Read This First!
I’ve been told not to be very specific about policy. Put down three vague points and stop there. But whenever I talk to voters, they ask specific questions, and I feel I owe you an outline of what I care about!
I don’t think about these ideas as “campaign promises”. A promise is something you’ll do no matter what. This is more like a first draft, an outline of my thoughts and priorities. Because every day I listen to people, and learn, and change my mind.
So if you notice a mistake, or you think I’ve missed something, or have some questions—please get in touch! I want to learn from you.
We should be aiming towards universal design. Everyone ought to be able to access, understand, and use every building and service, to the greatest possible extent, regardless of age, size, or disability.
We have a long way to go to get there, and every day our aging population will bring our deficiencies into ever clearer focus. Many buildings are only accessible through stairs, or the corridors are too narrow for a wheelchair, or the doors are difficult for many people to open. Many public services can’t be used or understood by people with visual or hearing impairments.
Some of these challenges are difficult and expensive to correct. For example, many older buildings, particularly in the historic downtown, are difficult and expensive to retrofit with elevators, accessible washrooms, and wider corridors. But we need to move forward as quickly as we can.
The City should start by applying universal design to its own buildings and services. City buildings should all be accessible. Metrobus should have audible stop announcements. The City should offer exercise classes that are accessible to people with mobility issues or who are recovering from injuries. Etc.
The first step to improving our private buildings and services is to identify which buildings and services are accessible already. It isn’t obvious: accessibility challenges can be easy to misunderstand. As a performer and arts administrator, I have a lot of experience with people saying their buildings are accessible when they aren’t—and vice versa!
Identifying accessibility challenges helps empower people to make informed choices. It also sets the foundation for concrete steps to promote accessibility. The City should set up a system of moderate incentives to encourage businesses to (1) develop a realistic plan for improving accessibility and (2) follow through.
It’s possible that tougher provincial accessibility legislation is coming. If it is, St. John’s can do its businesses and residents a favour by getting ahead of the ball; if not, the City has the onus of improving things here.
[See also: Public transit, Affordable Housing.]
Active Space and Athletics
I believe everyone in St. John’s should have reasonable access to active spaces and athletic opportunities.
Exercise and active space are vital to physical and mental health. Access to trails and active spaces helps people exercise. And so the physical layout of our city helps determine our health. [See also: Real neighbourhoods.]
Active spaces also allow adults and children to participate in individual and team sports and in exercise classes, building communities and healthy lifetime habits. The City also promotes healthy habits through its popular daycamps and activity camps for children and through its exercise classes for adults. This year those camps sold out too quickly.
At the moment, the City’s exercise classes and facilities are not accessible to people with mobility issues. It can also be difficult to tell which classes and facilities are accessible to whom. That needs to change! [See: Accessibility.]
Last, a few difficult intersections and missing crosswalks interrupt many of the City’s trails and active spaces.
Everyone who lives in St. John’s should be able to find affordable and acceptable housing here. Affordable Housing isn’t just about low-income residents, it matters for students, for seniors, for people who are beginning careers, for young families, for artists, for anyone who can’t buy a big, new, detached house right now.
The City’s 2014 Affordable Housing Business Plan was a praiseworthy initiative to coordinate public, private, and nonprofit groups to put more affordable housing on the market. We need to continue and build on its efforts.
I agree that Council’s primary role is in building partnerships and coordinating efforts. But there’s more we can do:
- Affordability means more than the cost of renting or owning. We must consider the whole cost of living in a residence, including heat, transportation, etc. A house you can’t afford to commute from, or to heat, isn’t affordable.
- Better public transit and more walkable or cycling-friendly neighbourhoods can solve affordability problems, if they allow young people or seniors to live without a car, or families to get by with fewer cars.
- Accessible and age-friendly housing will be particularly in demand in the coming years. We should be preparing for that challenge. [See: Accessibility]
- For most people, housing isn’t accessible unless the neighbourhood offers green space, active, and social space. Finding active and social spaces can be particularly challenging for seniors and families with young children. [see: Real Neighbourhoods].
- Affordable housing is affected by every zoning or planning decision. It can’t be left in the hands of one working group; it affects everything. Are we allowing infill housing on large existing lots? Basement apartments? Semi-detached or row houses? Multi-unit buildings? It shouldn’t be against the law to build a small, cheap house.
- In the long run, St. John’s won’t have affordable housing unless new construction keeps pace with population growth and changing needs. I will keep that in mind when considering development applications.
Amalgamation and City Boundaries
It’s time to separate amalgamation from regional fairness.
St. John’s taxpayers bear an undue share of the cost of maintaining the infrastructure for the Northeast Avalon. I do believe that’s an issue that should be addressed, but amalgamation isn’t the only solution or the best one. And in my mind, regional fairness is less of an issue than the Province not paying taxes. [See Taxes on Provincial Property.]
It has been suggested that St. John’s should give away the Southlands or other areas of the City. That would ultimately take provincial legislation. But I value every neighbourhood in St. John’s, and I don’t want to drive anyone away!
