequate service to members of the London Community.

 

3. Dream big. What is one thing you’d really like to see happen in London over the next 4 years?

Improve our local economy. One of the essential components of my platform is jobs and growth. We need to take steps to market London as an attractive place to do business and as a city that is supportive of small business. We need to ensure that local businesses have the support they need to become more efficient and to innovate. If we do not take these steps we will have no jobs available for our talented new grads and we will lose the ability to retain our talented young people, who truly are the future of the City of London.

 

4. What do you think is an important topic that is specific to Ward 6?

Maintaining the character of our neighbourhoods while ensuring that adequate, accessible, affordable housing is available. This issue has been close to my heart since I began my work with Habitat for Humanity and if I am so fortunate as to be selected by my community to be their voice at the Council Table, I will continue to pursue this project.

 

5. What makes you personally the best candidate to represent Ward 6 us on on council?

I am the best candidate to represent Ward 6 because it is my home. I grew up here, I’ve raised my family here. My community is an extended family to me. I have dedicated most of my adult life to the residents of Ward 6 through my participation in neighbourhood associations, coaching soccer, serving as Chair of Habitat for Humanity and serving as a School Board Trustee. I believe that the most qualified candidate to represent the Ward is one who calls the Ward home and is passionately committed to serving its residents. If the Ward 6 residents give me a mandate this fall, I will do what I have always done: strive to work for my community and give my neighbours a voice in local politics.

 

What Council is Really Saying

What Council is Really Saying



There have been a lot of plans announced and decisions made by city council in the last year that I haven’t agreed with, but the repeated deferral of the Green Bins programme is simply embarassing for a Canadian city in 2011. I think it is all in aid of the sacred 0% tax increase promised by Joe Fontana, and I am sick of good decisions being held hostage by a foolish election promise.

I have sent this letter to Joe and the whole city council, and I urge you to write your councillor as well.



Dear Mayor and Councillors,

I hope that you will read and consider my thoughts on this issue, and I would ask that this letter be included with the agenda for the August 29th meeting.

The decision not to fund a Green Bin program speaks volumes. Shelving the program sends lots of messages, and they are all negative.

To the students and young people that we should be encouraging to stay in London, this decision says “London doesn’t care about the future. London doesn’t value the things that you care about, like sustainability.”

To the rest of Ontario and Canada, this decision says “Here in London we can’t be bothered to clean our own messes. We’ll use up our landfills as fast as we want.”

To the average family, who may grumble at first but ultimately wants to do the right thing, this decision says “Don’t pay any attention to what you waste or throw away. What difference does it make?”

To the children that we should be teaching about responsibility and consequences, this descision says “It’s OK to just keep putting off a tough decision or pretending a problem doesn’t exist”

To me, a voter and taxpayer here in London, this decision says “City Council believes that honouring a rash and reckless election promise of 0% tax increases is more important than any other considerations.”

Like it or not, I think that’s what you’re saying if you vote against the Green Bin  program.

I hope that instead, you’ll do the right and responsible thing. I hope you will choose to say: “We’ve got to look after this place. We’re going to stop dumping our problems on future councils and future generations.”

Chris McInnis
299 Cheapside Street
London, ON

What I love (and hate) about Sunfest

1. The merchants of crap.

I’m getting this one out of the way first, because it is the first thing most people bring up as a reason for not liking Sunfest. Fair dues.

There are far too many crap vendors. Spongebob towels, inflatable Spider-Men, belt buckles, and even the dreaded Wolf blankets… There is so much of this crap in the park, many people seem to not realize it is a music festival. They make the few interesting vendors too ahrd to be worth looking for, and worse, these tents are the prime cause of #2.

2. The Zombie Trudge.

I love this festival, but holy crap does it get crowded on the pathways.  Add in food purchases, looking at wolf blankets, and arguing about what to eat, and it’s like being in a mall, but with more sweat.

OK, now that the down sides have been called out, let’s count our blessings:

3.  Sunfest is free, homegrown and independant.

What more could you ask of a festival? Despite some dalliances with the dark side (Jazz music) Sunfest has remained incredibly true to its mission of bringing talented musicians to London from all around the world to celebrate their music and share a bit of their culture along the way.

4. Dancing babies.

I know you can see them at any outdoor concert, but I like ‘em best at Sunfest. They just seem more wholesome attached to a hippie dad than a soccer mom. Babies are usually the first ones up and dancing at afternoon shows. The usual order of how a dance crowd goes is:

a) Babies (and parents)

b) Hippie Librarian single women

c) Youngish-trying-to-be-free-sprit women

d) Shirtless guy trying to impress dancing women

The shirtless guy either means the crowd has hit critical mass and will snowball, or he oogs people out and the other dancers retreat. Interestingly, as if to prove his cool, shirtless guy is often the last one dancing.

5. Amazing Home-made Food

Nothing showcases London’s cultural diversity better than the community groups who cook at Sunfest. From my all-time favourite, the Nicaraguan Nacatamale to the Afghani spiced potatoes, there is a ton of great authentic food to gorge on. We typically eat there all weekend. I pity the fools eating pizza this weekend. Live a little!

6. My Sunfest hat.

A few years ago I found an old straw hat of my dad’s. It’s bright pink and we always mocked him for wearing it. Now, even though it’s practically disintegrating I love it. I don’t only wear it at Sunfest, but I always wear it at Sunfest.

7. Familiar Faces

I love running into people I haven’t seen in years. It always happens at Sunfest. I equally love recognizing Sunfest regulars on stage and in the crowds.

7. The music!!!

Year after year, Sunfest has not just introduced me to amazing artists and performances, it has broadened my taste and appreciation to include a ton of great musical styles and elements.

You have to do your homework – with so many bands and styles, a lot of it probably won’t appeal to you. But if you take the time to check the playlists, you are bound to find someone amazing to watch. (I must credit Jen who does most of the “triage” on the artists for us every year).

I could do a whole post on great artists and albums I discovered because of Sunfest. Instead, I’ll showcase a few artists I think will be the show-stoppers this year:

Five Alarm Funk (tons of fun – have seen them twice already)

Systema Solar (if these guys are 10% as fun as the video,it should be a great show)

Jayme Stone (amazing banjo player who fuses bluegrass with African and other elements)