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What is your vision for the Guelph Public Library?
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My trusted Matrix took its dying breath on the Hanlon a few weeks ago. Saying good-bye was harder than I thought it would be, because so many memories with my kids happened in that car – road trips, camping, horse shows, and teenagers learning to drive with their G1. But I won’t miss the roll up windows, the familiar rattles and the gas mileage in its later years.
And so I began the search for my next vehicle… and learned quite a few new things along the way. The installation of new electric car charging stations — Stone Road Mall, University of Guelph and the County of Wellington office on Wyndham Street — made the idea of buying a full electric vehicle (EV) worth considering. The more I looked at buying an EV, the more sense it made.
I’ll admit that I did have “range anxiety” at first. This is a common initial hesitation of many potential electric vehicle consumers. Over the course of two weeks, I did a mileage audit of my frequent trips and realized most of my driving is local, and even GTA or KW trips can be accommodated with planned parking where an EV charging station is available. I even found a cool mobile app (PlugShare) where EV owners offer to share their home charging stations with other EV owners.
The next step was a trip to the Plug ‘n’ Drive EV Centre in Toronto. Plug’n Drive is a non-profit organization that offers information on electric vehicles, but is not a sales centre, so the information is unbiased. They have test drive vehicles from a variety of manufacturers (yes, they have a Tesla on site too). I was able to test drive three different EV (Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt and BMW i3). The staff are knowledgeable about all of the benefits, models and incentives programs. I followed up this field trip to the closest Kia dealership with an EV in stock (Burlington) to test drive the electric Soul.
After a test drive, I was sold on the Soul. It’s been three weeks with my new EV and so far so good. Most public charging stations (such as County of Wellington building) were free until July 1, but are now recouping their costs by charging or flat or hourly rate. Charging at home is now the most economical option. As an added bonus, there is a $1000 provincial rebate for new owners to install a home charging station. Incentivizing the purchase of an electric vehicle is based on the same principle as low-flush toilet and washer rebates — there is a great social or environmental benefit to promoting a cultural or technological shift.
Since becoming an EV owner, I have discovered even more benefits….
Transportation infrastructure is changing. Climate change and the transition to clean and renewable energy in Ontario is driving (forgive the pun) a new economy. New EV models are coming in the fall — the VW e-Golf and the Hyundai Ioniq for example. Auto manufacturing in Canada could see a new future if we are able to produce electric cars here at home. Volvo recently announced it will only make EVs and hybrids as of 2019.
Guelph has always been on the forefront of the shift to green technologies. EVs are the future in my opinion. I see a role for the municipality in building the infrastructure to support this shift sooner than later. EV charging stations are planned for the future Wilson Street parking facility. This is just the beginning ….
Much ado has been made lately in the press about Council’s Committee of the Whole (CoW). Opinion within Council is divided — some love it, some hate it — but most of the public don’t even understand it. Here’s the low-down:
Any council or board normally has some kind of committee structure. The purpose of a committee is to review and debate items before they come to Council. Then, the committee makes a recommendation to send to Council for a final vote.
Having a committee review, debate and make a recommendation before going to Council is a good idea. Stakeholders and citizens can come and share their input before Council makes a decision. Like anything, the background work done well at committee makes it easier down the road.
Guelph used to have a Standing Committee structure. There were five (5) committees, as follows:
In the old standing committee structure, four councillors (and the mayor) sat on each committee. Meetings were scheduled at standardized times and, typically once per month. At the end of the month, all of the committee recommendations are presented to Council and ratified.
In the Committee of the Whole structure, all of these committees meet on the same day, one after the other, and all 12 councillors (and the mayor) are members of all the committees.
On the surface, it appears simple. Proponents say it is more efficient because there is only one meeting, instead of five meetings. Technically, this is true. However, so far, CoW meetings have been longer than all five previous standing committee meetings put together. This is because all 13 members of Council are present, which tends to mean more questions of staff and longer debate.
A CoW governance structure can often work well for small boards or councils. Larger councils get bogged down in discussion and debate, and this is why larger councils tend to do most of their work using a standing committee structure.