The arts community is one of St. John’s greatest and most underused resources..
We have world-class musicians, visual artists, actors, dancers, writers, playwrights—and the list goes on. Our arts community already attracts people here to visit and to stay, but I believe more is possible:
- Cutting arts funding is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Our arts community is producing a lot of value for not much cost.
- Many arts events take place in physically inaccessible locations. Improving accessibility will allow more people to appreciate what we have. [See: Accessibility.]
- An active arts community gives children a community of enthusiastic teachers. Parents and children benefit a lot from the arts! [See: Children and Families].
- The Downtown Transportation Problem makes it difficult for most people to attend events. We need better transportation downtown, and also more events in other neighbourhoods. [See also: Downtown Transportation Problem.]
- For particular historic reasons, St. John’s has the latest show times anywhere. Often bands start playing long after midnight. That makes much of our local music scene inaccessible to most parents or people who work in the morning. I would support efforts to coordinate earlier show times.
- Many municipal issues raise either aesthetic problems or communication problems—areas where artists have special skills and insights. I will push to include more artists in committees and discussions.
- It’s time for St. John’s to portray itself as a modern, diverse, inclusive city. The arts community is essential to making that happen.
The beautiful and historic buildings in St. John’s are a unique and valuable asset. In addition to their intrinsic and cultural value, they attract tourists, workers, and investment to the City. Unfortunately, their value is provided to the whole City, while the whole cost of maintaining them falls on their owners. As a result, their owners often lack an economic incentive to preserve them, even though they are eminently worth preserving.
As a result, the City has to take a leading role in preserving and maintaining built heritage. That role requires both rules protecting buildings and incentives rewarding owners for preserving them.
The loss of the Quinnipiac and Richmond Cottage have led to positive changes. The list of protected buildings is slowly growing, and Council says it will work harder to hold developers to their deals. I will defend these hard-won victories and attempt to build on them.
Although the City needs to have an aesthetic vision for its heritage areas, that doesn’t have to mean an artificial stylistic monoculture. Adding heritage elements onto designs doesn’t always improve them. Our heritage areas need a more nuanced and forward-looking aesthetic vision.
For more of my thoughts, check out my article about built heritage in the Overcast.
Business is the engine of the City’s economy. Businesses create jobs, build buildings, and pay one-third of our tax revenue.
It’s easy to take our business community for granted. But many businesses have the option to leave. Local businesses have a choice of thirteen other municipalities in the Northeast Avalon alone. Larger businesses can also move to other centres in Atlantic Canada. We need to stay competitive.
Staying competitive isn’t just a way to keep what we have. St. John’s can be a business destination, somewhere people relocate their businesses to.
Many of the business community’s needs are the same as other people’s. It’s good for business when St. John’s is an artistic and cultural centre [See: Arts]; when it’s inclusive and accessible [See: Inclusion, Accessibility]; when its neighbourhoods are attractive and livable [See: Real Neighbourhoods, Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature]. It’s bad for business when we let spending get out of control [See: Spending] or when we fail to control urban nuisances [See: Litter, Motorcycle Noise].
The business community also have some distinctive concerns [See Development Approval Process], or some distinctive perspectives on shared issues [See Spending]. I will listen carefully to the business community’s concerns, and help St. John’s become a business destination.
Some people see municipal politics as a conflict between pro-development, pro-business interests and anti-development progressives. I think that’s outdated and unhelpful. The interests of our business community are fundamentally aligned with a progressive vision for our city.
Progressive priorities like inclusivity, public transit, real neighbourhoods, and investing in the arts are essential to attract and retain workers and to expand and diversify our local economy. The business community are essential allies in building an adequate supply of affordable and acceptable housing, putting vacant urban spaces to use, and building a new, more inclusive culture.
The adversarial narrative about business and the arts has always seemed particularly strange to me. As a musician and arts administrator, I’ve always seen the arts community as part of the business community. As a performer and music teacher, I ran my own business. As an arts administrator, I worked on artistic projects alongside entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, etc. The arts community is deeply connected to the rest of the business community.
Children and Families
Children need places in their neighbourhoods to go and learn and play [See: Active Space and Athletics; Arts; Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature; Real Neighbourhoods].
Children also need safe streets and walkable neighbourhoods [See: Traffic Calming, Safety].
The City’s main planning tool is the municipal plan and development regulations. They set the ground rules for all construction and development in the City. They’re supposed to be reviewed every ten years.
The plan is already four years late. The current Council won’t get it done; they’ve only just released draft development regulations. Even if the plan is adopted in the Fall, it’ll be almost halfway into its useful lifetime. Soon it’ll be time to start thinking about the next plan.
I won’t let planning get stuck on the back burner:
- I’ll push to get the current plan done quickly, but I won’t rubber stamp it just because it’s four years late.
- I want to hear your feedback about the plan and development regulations! Every neighbourhood is different, and the only way to plan for a whole City is to listen carefully. Please, if you can find the time, have a look at the plan and tell me what you think!
