Municipal Election: Ward 6 Meeting

The following is a report detailing the Ward 6 All-Candidates meeting which took place on Thursday, October 9, 2014 at the Cherryhill Village Mall. 6 out of the 7 candidates for Ward 6 city councillor were in attendance (Flavio Iannialice was absent), and Philip McLeod served as the moderator.  Each candidate was given 2 minutes to introduce themselves. Each candidate then drew a sponsored question that only they could answer, being given two minutes to respond. Following this, the floor was opened to audience questions that had been submitted during the first part of the session. The moderator drew a question, and each candidate was given two minutes to respond to the question. The meeting wrapped up with each candidate being given a final 2 minutes of time to explain why they are the best choice for city councillor.

Alasdair Beaton

Alasdair introduced himself by providing examples of what he has done to help his neighbourhood, including having a laneway moved to improve neighbourhood safety, and increasing the priority of the St. George/Grosvenor area for being recognized as a Heritage Conservation District.

 Marie Blosh

In her introduction, Marie detailed her volunteer history, including her time as the president of the Broughdale Community Association. She also discussed her educational background, which includes a graduate law degree from Western, and her career as a law school librarian.

 Mike Bloxam

Mike introduced himself by detailing his volunteer and community work, which includes sitting on the city’s environmental advisory committee, running a Food Bank program on Saturdays, and donating blood. He also spoke about his Computer Science educational background and his tech business which has employed co-op students.

 Cynthia Etheridge

Cynthia began by wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving. She stated her belief that “you can never have too many friends” and added that she felt surrounded by friends in the audience. She also explained that she has worked as a cashier at the Cherryhill Metro for 16 years, giving her experience providing service to the people.

 Amir Farahi

Amir introduced himself by being quick to state that age is not a factor in his experience running for city council, as he has gained support from several demographics. He argued that this demonstrates that voters are looking for something different in their city councillor.

 Phil Squire

In his introduction, Phil emphasized the fact that he has lived in Ward 6 his entire life, speaking about raising his family in London as well as his 30-year career as a lawyer.  He also spoke about his experience as a school board trustee and a house builder with Habitat for Humanity.

Sponsored Questions

Each candidate drew a question from a bowl of preselected sponsored questions, and each candidate was given two minutes to answer their specific question.

Question for Alasdair: As London becomes more multi-cultural and diverse, what changes will Council need to make in how city services are delivered?

Alasdair argued that providing every linguistic group with language services would be expensive and not conducive to acclimatization. He pointed out that the City of London website offers translation features such as Google Translate.

Question for Marie: What do you see as ways of improving public transit in London, what are the estimated costs of your ideas, and on what basis do you think your ideas will work if adopted?

Marie stated that the current transit situation is unacceptable, and she mentioned the London Plan’s suggested solution: BRT. Marie argued that the problem with the London Plan is the heavy costs of the implementation of BRT, and she suggested that express lanes and transit hubs should be prioritized instead.

Question for Mike: What idea that has been implemented in another city would you try to introduce in London, and why?

Mike offered two examples, one from Edmonton, Alberta and the other from Waterloo. He explained that Edmonton features a citizen dashboard on the city’s homepage which features several metrics that the city is held accountable for, including information about construction projects and snowplow routes. He argued for the importance of putting the public eye on projects, referencing the lengthy construction on Oxford Street. He also noted that Waterloo allows for overnight parking, which would be helpful for Londoners in the winter.

Question for Cynthia: How could availability of low income housing in London be approved?

Cynthia said that London needs both new low-income housing and a cleanup of the current low-income housing available, and to accomplish this London needs support from the provincial government.

Question for Amir: Two consecutive council-appointed task forces have recommended that the pay a councillor receives not be changed. Each pointed out that the pay is a stipend, not a reflection of hourly work or even a salary. What is your opinion of the conclusions?

Amir stated that he is not running for public office for the money and that he is not in favour of wage increases, though he acknowledged that some councillors need the income. He suggested that wages could be adjusted for inflation, but that councillors should check with their constituents first.

Question for Phil: London’s landfill will be filled in 10-15 years. The land is there to expand it, but creating the “hole in the ground” will cost over $100M. What steps should London City Council take to slow the rate at which the landfill is filling up and why?

Phil explained that currently London is diverting 44% of its waste from the landfill, and that the question is how London can get to 70%. He spoke of his support for a green box program. He also suggested that garbage management should be privatized, and that we should be patient in terms of new technologies, to wait until they become teacher to invest.

Audience Questions

The candidates were then given the opportunity to respond to questions from the audience, which were written and submitted before the meeting began and through the first portion. The moderator would draw one question and each candidate was given 2 minutes to respond.