When the CoW structure was first proposed for Guelph, I did not support this new model. I have been consistent in my opposition, up to and including the Council meeting on May 23, 2017, where I voted against continuing with the pilot project. Council voted to continue to evaluate the CoW process for another six months, so this is the plan moving forward. I do not think it is a good move for Guelph, for the following reasons:
It remains to be seen whether the CoW will continue beyond the spring of 2018. As we move forward, if the CoW structure is to remain, we need to see evidence that our citizens understand and feel included in the decision-making of the city at the committee level. As always, I welcome your thoughts…
Last week, I had the privilege to attend the 2017 National Planning Conference (NPC). Each year, city councillors are allocated budget funds for professional development which can be used to attend courses, conferences and/or other learning activities related to our role as members of Council. Each year, I try to choose something different, based on the needs and challenges facing our city. Over the past few years, as we grow ever upward and outward, I took the opportunity to learn more about how cities like Guelph are doing things differently from a planner’s perspective.
During the second day, I was sitting with a small group of planners and was asked “why is a city councillor at a planning conference?” My response, “we are your partners in city building. We need to speak the same language.” In other words, when our city planners bring us ideas and recommendations, it is essential that we, as decision-makers, understand their vision and the lens through which they see our city. We have more in common than we realize.
Cities across North America are facing similar challenges:
The NPC provided some great innovative ideas and inspiration. Over the next few days, I will reflect on what I’ve learned and share it here, with a bit of added Guelph context.
When planners look at a new development, the need for quality public space is always top of mind. The social interactions and economic benefit of high-quality public spaces (streets, parks, trails, squares, boulevards, libraries, recreational facilities, etc.) are, in many ways, more important that the private portion of the development. Public space is the glue that holds it all together.
Humans like to gather in public places. If we provide the basic essentials, the people will do the rest. What are the essentials?
Bryant Park (NYC) is a great example of all five components working in tandem. It’s also one of the most highly-used public spaces in New York City. Once a neglected urban space plagued by drug deals and other criminal activity, Bryant Park is now a hum of activity for all ages and an economic driver for businesses located on its perimeter. It is located adjacent to the New York Library, so outdoor reading areas and free lending libraries have been added to promote literacy. Games (bocce, ping pong, chess to name a few) keep visitors engaged for hours. Loose park furniture (yes, even in a big city) allows for visitors to shift with the sun and find shade under a tree, alone or in large groups that can congregate and talk about local politics.
In Guelph, our next significant public (and private) space development will happen along the river lands on the site of The Metalworks. The opportunity to link our rivers and trails is something that our planners (and councillors) were really excited about when we saw early plans for the massive redevelopment of the 5 Arthur Street site. The city will play a role in planning for a bridge linkage over the Speed River, and connecting the future “river walk” with our existing trail infrastructure. At NPC, we heard about successful projects where riverfront lands were reclaimed and restored for public space.
Planning a great city — and great public space — must always engage the community. Build in layers. Keep intact what our citizens currently value in our public spaces, and build upon that. Add amenities here and there. Test ideas and innovations. Adapt and evolve. Watch how people interact. And then adapt and evolve again.
2nd Annual Spring Festival at the Food Forest
University Village Park – 91 Ironwood Rd
Sunday May, 21st
9am to Noon
The Guelph Community Food Forest and Hanlon Creek Neighbourhood Group are excited to host the 2nd Annual Spring Festival. Help with the garden, lots of mulch to spread, crafts and activities (make a kite, plant some seeds, make a bird feeder), yummy refreshments, more park Clean-Up. Bubble Soccer hosted by the Rotary Club of Fergus-Elora – $5 for kid (up to 14), $10 for adults. Family fun for all ages, a great community event and time enjoying the outdoors!
Tonight (Monday, April 24) City Council will make its decision to offer — or not offer — online voting as an option in the next municipal election in the fall of 2018. On April 5th, at Committee of the Whole, I moved a motion to remove online voting as an option, which passed in a 7-5 vote. Since that day, members of council have received hundreds of letters and emails on both sides of the issue. This issue is obviously important to our community and the debate is a healthy one. It has given proponents of online voting an opportunity to make their case, to present compelling evidence in favour of internet voting, and to refute the research highlighting serious concerns about the list of electors and software security.
Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been prepared to have my mind changed. I was open to hearing about major improvements to the voter’s list. I waited to hear expert testimony and research demonstrating the security of voting software. I listened to arguments about accessibility for seniors and our disabled citizens, both for and against. I was hopeful that internet security experts could verify that the online election process could be audited in a meaningful way to detect a fraudulent vote or software hacking.