- I want start the new planning process early so we’re ready in 2023 when it’s time for a fresh look. The city’s changed a lot in the four years since the “new” plan was drafted. Let’s get back on track!
- The municipal plan is an important way to promote many of my priorities such as real neigbourhoods, green space and active space, and healthy wetlands. In some neighbourhoods, it may be time to consider newer planning tools such as form-based codes. [See: Real Neighbourhoods; Green Space, Parks, and Nature; Active Space and Athletics; Wetlands and Waterways; Built Heritage; Cycling; Affordable Housing; Downtown Transportation Problem.]
- In setting up a new plan, my main priority will be listening to residents. Though the follow through has been too slow, the initial Envision St. John’s consultations were a good model. You know your neighbourhoods, and I want to hear from you.
[See more of my thoughts in my Telegram letter about the late city plan and my twitter essay about the restaurant on Boncloddy Road. See also Regional Planning, New Subdivisions.]
While national governments are working on trying to prevent climate change, local governments have to figure out how to respond to it.
Because changing weather patterns will change precipitation patterns, the most urgent aspects of climate change for us will be flooding, snow clearing, and water supply [See Flooding, Snow Clearing, and Water Supply]. Climate change will also require active stewardship of our wetlands and waterways—healthy wetlands are more resilient to changes in precipitation! [See: Wetlands and Waterways.]
Municipal governments can also play a smaller role in mitigating climate change. Building real neighbourhoods, walkable and cyclable, can reduce emissions [See: Real Neighbourhoods, Cycling]. So can an effective public transit system [See: Public Transit].
In 2015 St. John’s considered buying two electric cars as a pilot project. It is unclear whether this would save a little money, relative to the cost of buying conventional vehicles, or cost a little money. Either way, it would be a cheap way to facilitate a transition to electric vehicles.
And lastly, the City can reduce the emissions it produces itself through conservation measures like energy-efficient bulbs, energy-efficient design, moderate thermostat settings, etc.
People need to be able to navigate the City safely and practically in bicycles. Unsafe routes are dangerous for both people in bikes and people in cars, and impractical routes simply won’t be used.
The adversarial conversation around cycling is the biggest obstacle we face. We need to find a way to lower tensions and look for ways to cooperate. People who bike and people who drive are going to be sharing the road for a long time to come.
I believe the best way to create a less adversarial conversation is to focus on road safety for everyone. That’s a value I hope everyone can get behind. [See also Vision Zereo.]
City Council has articulated a vision for the future in the 2009 Cycling Master Plan and more recently in the 2016 Bike St. John’s Task Force Final Report. Both documents are carefully reasoned and supported by evidence. I would encourage anyone dissatisfied with the City’s cycling policy to read them.
In some cases, it may be possible to significantly improve bicycle safety with only minor infrastructure changes, such as redesigned lips. Bicycle safety should always be on the agenda when we plan roads.
Democracy and Voting
The election system in St. John’s isn’t working right now:
- As I wrote for The Telegram, several rules make it difficult for students and young people to vote. I will fight to correct that.
- Provincial laws don’t allow permanent residents, international students, or other non-Canadian citizens to vote. City councils across the country, including Halifax and Toronto, have called for change. I will fight to allow every adult who lives in St. John’s to vote.
- The mail-in ballot system currently provides a large advantage to incumbents. Most ballots are mailed out and filled in weeks before the election, before many voters start paying attention to the election campaign. Democracy works best when people vote after a discussion of the issues. I will fight to reevaluate the mail-in ballot.
Development Approval Process
The development approval process should be as quick, cheap, and predictable as possible. No one is better off when developers waste valuable time and money waiting for approvals or commissioning futile reports. That just increases costs and drives away business.
Part of the problem we have is our out-of-date municipal plan and development regulations [See: City Planning]. As our development regulations fall farther and farther behind the times, more and more development proposals will need costly, time-consuming zoning changes. I will push to make sure the planning process doesn’t fall behind again.
In the meantime, I will do what I can to make the existing system work as quickly and predictably as possible, while ensuring that I understand the issues and listen to those involved.
Downtown Transportation Problem
Everyone who lives in St. John’s should have practical access to the City’s downtown amenities. Unfortunately, the difficulty driving and parking downtown makes it difficult for people from many neighbourhoods to get downtown. That’s not a downtown issue; it’s a whole City issue.
It’s difficult and expensive to significantly increase the number of parking spaces downtown. We need to look for more creative solutions to the downtown transportation problem.
The City should explore options like Park N Ride that would allow people to access downtown without taking their cars. Even if the options only appealed to fraction of commuters, they would free up a significant number of parking spaces. Similarly, even a slight increase the number of commuters who walk, cycle, take transit, or carpool would free up a lot of parking spaces.
The City should also promote the development of alternative mixed-use hubs, with a compact mixture of old and new buildings. The formula that makes the east end of Water and Duckworth streets successful is not mysterious or irreplicable.
