for Regional Council
Experienced Qualified Committed
I’m the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo YWCA, and a current Kitchener Councillor for the Region of Waterloo. I’ve worked for 30 years as a social worker and social work manager and administrator, and have spent my career in the not-for-profit sector.
I have a master’s degree in social work, with a focus on social policy and administration. I’ve completed Wilfrid Laurier University’s post-graduate management and leadership certificate.
I’ve served on many volunteer committees and boards in our region. In addition to various standing and ad hoc committees of Council, I chair the Region of Waterloo's Heritage Planning Advisory Committee, and am a member of the Grand River Conservation Authority Board of Directors. I’m serving a third term on the City of Kitchener's Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee. I’m a member of Zonta Kitchener-Waterloo, an organization of professional women, supporting women locally and internationally through service and advocacy.
Why am I running?
When I first ran for election in 2014, it was with four goals: relieving and reducing poverty, creating a livable and sustainable community, and strengthening the local economy, while using tax dollars effectively. I believe that the Region of Waterloo has made progress on all those goals during my term, and I’m proud of the role I’ve played.
We’ve enhanced our supportive housing services for people who are chronically homeless, and added to our affordable housing stock for low to middle-income households. We’ve increased and protected our discretionary benefits funding, which provides dental and vision care to our lowest-income residents. We’ve expanded public transit, frozen transit fare increases, and launched a fare subsidy pilot, testing a variety of fare packages and learning about low-income residents’ travel needs for a future subsidy program. And we’ve created new child care spaces, lowered child care costs, and eliminated our child care subsidy waitlist.
We’ve protected our greenbelt by directing almost two thirds of new development to existing built lands. We’ve worked with local municipalities and utility companies to help residents and businesses reduce energy use, keep energy spending local and adopt cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. We’ve met our previous greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, in part through initiatives that included our LED street lights conversion project and our new waste diversion program, which has cut the amount of organic waste going to our landfill by more than 50 percent. And we’ve approved an ambitious new target to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2010 levels by 2050, and cogeneration facilities that will heat and power our wastewater treatment plants, and increased investment in public transit and active transportation infrastructure, will help us to achieve that target.
Our community is growing fast, and our strong and diverse economy is one of the reasons. We’ve created a new economic development corporation which has attracted $73.5 million in new business investment already with many more businesses coming, and we’re making progress in getting our eastside lands development-ready for those future businesses. We’ve worked with the Province to gain a commitment to introduce two-way, all-day GO service between the Region of Waterloo and Toronto by 2024. Growing our airport is also critical to attracting businesses and jobs, and we’ve been actively recruiting new airlines.
And we’ve done all this while keeping property tax increases below 3% per year, and maintaining an AAA Moody’s credit rating.
However, we still have much to accomplish. The Region of Waterloo is facing an opioid crisis which took 85 lives in 2017. Occupancy in our homeless shelters exploded over the fall and winter of 2017 and 2018, and the number of households on our affordable housing waitlist has continued to climb. More people rely on Ontario Works, and almost 35,000 families had to access foodbanks last year. The recent change in the Ontario government may put some of our previous funding agreements and future plans – for more affordable housing, child care expansion and fee reductions, public transit and cycling infrastructure, among other things – in jeopardy. I believe my track record demonstrates that I have the experience, the qualifications and the commitment to help guide the Region through these challenges, and I hope you’ll elect me to do that.
Expanding our public transit system - improving its functionality and its accessibility - is in my opinion the most important traditional infrastructure project that must be accomplished in the next term of Regional Council and into the future. A public transit system that meets the travel needs of the community and that is affordable for people living in low income brings many simultaneous benefits: it relieves poverty and increases social inclusion by providing a low user-cost transportation option; it protects the environment by reducing reliance on private vehicles, the largest single cause of greenhouse gas emissions in our region; and it drives development in transit corridors, attracting housing and jobs while preserving our countryside line.
During the past term of Council, I was a member of the Grand River Transit (GRT) Business Plan Steering Committee, and the 2017 to 2023 plan the committee created will, if followed, provide more frequent service in high use corridors, align with our new light rail transit system, ION, due to launch at the end of this year, and add 48 more buses. Identifying a final route for the Cambridge phase of ION, conducting the environmental assessments, completing the technical design work and assembling the construction financing, must also be a priority for the coming Council term.
When I first ran for Regional Council in 2014, expanding access to transit subsidies for people living in low income was among my primary objectives, as it continues to be. The transit subsidy program the Region had in place at the time, which provided half-price passes to some people in low income, was inadequate as demand greatly exceeded supply and as the cost remained unaffordable for individuals and families relying on Ontario Works. I believe my advocacy work outside of and within Council contributed to the fact that in 2018 the Region is conducting a formal transit subsidy pilot study, reviewing the opportunities and costs of four different fare models, and we expect to have the results of that study for Council’s 2019 budget deliberations.
