Platform – Part 3 – Economic Development

Something that gets overlooked when we discuss all the new infrastructure growth is the fact that it is all government spending.  While the buildings and new services are nice, what many in our region want is access to new industries and the private development that comes with it, and City Council needs to work harder in this area.  The work done to develop the nGen business incubator will bear fruit, but interactive gaming is a small industry.

Brock University is planning to build the Niagara Health and Bioscience Research Complex.  The city should be finding ways to team with Brock and Niagara College in this area, with an eye to developing a business incubator geared towards biotech and biomanufacturing firms.  Incubators provide expertise, space, funding advice and other resources for companies to get off the ground, and biomanufacturing could be to St. Catharines in the 21st century what auto manufacturing was in the 20th.

In addition to his, City Council needs to move away from the idea of ‘putting all our eggs in one basket’.  GM provided thousands of jobs in the past, but we can no longer look to one employer to provide for the whole city; we need to attract different industries to the city to protect against downturns in any one of them.

The city needs to redevelop its economic development strategy so that it focuses not just on the downtown core, but on St. Catharines as a whole.  Consultation needs to take place between city hall and various stakeholders: Brock and Niagara College, local union and labour groups, business associations and the Chamber of Commerce.  We need to identify what it is we have to offer industry, and then aggressively market to it.

Our first step of the larger economic development plan should be to listen to the businesses we already have.  A report was recently released that surveyed independent business owners and found over half of the owners surveyed feel poorly served by local government.  For our job outlook to improve, business owners need to be consulted to figure out where the city needs to improve in attracting new business.

I originally got involved in this election because I wanted to build a City where my son would choose to live when he grows up.  For this to be a reality, we need more jobs, and City Council needs to endorse policies that support job growth.  Younger residents need to have access to opportunity if we are going to retain them in St. Catharines.

A strong week of campaigning

Another week down, and I have to say I’m feeling really good about the work I’ve gotten accomplished.

Over 2000 doors knocked on in 4 days this week, campaign literature sent to each and every one of those, over 200 conversations with residents who are not happy about the direction City Council seems to be taking the city, a meeting with the Brock University Student Union, 2 big articles in the Standard (a general rundown of the upcoming election, and a great article on the use of social media in the campaign), and 2 big chunks of the platform posted (fiscal responsibility and communication with taxpayers.

Signs are being ordered (and I’ve had a lot of good response about those, as well), the next campaign literature drop is being written (with the full platform included), and a few thousand more copies of the initial literature will be handed out over the next few days.  A busy lead-up to the really crazy stuff – post-Labour Day, when my day job (Physics teacher), football coaching, being a dad and husband and campaigning all combine to create a whirlwind of activity.

I can’t wait!

Platform – Part 2 – Communication with Taxpayers

Municipal government is the closest level of government for taxpayers, and the decisions that are made directly affect citizens on a day-to-day basis.  Communication between City Hall and the residents of St. Catharines should be of the utmost importance, and it should go in both directions.  Sadly, this does not always appear to be the case.

While attending City Council meetings, I have seen numerous residents arrive to ask questions about actions the City is contemplating implementing; is in the process of implementing; or has already taken.  Any resident who takes the time to come to a City Council meeting obviously cares about what is going on in their community – how is it that they are unable to find the information about what is going on down the street from them?  Why isn’t the information easy for them to get?

By the same token, in conversations with residents in Ward 4, a regular complaint is that no one is listening to their concerns.  The flooded street on Mildred Ave. every time the rain comes, the tree issues on Fawell Ave. after a windstorm – no one seems to be listening at City Hall when residents call and complain.

City Council recently eliminated the City page in the St. Catharines Standard where public announcements for meetings and other municipal information was relayed to residents.  The argument was that, in a technological era, people could go online to get their information.  This attitude ignores two basic problems: first, there are many people in our city who are not comfortable with newer forms of technology (or don’t have access to the technology in the first place) and might not know how to access it; and second, to know what information you want, you first need to know what you’re looking for.  By eliminating a major tool of communication with local residents, City Hall has made it harder for the people it serves to find out what is happening in St. Catharines.

As a City Councillor, I will be committed to regular, monthly Ward meetings with citizens to explain what is going on in St. Patrick’s Ward – upcoming projects, public meetings, new bylaws, on-going concerns, etc…  These meetings will not be one-way, however; I also want to hear from local residents about what their concerns are, and where they think City Council should be setting St. Catharines’ priorities

Municipal government impacts each of us everyday, and we should not have to fight to find out what it is doing, or give our opinion on what needs to get done.