[See: Climate Change; Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature; Wetlands and Waterways.]
Climate change means bigger rainstorms and bigger floods. Preparing for floods will be a major challenge for future Councils.
The City has commissioned engineering reports on the needed dams and weirs, and planned for them in its capital works plan. But the work has been slow. Members of the Pippy Park Commission have objected to the aesthetics and environmental implications of the plans. They have also observed that, unlike natural watersheds, which continue to mitigate even massive floods, dams depend on an accurate forecast of the amount of water they must contain. Climate change calls any forecast into question.
Wetland management is more than an engineering problem. The engineering perspective is an important one, but aesthetics and environmental considerations should be considered up front, and so should the advantages of a healthy watershed over a concrete dam. Otherwise these issues will come up later and cause delays. Let’s get it right the first time!
[See also: Wetlands and Watersheds]
Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature
Most people need regular, easy access to green spaces and to natural spaces. In some ways St. John’s is already doing well on this front, with spaces like Signal Hill, the Grand Concourse, Bowring Park, and the East Coast Trail offering many residents convenient access to nature.
But there is still lots of work to do. We don’t even have an inventory of public green spaces at the moment.
Every neighbourhood should contain rich, well-cared-for green space. Quality is as important as quantity: successful green spaces and parks feature high-quality landscape design, ecological health, and biodiversity. An unsuccessful or unused park can actually be a liability to a neighbourhood. [See also: Trees.]
Local access to green space is particularly important to people for whom leaving the neighbourhood is an obstacle. That includes families with young children, people with disabilities, and seniors. [See Accessibility]
In addition to green space, everyone should also have meaningful access to natural spaces. Manicured green spaces are nice, but they aren’t a substitute for nature. Parks Canada is successfully making their natural and historical attractions more accessible, the City of St. John’s can follow their lead for best practices and design standards.
Healthy wetlands and watersheds like the lower part of Rennie’s River can add a lot to their neighbourhoods. They form beautiful walking trails and access to nature. They are also a great teaching ground, somewhere where children can learn about the environment and the natural world. [See also: Wetlands and Watersheds.]
Natural play spaces are especially valuable for children and families. In addition to playgrounds, all children should have the choice to collect bugs, find worms, and make mud pies. Natural play spaces are also cheap and save the City money, especially in new developments.
[See: Active Space and Athletics; Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature.]
Homelessness isn’t just a human tragedy; it’s also bad policy. Investments in housing starts more than pay for themselves in reduced use of emergency services.
Community organizations I support the St. John’s Community Plan to End Homelessness.
St. John’s is a diverse city containing people of all ages, genders, races, religions, family structures, nationalities, abilities and disabilities, gender expressions, and so on.
This diversity is intrinsically valuable and worth celebrating. It’s also important to building a new and vibrant economy. And we can’t make good policy unless we start with an accurate perception of who we are.
I am committed to build a city that’s fully inclusive and reflects the perspectives of everyone who lives here:
- I will push for City committees and panels to include people with a broad range of life experiences. City Council and its committees should look like the City they represent.
- I will remember the limits of my own experience, and seek out and listen to people with different experiences.
- One way to build a more inclusive City in the future is to remember the City’s past mistakes: legal discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community; the expulsion of the Beothuk and the death of Shawnadithit; sexual abuse in schools, churches and orphanages; etc. We have some good models for remembering these productively: Pride Week and the Chinese Head Tax Memorial on New Gower Street are both good models to emulate.
- Newfoundlanders often portray ourselves as a fairly homogeneous group of white anglophones. That’s neither true nor helpful. We are diverse now, we have always been diverse, we become more diverse every day, and we should celebrate our diversity. The City has a real role in articulating our community identity: it commissions art, it plans public spaces, it commemorates our past, it advertises. We should take every opportunity to promote an inclusive vision of who we are.
Indigenous Past, Present, and Future
St. John’s doesn’t adequately recognize its Indigenous past. Getting that right is an important part of serving the many Indigenous people who are part of our present and future.
This land was used by Indigenous people long before Europeans arrived. That’s an important part of our story. I believe St. John’s City Council meetings should begin with a land acknowledgement.
As the place where Shanawdithit died and was buried, St. John’s seems to be the resting place for the Beothuk people. The current plaque in Bannerman Park is not a sufficient acknowledgement of that.
Finally, the City should not have a holiday commemorating John Cabot’s landing called Discovery Day. Cabot was not the first person here. The holiday should be renamed, and I would be open to suggestions about what it should be called.
Listening and Engagement
Good municipal governance has to start with listening. Expertise and hard work are important too, but they won’t get anywhere without listening:
- Listening reveals facts. It’s hard to know what goes on in a neighbourhood without talking to the people who live there. A traffic study might last a few hours; residents have years or decades of experience.
- Listening tells us what people want. I think we need more natural play spaces, but if the parents in a community want a traditional playground, I do too!
- In some ways, the City’s been doing a great job with engagement. The City seeks input on particular topics, and summarizes what it learned in handy What We Heard documents. It’s good.