Over the fall of 2017 and winter and spring of 2018, the numbers of people using homeless shelters in Waterloo reached unprecedented levels. While shelter numbers have since declined, police and municipal bylaw officials report that there are more people sleeping rough in our community in the summer of 2018 than in previous years. The number of households on our affordable housing wait list now exceeds 4,000, with close to 300 of those households having histories of chronic homelessness and requiring supportive housing. And like other large communities across Canada, our region is now in the grip of an opioid epidemic. Opioid deaths have tripled in the past three years, with 85 lives lost to overdose in 2017 alone. Significantly expanding our affordable and supportive housing stock and programs, and offering supervised consumption sites and other harm reduction services to save the lives of people who use opioids and other dangerous substances must be the priorities of Council in the coming term and in the future.
During the past term of Council, I served on the Waterloo Region Housing Master Plan Steering Committee, and pending approval by Council later this fall, the committee’s plan to redevelop under-utilized Region-owned properties to add new housing units will begin in 2019. In addition to increasing the amount of affordable housing in the Region’s own portfolio, Council must continue to financially incent and support the creation of new affordable housing by not-for-profit and for-profit housing providers, using tools that include development charge grants and forgivable loans. However, the cost of constructing affordable housing averages roughly $200,000 per unit, not including the price of land. It would require in the area of a billion dollars to build enough housing just to clear the current waitlist, and would take many years. But the need is urgent, so the Region must also adopt innovative and more immediate means to secure affordable and supportive housing for our most vulnerable residents.
Early in 2018, Council endorsed a plan to end ‘functional homelessness’ by July 2020, and approved more than $3 million in annual spending in order to achieve that goal. This plan provides households who have been chronically homeless with assistance in finding and maintaining housing in the private rental market, using portable rent supplements and home-based supports. It’s an extremely ambitious plan, and concerted effort and continued funding over the next term of Council will be essential to its success.
Supervised consumption services (SCS) provide safe places for people who use dangerous drugs to do so under medical supervision, and they also provide primary health care and referral to addiction treatment, among other supports. They save the lives of the people who use them, and in an effort to reduce overdose deaths in Canada, the federal government has invited public health units and other health agencies to apply for exemptions which will permit the establishment of SCS sites. In early 2018, following the completion and recommendations of a feasibility study, Council made the decision to open sites in the two areas of the region with the highest numbers of overdoses – south Cambridge and central Kitchener. At the time of Council’s decision, Provincial funding for SCSs had been committed, however the new Provincial government has indicated that it may not support them. Strong political opposition to the establishment of a south Cambridge site may also prove a barrier. Council will need to be resolute, and prepared to fund the SCS sites with no Provincial support, if it is to overcome these barriers and proceed with this controversial but critically important program.
A green economy is one in which economic, social and environmental development and other activities meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is one in which resources – food, water, energy – are renewed as quickly as they are consumed, and one in which waste is processed as quickly as it is produced.
I’m proud of what’s been accomplished in the past term of Council. We’ve protected our greenbelt by directing almost two thirds of new development to existing built lands. We’ve worked with local municipalities and utility companies to help residents and businesses reduce energy use, keep energy spending local, and adopt cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. We’ve met our previous greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, in part through initiatives that included our LED street lights conversion project and our new waste diversion program, which has cut the amount of organic waste going to our landfill by more than 50 percent. And we’ve approved an ambitious new target to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of 2010 levels by 2050. Cogeneration facilities that will heat and power our wastewater treatment plants, and increased investment in public transit and active transportation infrastructure, are two initiatives planned for the next term of Council which will help us to achieve that target.
The Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy provides six guiding principles for sustainable development: planning that anticipates and prevents potential environmental degradation; full cost accounting which incorporates environmental and resource costs in all financial and budget decisions; decision-making based on accurate, objective information that gives equal consideration to short and long-term outcomes; treating resources as part of ‘natural capital wealth’, which means not depleting them without replacing, reusing or recycling them; changing lifestyles and consumption patterns to create a more sustainable culture; and protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems and habitats.
If re-elected to Council, I will continue to act upon the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy’s guiding principles. I will establish as a priority the protection, preservation and restoration of the natural environment. I will insist upon true-cost pricing economics. I will support local agriculture and business products and services. I will support the development of clustered, mixed-use pedestrian oriented eco-communities. And I will encourage the utilization of advanced systems to reduce energy use, the maximization of conservation, and the development of locally renewable resources
Diversity and Inclusion
Waterloo is a fast-growing and increasingly diverse community, with almost one quarter of our residents being newcomers to Canada and almost one in five identifying as a member of a visible minority group. Yet according to a 2018 Immigration Partnership report, the majority do not feel welcomed or included here. The 2017 Outlook study revealed that Waterloo’s LGBTQ population often feels isolated and unsafe. And our growing numbers of people with disabilities experience multiple barriers that make access and participation challenging. Clearly there's much work that the Region must do to address these problems.
During the past term of Council, several initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion were launched, including our 2018 - 2022 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan. Created with guidance from a stakeholder group made up of representatives of traditionally excluded and underserved groups, the plan outlines how delivery of Regional programs and services must change to better serve all members of our community.
A second initiative, Wellbeing Waterloo Region, is a broad and large partnership of local governments, businesses, groups and individuals, funded and facilitated by the Region. Wellbeing Waterloo Region has identified social inclusion as one of its three priority areas, and is currently planning a strategy to build a community-wide movement to celebrate diversity.