Notes from City Council

2 big issues tonight:

First off, the addition of bike lanes was commented on, discussed and finally deferred when Councillor Secord pointed out (quite rightly) that the city policy regarding bike lanes is a little heavy handed, and doesn’t take into account the views of residents along the corridors where the lanes are proposed.  I couldn’t agree more, and found myself specifically agreeing with him when he said there was no need for bike lanes to be put everywhere.

That was my point when I wrote this – we need to find routes through the city where the addition of bike lanes won’t create a major disruption to existing traffic flow.  Not every north-south and east-west corridor needs bike lanes, but cyclists do have a right to the ability to get from one end of the city to the other.

The second big issue related to traffic calming, and the end result of that debate was Council endorsing a plan where city staff would create a policy to combat a problem their own report said didn’t exist.  Councillors also chose to delete any reference to how much adopting the policy would cost, but staff estimated anywhere from $100,000-$250,000.

I guess my big issue with that one revolves around the fact that there is no actual widespread problem with traffic speeds or dangerous driving in the city.  A blanket policy to begin ‘traffic calming’ on local streets is kind of expensive when there is no problem to begin with.  A far better way to deal with traffic issues would be to let Ward councillors bring concerns to Council so that they can be dealt with individually, when intervention is warranted.  I have to think that would cost considerably less than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Social Media in the Election campaign

A great article by the Standard for tomorrow’s edition on the role of social media in this election.  I was happy to be interviewed, and I was glad Monique Beech included my comments on the need for the face-to-face in any campaign.  My main message was simply that, while Twitter, Facebook and an overall online presence are assets, nothing replaces stumping from door-to-door.

That said, if you’re interested, feel free to become a fan of my Facebook page or Twitter feed.  And for an excellent article about how to use social media in an election campaign without making a fool of yourself, check out this article by Kayle Hatt (who was also interviewed for the Standard piece).

A week of meeting people and finding out what matters to them

A fantastic week of knocking on doors and gabbing with residents – lots of good ideas and suggestions for things to talk about.  I was pretty happy to find out that I’ve picked most people’s biggest concern as my top priority – fiscal responsibility – and a lot of people agree that it’s time to slow down on the spending and find places where efficiencies can be exploited to save taxpayers money.

As an added bonus, I caught this article from the Standard off my Twitter feed last night, and was more than happy with this paragraph:

So far, Gill is the only city incumbent to bow out. But a feisty battle might also be shaping up in the downtown ward, St. Patrick’s, with incumbent Mark Elliott and vocal newcomer Mathew Siscoe debating online and in the editorial pages over city transportation planning, particularly the hot-button issue of negotiating space for both cyclists and motorists.

“Vocal newcomer”?  I think I like that.

(For the record, I think they’re referring specifically to this).

Platform – Part 1 – Fiscal Responsibility

The City has recently undergone a period of unprecedented spending and infrastructure growth.  Over the last 4 years, numerous projects have been undertaken in conjunction with the Federal and Provincial governments.  These include the development of a new Arts Centre in the downtown, a new parking garage on Carlisle St, a new swimming pool and library at Pearson Park and a new Football Field behind Seymour-Hannah arena.

In many cases, these projects were required to replace older infrastructure whose repair or replacement was ignored or pushed off over the years.  Even now as we build this new infrastructure, however, renovations and repair to other facilities are being put-off in a bid to keep the books ‘balanced’.  This doesn’t make sense.

Council needs to develop a priority list and a long-term schedule for repair and replacement of key infrastructure in order to ensure costs are spread out over time, and that this lumping of a huge capital debt on the backs of taxpayers is not repeated.  This list then needs to be adhered to in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

While all of us will enjoy the new facilities, the Region is now saying that Burgoyne Bridge only has a few years left of safe use.  Why wasn’t city council actively pushing the Region and the Province to get infrastructure funding to fix or replace a major transportation link between West and Downtown St. Catharines as a top priority?

No one drives a car at 150km/h between stoplights – it wastes gas, and it’s not a smart way to drive.  In the same vein, City Council shouldn’t be spending huge sums of money on infrastructure in between periods of spending nothing.  It ends up costing taxpayers more, and it’s a poor way to run a City.

Further to that, Council needs to implement a system of comprehensive service reviews, so that each department has its books re-examined on a regular basis to find savings for taxpayers.  As a City that has some of the highest tax-rates for comparable sized cities in Ontario, efficiencies need to be found to reduce the burden on Residential, Commercial and Industrial taxpayers.