In other ways we can do better:
- The word “engagement” reflects the City’s process: asking focused questions in a controlled environment. I think we need to listen. That can mean letting other people control the conversation.
- Because the City isn’t transparent, residents don’t have a chance to comment on a lot of major public policy issues. [See Transparency, Mile One, Metrobus.]
- Our outdated municipal plan means that residents sometimes aren’t consulted about changes when they ought to be, and vice versa. [See City Planning, Development Approval Process.]
Libraries are not just a cheap way to access books. They are an important community space, especially for seniors and families and young children. St. John’s has a significant library shortage.
The Province should pay for new libraries in St. John’s. But until it does, Council can try to build support, outline our needs and hopes, and raise funds for construction.
The best way to reduce our litter problem is to produce less waste. [See Waste Management].
The second-best way is to ensure that litter is collected before it starts blowing. Automated garbage collection should help reduce litter being blown from private garbages.
I believe another source of our litter problem may be a shortage of waste bins in some pedestrian areas, particularly during events like the Canada 150 celebrations. The City should consider erecting some of these bins itself. It should also examine whether private businesses that offer disposable containers have a role in providing more waste bins on their private land.
It’s in everyone’s interest for the rollout of legalized marijuana to be as safe and well thought through as possible. Municipalities will have a role in ensuring that legal marijuana does not create smell or secondhand smoke problems and that dispensary zoning is sensible.
City Council needs to be involved with the province and the RNC in planning for legalized marijuana.
Failing to meet people’s mental health causes human suffering and societal costs. While the provincial and federal governments are in charge of providing medical care, many municipal decisions can affect mental health, for better or for worse:
- Neighbourhoods with green space promote mental health. [See Green Space, Parks, and Community Access to Nature.]
- Walkable neighbourhoods and active spaces promote exercise, which supports mental health [See: Real Neighbourhoods, Active Space and Athletics.]
- Affordable housing and homelessness solutions supports mental health [See: Affordable Housing, Homelessness.]
- Poverty reduction supports mental health [See: Poverty reduction].
- Inclusion supports mental health [See: Inclusion].
- Accessibility makes it easier for people to participate in their community, which support mental health [See: Accessibility].
The St. John’s Transportation Commission is one of Council’s least-transparent committees. The lack of transparency may lead to bad decisionmaking. It also undermines public discussion and awareness around what should be an important issue.
I will push for greater transparency at Metrobus. [See also: Transparency, Public Transit.]
Mile One and the Convention Centre
St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, the company that runs Mile One and the Convention Centre, is a black box. They don’t report what they’re doing to the public. They don’t even report much to Council.
As usual, a lack of transparency is leading to bad results. Mile One has no hockey team, and the situation with basketball is unclear. $100,000 is missing from SJSE’s books and allegedly stolen, following up a 2008 theft for which no one was fired.
It’s time for an independent operational review of SJSE, and time to set up a more transparent reporting structure. [See also: Transparency.]
Some motorcyclists, usually using modified vehicles, are producing dramatically excessive noise. It’s annoying and causes hearing loss. It shouldn’t be allowed in residential areas or dense urban environments.
We’ve been waiting for too long for action on motorcycle noise. The City and the Province have been passing the buck back and forth. Sensible rules exist already in Edmonton, Calgary, and Saskatoon. The City has the power to implement them, and I will push for it to do so as quickly as possible.
Needle Disposal and Drug Safety
Used needles are dangerous to children, adults, and pets. They don’t belong in public spaces. We see too many needles in public spaces right now, either because people were using needles and there was no nearby metal sharps container, or because the container was breakable and broken into.
I will support more tamper-resistant metal sharps containers in more public spaces.
In most other respects, the provincial and federal governments must take the lead in combating opioid dependency or other substance abuse issues. I am interested in harm reduction where possible.
Every time City Council approves a new subdivision, it’s setting the structure for a new neighbourhood. It’s a big responsibility! Once the basic structure of the neighbourhood is set, it lasts for generations, for better or for worse.
In the past, City Council has dropped the ball. When the residents of Kenmount Terrace took out their mortgages and paid their development fees, they were relying on promises Council didn’t deliver on: a park, a school, convenience stores, etc. That’s a debt Council owes. It’s also something that shouldn’t happen again!
I have a few basic principles:
- Not every piece of land is suitable for a subdivision. We have lots of opportunities for development and redevelopment; we don’t need to pave over every wetland. [See Wetlands and Watersheds].
- Every new subdivision should feature high-quality planning. Subdivisions should be real neighbourhoods! [See Real Neighbourhoods].
- Council must keep any promises it makes.
- A good development requires a partnership between the City and a developer. Even with the best of intentions, a developer may need assistance in expert planning, and the City should be there to provide it! I’ll approach these relationships constructively and carefully.
Plastic Bag Ban
I support a plastic bag ban. [See: Waste Management.]
Potholes and Road Maintenance
Like most residents, I have concerns and questions about potholes and road maintenance.