What Will Make the Bus Service Better in the Long Term?

Alasdair supported the BRT plan and said that there should be improved routes reaching all the way north and south as well as from east to west. He explained that his pet peeve in terms of traffic and transit is the CPR tracks and the grade separation. He said that it would be expensive to move the tracks, but that this would improve efficiency and productivity.

Marie supported the idea of rapid transit lanes just for buses and expressed concern over moving the buses off of Dundas to King and Queen, stating that people don’t want to have to walk the extra block.

Mike argued that there is no cohesiveness to the current transit system and that the current system of routes should be discarded. He argued for a crosstown bus system that would focus on making traffic in the arteries of the city and then spreading to the neighborhoods. He said that the industrial neighborhoods need service, and suggested that London should have a bus terminal similar to Kitchener, where the Greyhound meets up with the LTC.

Cynthia mentioned that she spoke to Larry Ducharme (general manager of the LTC) in the last election and she said that a problem the LTC faces is the cost of longer hours, but this is a necessity particularly for citizens who begin work early and work late into the night. She also argued that buses need to run further, and she related a situation she found herself in where she had to commute by biking to a bus stop, riding the bus, and then biking from the bus stop to work.

Amir said that transit is an important investment and he was interested in rapid transit, explaining that while BRT would be expensive at 385 million, so too would road-widening at $290 million. He explained that a well-functioning public transit system will reduce urban sprawl and improve quality of life.

Phil explained that he came together with other council candidates to create a 6-Point Plan for public transit, which would include an increase in the amount the city contributes to transit, improve student access, add overnight express routes, focus on peak period improvements, review the current routes and check the drivers’ overtime, and make a move to BRT with the help of provincial and federal funding.

What Have You Done to Protect the Environment?

Alasdair restated his part in getting the St.George/Grosvenor area moved up in the list to quality for becoming a Heritage Conservation District.

Marie spoke about a tree-planting project she spearheaded, where the donations she raised were matched by King’s University College and then by Reforest London. She also mentioned her role in preventing King’s from paving a flood plain and in protecting Medway Forest.

Mike cited his experiences working with ReForest London working to rehabilitate natural areas of the city. He explained that he has a passion for the environment and is part of the Thames Region Ecological Association.

Cynthia explained that she is a member of an organization for protecting Meadowlily Woods. She spoke about the importance of teaching future generations about the environment.

Amir spoke about going to Gibbons Parks as a child and doing cleanups with his dad. He also spoke about his time as part of an Environmental Committee as part of the LYAC that was tasked with researching waste diversion. He encouraged citizens to look to Markham as an example, which has 80% waste diversion.

Phil explained that his duties as a volunteer soccer coach include taking teams to find out about the environment and perform cleanups. He also spoke about the importance of passing environmental knowledge on to children.

How Do You Plan to Connect With Youth?

Alasdair says that he seeks to communicate with all ages and he has connection to youth through his wife, who is a teacher.

Marie mentioned that she attended the Children’s Museum Debate to meet Grade 5 children who told her they wanted books and parks. She said that the key is listening to what youth want and she stated that there should be advisory committees.

Mike said that he wanted to connect with the LYAC, Western, and Fanshawe to bring in the youth perspective, and he spoke about his involvement with the Food Bank where he manages student volunteers. He mentioned that he has also had a youth presence in his campaign through high school volunteers.

Cynthia stated that she felt very connected with youth and mentioned her family. She explained that she considered herself “Everyone’s Mom” and explained that she has good communication with children.

Amir took time to thank all of the young people who had donated money and feedback to his campaign, arguing that youth care about what is going on in politics, also noting his time as a Youth Councillor with the London Youth Advisory Council. Amir stated that age is just a number, and his campaign is not just about having a young person as a representative, but having a responsible person as a representative.

Phil mentioned that he has two teenagers at home, has been a school board trustee, and has been part of a Western advisory committee. He said that he doesn’t believe in a separation between youth and seniors, and that people are people.

What is your opinion on the Performing Arts Centre?

Alasdair said that he supports a performing arts centre, but that he is not prepared to support one location over another. His main concern is that the city gets value for their money.

Marie stated that while the city needs a good performing arts centre, she was concerned about the potential for the project to become a money pit.

Mike explained that there has never been a Performing Arts Centre in Ontario that has made a monetary return, but that the cultural returns are what is important, particularly for putting London on the international stage. He argued for a multi-purpose, multi-use centre, and suggested that it does not necessarily have to be located in the core. He also mentioned that it is important to look at what options we already have, such as the JLC (Budweiser Gardens).

Cynthia argued that with many people struggling making to ends meet, that it is not the right time for a Performing Arts Centre, but how she vote will depend on what her constituents want.