After listening and weighing all of the community input, I believe, now more than ever, that Guelph should not use online voting for its municipal election in 2018.
I want to thank the many citizens who took the time to express their views on this important issue. There were many compelling letters, for and against, on this important issue. I read each one and considered the input carefully. The case for convenience and accessibility for voters with disabilities has merit. These concerns were also addressed by writers who proposed that accessibility needs could be met in alternative ways. Of all the submissions, three in particular stand out that cannot be ignored.
Given overwhelming evidence about the risks to our local democracy if we move forward with internet voting, it would be irresponsible of me to support its use. I anticipated that the supplementary report released by the Clerk in advance of tonight’s meeting might have addressed some of the research and concerns submitted by the public, but no new arguments have been presented that would convince me that interest voting is reliable enough to entrust the outcome of the next election.
My obligation as your elected representation is to make decisions in the best interests of our residents. Supporting an electoral process that is open to fraud and manipulation would be an abdication of my duty to protect the integrity of our local elections.
It is my hope that my fellow councillors will agree during the debate tonight that the concerns raised by letter-writers and delegations are serious enough to warrant a pause in online voting, and that Council will pass a unanimous vote to suspend internet voting in 2018.
Dare I weigh in to the healthy debate our community is having about online voting!?
Of course, I will. I am willing to offer up my thoughts on this matter understanding that until I actually need to push the yea/nay button I am open to hearing other points of view. I do think I offer a unique perspective as I have been a Returning Officer in charge of delivering the provincial election here in Guelph.
I support online voting during the Advance Poll period as was done in the 2014 election but do not support the expansion to include Election Day. At the Committee of the Whole meeting on April 10th, I did not support the motion to remove internet voting completely.
I have concerns regarding the integrity of the voters list that the City receives from the the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). I do not have complete confidence in MPAC’s voter registration process before the City takes control and this creates a vulnerability for fraud in the internet voting process. The City requires proof of ID for voter registration while MPAC requires no proof. Someone can register with MPAC and vote online without ever having to produce an ID of any kind. If you go to Elections Ontario’s website today, you can only register with valid ID. Elections Canada requires a driver’s license number. MPAC needs to have a similar requirement.
So why would I continue to support internet voting for the Advance Polls? There are many articles identifying the pros and cons, the successes and failures and lessons learned. What I do know is that internet voting has been used in Ontario municipalities since 2003 without any reported security or voter fraud issues. In the 2014 election 97 municipalities used internet voting. In Guelph 33% of people who voted used the internet. While I understand the jury is still out as to whether online voting increases voter turnout, Guelph’s voter turnout increased 10% from the 2010 election. We don’t know why. I believe the benefits of accessibility do outweigh any potential problems if limited to Advance Polls. Any voting system, including paper ballots, relies on the integrity of our electorate and those delivering election services.
The problems of the MPAC list extend to the paper ballot system as well. A person can register online with MPAC without ID and show up at a polling place and still not have to show ID to vote. As long as someone has a voter’s card, they only need to sign a declaration that states they are the person who is named on the card. Also, no proof of Canadian citizenship is ever requested in the voting process. The ID requirements are outlined in the Municipal Elections Act. The paper ballot system has its own unique set of problems.
Polling stations are mandated to be accessible for persons with disabilities and procedures are put in place to assist in the voting process. Election polls are set up in retirement homes and long term care facilities. Municipal elections do not require home or hospital visits as do their provincial or federal counterparts. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that the “electoral principle of accessibility recognizes persons with disabilities should be able to vote without assistance.” Here is their supportive statement for internet voting in Toronto – http://ohrc.on.ca/ur/node/11576 Voting without assistance is important as it maintains dignity, independence and confidentiality. I would also point out that not all disabilities are ‘physical’.
Another reason I support internet voting during the advance polls is that candidates have an opportunity to see the list of anyone who has already voted in the Advance Polls. We receive this list before Election Day. I think large scale irregularities would be evident.
I acknowledge that many are concerned about security. I have asked our City Clerk to provide information regarding security measures used by the city for internet voting and have been told that there will be a supplementary information report for the April 24th Council meeting which will provide more in depth information about security and other issues raised by the public and Council. This report will be made available to the public.
Here is a link to the 2013 Council report which provided an analysis of alternative voting methods: http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/StaffReport_GuelphMethodsOfVoting.pdf
Happy to hear respectful input!