Would a thicker asphalt layer or better foundational work reduce potholes in the long run? I think we deserve a clear explanation of why our pothole problem seems more severe than other northern cities’.
Could we schedule road closures and repair work to cause less inconvenience? Again, if we can’t, more public explanation of the obstacles is needed.
I’ll investigate these questions and produce answers. In the meantime, the best solution to pothole management, along with many other municipal problems, is for the province to pay its fair share! [See: Taxes on Provincial Property.]
Poverty is an issue at every level of government. The City’s primary role in reducing poverty is ensuring that there is an adequate supply of affordable housing [See Affordable Housing, Homelessness], and its secondary role is to ensure that the City has a working public transit system and other alternative forms of transportation [See Cycling, Public Transit, Real Neighbourhoods].
City Councillors should also remember that City services are paid for by property taxes, which are regressive and fall particularly heavily on the poor. In addition to restraining public spending, the City should consider whether it’s possible to mitigate the regressiveness of the property and water tax system.
Having grown up in a low-income household, and having two young children, child poverty is an issue I feel I have particular insight into. I would like lead a focus group on child-poverty reduction initiatives in the city.
Finally, it’s important to remember that poverty intersects with many other issues. Accessibility and poverty are related issues [See Accessibility]; so are mental health and poverty [See Mental Health] and inclusivity and poverty [See Inclusivity]. Improving one problem can help the others.
Public transit in St. John’s suffers from a chicken-egg problem: Few people use it, so there are few routes, which discourages people from using it.
There are several initiatives that could help ease that problem. The City should explore park-and-ride partnerships with employers and institutions, allowing people to park their cars and bus to work. Summer-only buses aimed at tourists could support our tourism industry and build seasonal capacity. A low-income discount could make the bus more accessible to people who need it; the 2017 transit fee increases were a move in the wrong direction. And discount partnerships with MUN, CNA etc. could make Metrobus more useful to students and build ridership.
In the long run, a more compact growth pattern would allow more useful routes, and walkable neighbourhoods would make bus stops more accessible.
It’s time for St. John’s to catch up with its peers and implement stop announcements on all bus routes, both for people with disabilities and for new residents who are learning their way around. We also need to continue to move towards ensuring that every bus is physically more accessible.
In the winter, we need to use our sidewalk clearing budget to ensure that bus stops are free from snow.
I believe every neighbourhood should
- Be walkable, with complete streets: enough sidewalks and trails for people to get around on foot in summer and winter.
- Be accessible by public transit and to cyclists.
- Have practical access to a community garden.
- Offer residents meaningful access to nature and natural spaces.
- Offer green space–not just grass strips but trees and vegetation. [See Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature.]
- Offer spaces for exercise and healthy living.
- Contain social spaces where people can meet, including seniors and families with young children.
- Have access to grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants.
[See Snowclearing, Safety, Cycling, Wetlands and Watersheds, Affordable Housing, Motorcycle Noise.]
The Northeast Avalon Regional Plan is currently being revisited, and the new plan will shape our development pattern, economic opportunities, and regional services. I will advocate for the new plan to include
- Better protection for wetlands, watersheds, and other ecologically sensitive features that crisscross municipal boundaries.
- Better partnerships and tools to help planning with developments like Galway that straddle municipal borders.
- Progress on a regional transportation network.
Serious injuries or deaths on the road shouldn’t be normal. Whether people travel in cars, motorcycles, bikes, or on foot, everyone deserves to travel safely.
It’s important to see that these injuries and deaths are preventable. Whenever we design roads and intersections, set speed limits, choose education policies, we are making choices about the risk of death or serious injury.
Cities and countries that try harder to prevent deaths and serious injuries, have fewer deaths and serious injuries. Recognizing this, many Canadian cities including Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton have adopted Vision Zero: let’s stop planning for any deaths or serious injuries. Let’s stop treating this as normal.
Small businesses are a vital economic engine for St. John’s. They’re also an important part of building real neighbourhoods, providing social spaces, groceries and supplies, and exercise options.
I will fight to reduce the number of obstacles small businesses face in setting up and operating.
Many small businesses’ water meters are inaccessible, leading to fictitious water tax assessments. The City should be exploring new water metering technology for small businesses, following Portugal Cove’s lead.
As the population ages, our City is home to more and more seniors. We need to plan for that future:
- Accessibility failures are going to become more and more prominent every year. [See Accessibility.]
- Not all seniors can drive. They have particular need of good public transit [see Public Transit], compact, walkable neighbourhoods [see Real Neighbourhoods, Snow Clearing and Sidewalk Clearing], and local green space [see Green Space, Parks, and Access to Nature].
- Affordable housing raises particular problems for seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income or have special accessibility or transportation needs. [See Affordable Housing].
Snow Clearing and Sidewalk Clearing
Clearing the streets after a snowstorm is always going to be a challenge. Here are a few priorities of mine:
- The 2014 KPMG report made a series of sensible recommendations about how to improve snowclearing operations. Many will take a long time to implement, such as designing new suburbs to contain adequate space for snow, or moving utility poles that interfere with snowclearing. We should aim to fully implement the report over time.