Amir stated that it is important to note that Arts and Culture are vital to a vibrant city. He criticized the current Performing Arts Centre plan, which is asking for $16.7 million with $1 million per year on top of that. He noted that Brantford is still struggling to pay for their own arts centre, and that he instead advocates better funding to London’s currently existing arts groups.

Phil explained that he supported the earlier proposal to use the land behind the Grand Theatre, and that while the Performing Arts Centre needs to be done the city should use what resources it already has. He mentioned that the head of the LEDC said they had an earlier, more viable plan for the Performing Arts Centre.

What Do We Not Have That We Should?

Alasdair pointed to the homelessness problem in London. He explained a pilot project borrowed from Portland, Oregon which found that it was less expensive to give homeless people homes and food than to keep them on the streets. He suggested that London should look to projects such as these for answers.

Marie stated that we do not have enough affordable housing, which was affected by the tax freeze. She argued that we need to keep that population segment that needs help in mind.

Mike argued that London needs more sustainable decision making, and that decisions need to keep in mind community, economic, and environmental impacts. He also mentioned that sustainability needs to help the Arts and Culture sector, and that changes should be planned for 10, 20, and 50 years down the road rather than only thinking in th short-term.

Cynthia argued that there needs to be more interaction between politicians and people, and that they need to plan things together.

Amir said that London needs jobs, but rather than promising a job creation number, London needs to focus on creating the conditions for jobs and economic growth, reducing urban sprawl to support a low cost of living with a high quality of life.

Phil said that London needs to get rid of its negativity towards itself, moving to a change of attitude about London and its potential.

Why Should I Vote for You?

Alasdair stated that his strengths came from his life experience, being the oldest of the candidates, and his commitment to transparency and not allowing corporate donations to his campaign.

Marie argued that the job requires someone who is experienced and ready, and she explained that she was going into the job with mindset that the people have not hired her, but that they are trusting her to represent the people.

Mike restated his commitments to the environment and to mentoring youth as well as mentioning his extensive history of volunteer work.

Cynthia explained that she had preparing to be on city council since 2003 and claimed her commitment to work for the people full-time by announcing that she had quit her job at the Metro. She spoke about her desire to take care of the voters, seeing London as an extension of her family.

Amir stated that it’s time to elect candidates with a vision who can market London on an international scale. His vision is for London to be functional, connected, and attractive: becoming a functional example for other cities, becoming connected through reducing urban sprawl, and becoming attractive by creating conditions for jobs.

Phil stated that he had been preparing for this role for a lifetime, and pointed to his history as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and as a school board trustee, claiming that there would be no learning curve for him. He finished by stating that his family still comes first.

Recorder’s Notes

Some of the answers to the question about youth representation were somewhat underwhelming. Youth voters are not looking for a parental figure in their city councillor, but one who will include them in conversations about how the city should move forward. As a young person in the audience, I found that it was also somewhat frustrating that for some of the councilors, “youth” seemed to automatically mean elementary school children. While it is of course incredibly important to advocate for the voice of children in politics, there should be discussion of youth beyond those ages. This is particularly relevant when considering the university graduates who often leave London due to struggles with unemployment, which we have discussed in previous meetings.

Notably, both in the sponsored and in the audience questions transit continues to be a topic of concern for many Londoners, and it was encouraging to see that the candidates understood those frustrations and each candidate pinpointed different problems with the transit system that need to be examined. It was clear in the thought that went in to most of the candidates’ comments that the transit issue was a priority this election.

The Results are In…

Londoners took to the polls for the municipal election on Oct 27, 2014. Here are the results for ward 6, in which there was a turnout of 6, 510 voters. Here are the results for each candidate and the percentage of the vote that they won.

Phil Squire                               1, 840              28.26%

Marie Blosh                             1, 524.             23.41%

Mike Bloxam                          1, 189              18.26%

Amir Farahi                                 847              13.01%

Cynthia Etheridge                       664              10.20%

Alasdair Beaton                          409                6.28%

Flavio Iannialice                           37                 0.57%

Ultimately, Phil Squire won the council seat for Ward 6, but it was not a landslide by any means. Marie Blosh was a close second, and Mike Bloxam was not far behind her. Former LYAC councillor Amir Farahi made a very admirable showing in the election, seeming to prove that for at least those 847 voters, age really is just a number. Squire seemed to make a comment to a similar end when he stated that he felt that people are people regardless of age. Hopefully he will still take a nuanced approach to issues such as unemployment, which as we have discussed in previous meetings can often begin in youth through factors such as quality of and access to education. Hopefully Phil Squire will recognize youth as being another demographic he is accountable to, and he will be willing to listen to the youth voice, including those of us here at the LYAC.