In addition to my work on Council and on the Wellbeing Waterloo Region project, through my volunteer role with the City of Kitchener's Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee, I have worked for the past two years on a small subcommittee focused on LGBTQ issues. I'm proud to have played a role in bringing gender-inclusive washrooms to all city-owned recreational centres, work which began in 2018 and will continue.
Throughout my term on Council I have been and I will continue to be fully committed to ensuring that all residents have equal access to our community's resources and opportunities, to engaging all residents in Regional decision-making, and to condemning all forms of discrimination.
The reasons that residents feel disengaged from government are varied and complex. For many, the main impediments to engagement are their lack of trust in politicians and governments, and their fear that the contributions that they want to make will not be valued. For others, the opportunities that are available to interact with government are confusing and intimidating. Few residents, and especially those who are marginalized and experience discrimination, are comfortable making formal presentations to council in front of cameras and an audience. And it is a challenge, even for people who are politically aware and technologically savvy and who possess strong English language skills, to access and make use of the reams of jargon-filled and technical information posted on the Region’s website about Council meeting schedules and decisions!
Two years ago, the Region launched a new public engagement portal, Engage, and to date the portal has had 15,000 visits from residents looking for information and giving input into surveys. This and other measures like making materials and meetings accessible for people with physical disabilities, or translating documents for people with language barriers, or ensuring that advisory committees are diverse and inclusive, are important, but they all don’t go far enough. Regional government must be prepared to do its business differently in order to overcome social and cultural issues leading to distrust and exclusion. True resident participation requires elected officials to reach out and create conversations, and true conversations involve sharing of ideas – not just of information. They require active listening and giving and accepting feedback, and they take time.
Throughout my term on Council, I’ve made it my practice to respond promptly to every communication I’ve received from residents. If I haven’t agreed with or have been unable for other reasons to support the residents’ viewpoints, I’ve been honest about that fact, but I’ve nevertheless ensured that the residents have been treated with respect and their positions have been given due consideration. I’ve provided information about public input opportunities and have personally arranged for residents to delegate to Council, when that’s been requested. I’ve regularly participated in community meeting and events organized or attended by traditionally underrepresented groups, and have shared their perspectives on various issues with Council and with the public, using my social media platforms. And I’ve routinely used my social media to invite residents to attend upcoming Committee and Council meetings, providing plain language summaries of the matters which will be addressed and the decisions which will be made. I’ve welcomed divergent opinions on my social media platforms, provided that discussions remain issue-focused and constructive.
If re-elected, I will continue with these practices.
Vehicular transportation is responsible for 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, yet travelling by car remains by far the dominant mode for commuting to work in Waterloo Region, representing 90 percent of work trips. If we continue driving at the rate we're driving, and growing at the rate we're growing, we'll need to build 35 percent more roads by 2031, and we won't meet our greenhouse gas emissions reductions target. We need to get out of our cars and get moving, to save money, save our environment and improve our health!
We've made some progress during the past term of Council. We've installed more sidewalks, and more efficient crosswalks, with pedestrian advances, in priority areas. We're building a pedestrian and cyclist bridge across busy Highway 7/8. And we're piloting five kilometers of new separated bike lanes, to find out what kinds of separations are the most successful. We've got 100 kilometers of dedicated bike lanes on Regional roads now, and the number of commuter cyclists on those roads has doubled in the past few years. But we have lots more to do.
The Region's new Transportation Master Plan includes a heightened focus on active transportation, and estimates we need to invest an additional $120 million between 2019 and 2031 to achieve the plan's goals. If we're going to get more people walking, we know we need sidewalks that are protected, accessible and continuous, that are well lit at night, shaded during the day and plowed during winter. We know we need intersections that prioritize pedestrian safety over vehicular speed, with sufficient crossing times for pedestrian comfort. And if we're going to get more people cycling, we need a truly functional cycling grid that separates bikes from vehicles.
Last term of Council, I served on the Transportation Master Plan Steering Committee. I helped build the plan, and I'm committed to seeing that its goals are achieved.
In the past term of Council, the Region increased the number of licensed child care spaces by 8.4%, provided childcare subsidies to almost 3,000 families and cleared the subsidy wait list, and made childcare more affordable by reducing fees. Despite this, many families continue to face challenges finding available, affordable, quality care for their children.
The new Provincial government has already announced its intention to offer tax rebates to parents, instead of providing capital or operating grants for new licensed child care spaces. And it's opening up the sector to for-profit child care providers, which typically pay lower wages, experience greater staff turnover, and hire less qualified staff. These policies threaten the availability, the affordability and the quality of child care in the province and in the Region of Waterloo.
The next Council must make it a priority to preserve and build upon Waterloo’s licensed, not-for-profit child care system. If elected, that's what I will do.
If you want to help reduce and relieve poverty in Waterloo Region, create a liveable and sustainable community, strengthen the local economy and use tax dollars effectively, support my campaign by making a donation, taking a lawn or window sign, or helping deliver leaflets in your neighbourhood.