- The City has improved its sidewalk clearing operations significantly over the past few years, but many areas are still not walkable in the winter. We should aim for four-season walkability.
- Climate change may change our snow-clearing needs. Snowfall may become larger or more variable. We should watch for that.
- In some areas, sidewalk clearing and plowing are doing significant damage to private property, destroying grass etc. We should examine solutions.
- Pre-salting roadways prior to heavy snowfalls decreases the total salt needed to melt snow and ice from the road surface. Pre-salting improves storm water quality by decreasing salt, sand, and grit loading to the natural environment, and lowers costs of snow clearing.
Careful spending is an essential part of any viable progressive vision for the City.
Voters won’t support public spending unless they see value for money, and nor should they. In addition, municipal spending is generally paid for with property taxes, which fall disproportionately on the poorest residents. High property taxes should be a concern for anyone who is concerned about poverty or inequality. [See Poverty Reduction.]
Another reason for careful spending is that St. John’s is competing for residents and for business with thirteen other municipalities in the Northeast Avalon [see Business Community]. Many of them offer higher services for lower taxes. To some extent this is an unavoidable consequence of unfair provincial arrangements [see Taxes on Provincial Property, Amalgamation and City Boundaries], but the reality is that high municipal taxes can drive away people and business and increase the burden on the rest of us.
The 18% salary raises that came out of the 2014 contract negotiations brought these issues into particular focus. Public employees deserve to make competitive, living wages, and the right to collective bargaining is important and must be respected. At the same time, the raises were not publicly justified.
In the short run, the salary raises led to tax increases. The ensuing public outcry has led to a program review and spending cuts. Some of the spending cuts may be pure efficiencies, but service levels have been affected, and some measures like increased transit fees have placed an unfair burden on vulnerable community members. [See Poverty Reduction, Public Transit.]
Budgeting means hard choices, and I can’t promise to please everyone. Here’s what I can say:
- I support continuing the program review: painful as it is, we need to look constantly for more efficient ways to deliver public services.
- I will also support an independent City auditor, both to look for efficiencies and to increase public confidence in Council’s spending.
- I will resist expensive pet projects and the impulse to hire expensive external consultants to do work City staff are able to do. We need to trust our in-house experts.
- When the City invests in valuable work or faces unavoidable costs, I will work to explain it better. It’s easier to accept taxes when the reason for them is apparent. [See Transparency.]
- I will fight for a fair distribution of the tax burden: costs should not fall disproportionately on either our poorest residents or on small businesses.
- I will push for regional fairness: see Taxes on Provincial Property, Amalgamation and City Boundaries.
- I will push to protect taxpayers from the expropriation costs associated with our water supply [see Water Supply].
Taxes on Provincial Property
Provincial governments are exempt from land taxes. But in every other province except for PEI, the province pays municipalities a grant representing the taxes that would be owed on provincial land.
St. John’s is being treated unfairly. Our two largest employers—the Province and MUN—aren’t paying their fair share to the upkeep of the city. That’s the biggest reason why Mount Pearl can afford to offer more public services for less taxes. Mount Pearl’s biggest employers pay their fair share.
This is a problem of practical politics. City Council has to find a way to put this on the provincial agenda, to make sure politicians and voters care. No other single financial issue is of comparable importance; tens of millions in annual revenue are at stake.
I will fight to put fair treatment for St. John’s on the agenda during provincial leadership races and the provincial elections.
[See also my letter in the Independent.]
There has been an understandable demand for traffic calming in many St. John’s neighbourhoods. High speeds in residential neighbourhoods are noisy and disruptive. They’re also dangerous.
Part of the reason is that many St. John’s residential streets are too wide. Another problem is that policies appear to limit traffic calming measures unduly.
St. John’s most popular destination streets demonstrate excellent traffic calming measures. Narrow driving lanes, signed pedestrian crossings, low speed limits, compact urban form, mixed-use zoning, and clear sightlines make travelling Water and Duckworth safe, slow, and enjoyable. These principles need to be applied to more of St. John’s streets. Residential, commercial, and commuter streets should encourage easy vigilance for all road users.
[See also: Vision Zero.]
City Council appears to be using private council meetings to cover business that ought to be discussed publicly.
Although private council meetings certainly have their place, the public should have confidence that they’re only being used in the rare legal, human resources, and intergovernmental cases that need them. As I wrote for Tint of Ink, it appears that they’re being used more widely than that at the moment:
- I will call on the Province to amend the City of St. John’s Act so that in St. John’s, just like in any other city or town, private decisions must be publicly ratified.
- I will object to inappropriate requests for private meetings.
- When a secret private is necessary, I will push for some public explanation, however minimal—even if it’s just “council discussed a personnel issue”—so that residents can have confidence that secrecy isn’t being misused.
Restraining private meetings isn’t the only way Council could be more transparent, though. I support Councillor Lane’s proposals for transparency too: Committee meetings should be better publicized and more accessible; there should be regular Q&A sessions; and both Council and committee meetings should be recorded and livestreamed.
I also support the appointment of an independent City auditor.
Trees transform and beautify neighbourhoods. They make empty space into green space. They reduce wind and create privacy. They increase property values. They support mental health.
To have the full urban forest we deserve, we need to plant trees all the time. New neighbourhoods need planting and waiting; old neighbourhoods need to plant enough to maintain what they have.
A healthy urban forest also requires a range of trees of different ages and species. A lack of diversity invites pests like the spanworm.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to put off tree planting. The full benefits take decades to arrive, and even when they do, the neighbours benefit almost as much as the landowner. So the City needs to take a role in ensuring that we’re planting enough trees.
I applaud the new one-tree rule for new developments. I think we can go further. The City should expand its annual tree-planting program and develop a communications strategy and small incentives to encourage homeowners and landowners to plant more and more diverse trees. Plus, low-impact design (LID) standards along roadways allows municipal trees to mature to their full size and age, while mitigating root damage to underground infrastructure.
Vacant Buildings and Land
The City contains too many empty buildings and unused land. Each vacancy is a wasted opportunity. If land is undeveloped it could be green space; if no businesses want a building it could be put to some other purpose.
I’m interested in any ideas to put empty buildings and vacant land to use. At the moment there are three ideas I’d like to explore.
First, the City allows landlords to claim a vacancy allowance for any land that they are actively marketing space for lease. Last year the City proposed eliminating the allowance, on the sensible theory that the public shouldn’t pay landlords to hold out for a higher price. But the Board of Trade pushed back, making the equally sensible point that many vacant buildings need large capital investments. The vacancy allowance encourages these investments by protecting landlords against the risk that the properties will go unlet once sold.
I suggest that we restructure the vacancy allowance to encourage investment and discourage holding out for a higher price. The allowance should be larger, but available only in the years after a significant capital investment.
Second, the Province owns a lot of unused land in the City. I will call on the Province to either use it or put it up for sale.
Third, the City contains a significant amount of land whose ownership is unclear. It goes unused from year to year because no one knows who is allowed to work on it. I will push to clarify ownership issues. If no one has been paying taxes, the unpaid bills may exceed the value of the land, in which case the City could consider expropriating it.
Wetlands and Watersheds
With good maintenance, wetlands and watersheds add a lot to their neighbourhoods. They are beautiful, green spaces; they give residents access to nature and natural play areas; they are environmentally friendly; and they help manage flood waters. Rennie’s River below Long Pond is an example of how much a well maintained watershed can add to a neighbourhood.
Poorly maintained wetlands are neither aesthetically pleasing nor safe. Unhealthy wetlands and paved-over wetlands create floods downstream. [See also: Climate Change and Flooding].
I will work with City staff and with local experts from MUN, NAACAP, etc. to to protect our well-cared-for wetlands and to improve the health of others (including South Brook, Yellow Marsh Stream, Kenmount Brook, and Leary’s Brook).
The best way to improve our waste management is to produce less waste. Recycling is good, but reducing and reusing are even better.
I will support efforts to ban plastic bags. While we’re waiting for provincial action, I’ll try to coordinate voluntary waste-reduction strategies.
I will also support enforcing existing garbage laws. They’re there for a reason, but they don’t do us any good unless we enforce them.
Automated garbage collection will involve more choices than big or small bins. In Mount Pearl, for example, it led to a significant falloff in recycling rates.
I will explore and promote strategies to increase waste diversion, including clear plastic bags and increased public education. Public education campaigns can be very effective in convincing people to reduce, reuse, and recycle!
[See also Litter]
The safety and purity of the water we drink depends on restricting how the land surrounding the City’s water supply is used. The City has historically required that this land be left unused in its natural state. A recent court decision treated this as an expropriation and ordered the City to buy out the landowners.
The City can’t really afford to buy out everyone. We either have to reconsider our requirements or get provincial support—or both. The City is currently restricting the use of land that is downstream from our current water supply, and it’s important to ask whether that’s necessary.
Water waste has to be part of the conversation about our water supply. A significant amount of our water supply is wasted by faulty plumbing, for example. Portugal Cove has recently introduced selective metering to help address this issue.
Water supply management will be a major issue for the next Council. I will prioritize the issue, to consider every side carefully, and seek expert guidance.
Welcoming Immigrants and New Residents
St. John’s should be an attractive place for people to come and make a life. But successful settlement and starting a life in St. John’s can be difficult.
Housing and transportation are two areas in which the City can lead [see Affordable Housing, Public Transit, Real Neighbourhoods]. Without stable housing, it is difficult to find jobs, learn a new language, and become a member of a community.
St. John’s can also be difficult place to fit into culturally for new Canadians, but also for people from elsewhere in Canada and even this province. We should do what we can to build a more inclusive self-image [See Inclusion].