With PRIDE month just around the corner, and in light of the decision by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to once again not fly the PRIDE flag, I contemplated what I could do to work in solidarity with folks in the LGBTQ+ community. I had already written to the WCDSB (and encourage you to do the same) about my disappointment and frustration in their decision and urged them to reconsider. I thought that I could also place a visible symbol of support at my home. Perhaps a supportive message or rainbow flag on my little library.
That original idea was quickly followed by the thought that if I do that, I may be putting my little library at risk of vandalism or damage of sorts. Which was quickly followed by recognition that if I fear some sort of possible retaliation for simply showing support for PRIDE and inclusivity, how much more must LGBTQ+ individuals and families experience such concerns, not necessarily for just their property, but for themselves.
Although I have made some choices in my life that have received some pushback from family and friends (I think of when, 20 years ago, I told them that I was becoming vegetarian, or that I had decided I didn’t want children of my own), I rarely feel that who I am puts me in harm’s way somehow. As a straight, white woman with a certain level of education and financial means, I know that most of what I do is generally considered ‘normal, or the ‘default’, or ‘acceptable’.
However, this small moment reminded me (and I do hate that I need reminders of this) that there are still people in our community that don’t feel safe or accepted for simply being who they are. Although folks like me sometimes miss it, there is still work to be done to build an equitable and welcoming community for all.
And there are a multitude of ways to push back against these unfair and discriminating systems and policies. For me, I find it helpful to read articles and books, and listen to podcasts, from LGBTQ+ authors and artists. Also, follow them on social media and listen to their experiences. Volunteer or donate to the many organizations working with and in the LGBTQ+ community. Talk with your friends and family about these issues as well and share what you’re learning. Write your local politicians (and school boards!) asking for more inclusive policies.
What am I missing? Feel free to share additional ways to support our community as we work together to create a more welcoming and inclusive city.
On May 11th, Kitchener’s Council met for an online 'Special Council' meeting. You can watch it here if interested. Here’s a few of the highlights and some of my thoughts on that meeting.
The first thing up for discussion was a motion put forth by Councillor Davey which essentially requested federal government funding to assist Canadian municipalities in managing the financial impacts of the pandemic. The motion was seconded by Councillor Singh. This motion is similar to a recently passed motion by the Region of Waterloo and many other municipalities are doing the same. After a few clarifying questions and discussion, this motion passed unanimously.
The next proposed motion, and the reason for my interest in this council meeting, was made by Councillor Ioannidis in relation to Universal Basic Income (UBI). This motion encourages the provincial government to work with the federal government on implementing a Universal Basic Income. This motion resulted in quite a bit of discussion.
First off, Councillor Chapman asked Councillor Ioannidis what his understanding of universal basic income is and how it would reduce the strain on health and social services. Councillor Ioannidis said he’s not an expert on this, but thinks that all options should be on the table and is therefore encouraging upper levels of government to consider UBI.
Councillor Chapman said that she supports this motion in principle but has some concerns and questions of what is actually being proposed. Will it be geared to income so it's not a blanket 'across-the-board' program? She seemed to be concerned about the ‘universality’ of the program, preferring a more targeted approach to ensure those most in need would get these resources. She ended by noting that she may come back with an amendment to this motion.
Councillor Marsh applauded this motion since we see the benefits of government support right now in this pandemic. She also wondered, like Councillor Chapman, if the goal is UBI or a ‘guaranteed minimum income’. She says she’ll support the motion or possibly an amendment.
Councillor Davey sought clarification of whether this motion even falls within municipal jurisdiction at all. The clerk said there are examples of this type of motion happening previously. Councillor Singh also had some concerns about the motion, especially around the idea of everyone receiving it versus only ‘those who most need it’. He wondered if UBI may deplete the government’s ability to focus on those most needing the financial support. Councillor Ioannidis did note that there can be some efficiencies by providing funds to everyone, as we have seen with the implementation of the CERB currently.
Councillor Chapman asked Councillor Ioannidis what he sees happening to the ~33 existing social transfer programs (federal and provincial combined). He responded that the details can be figured out during those discussions at higher levels of government. His motion is to urge those conversations to happen in the first place.
Councillor Chapman put forth an amendment that changed the wording from Universal Basic Income to Guaranteed Minimum Income. Mayor Vrbanovic is not sure there's really much difference between the two. Councillor Ioannidis kept his original motion, so the amendment is now put forth to be voted upon.
Councillor Davey says he can't support this. He feels that we're unclear on details and it's an issue for a completely different level of government. This is not the time to ask, and is kind of embarrassing to consider the request, after just asking for federal funding for cities.
You can see comments from many of the Councillors in this thread. However, the vote on Councillor Chapman’s amendment (with the word change to ‘Guaranteed Minimum Income’) fails with 4 in favour, 7 against (in favour: Davey, Marsh, Chapman, Johnston; Against: Vrbanovic, Gazzola, Michaud, Galloway-Sealock, Singh, Ioannidis, Schnider). That meant the original motion would now be voted on. It passed with an 8-3 vote. In favour: Vrbanovic, Marsh, Schnider, Michaud, Chapman, Galloway-Sealock, Johnston, Ioannidis. Against: Singh, Davey, Gazzola.
I was glad to see this passed as I think a conversation on the best way to support all residents is needed now more than ever, and I hope that any such conversation considers the benefits of a universal basic income. Now the next step is to convince those upper levels of government to actually have those conversations. I’ll share more on how we can encourage exactly that in future posts, so stay tuned.
The Committee also voted on economic recovery supports, and some bylaws, such as street name changes. Again, if that interests you, you can watch the entire meeting here.
I had the good fortune of meeting Sara Casselman, the Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, or SASC for short, a few years ago. She was receiving the Mayor’s City Builder Award for the work she has done in support of sexual assault survivors in our community – a well-deserved honour indeed. Although I had heard a bit about the work SASC was involved in, I started following it much more closely after meeting Sara. I learned about the variety of services and supports they offer such as counselling, a 24-hour support line, and anti-trafficking work. They also provide educational workshops and resources, including the Male Allies program which supports boys and men in ending systemic and everyday forms of gender-based violence. This programming provides alternative narratives of masculinity, opportunity for self-reflection and dialogue, and challenges harmful language and behaviour. "It offers: a chance to talk about what it means to be a man today and address stereotypes, an opportunity to explore how to have a healthy relationship with family, friends and dating partners, and a forum to learn about creating safer schools, workplaces and communities."
As I have become more interested in the important work SASC is doing, I am learning some sobering facts about sexual assault, such as 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. And there’s many challenges that survivors face, including long wait lists for services. SASC’s current waitlist is over 140 individuals. We also know that challenging times, such as this pandemic, only leads to an increase in domestic violence. In fact, a recent StatsCan survey stated that 10% of women were ‘very concerned’ about violence in the home during the pandemic.
I have also noticed the challenges with much of the funding for organizations like the Sexual Assault Support Centre. Government funding is often precarious at best, as any changes in government leadership, economic challenges, and so on can mean that funding support could change at a moment’s notice. We saw that earlier this year as the provincial government announced that certain funding for support centres such as SASC would no longer continue. Clearly, it is definitely a challenge to plan for the long-term health and support of clients when funding sources can change so easily.
The Sexual Assault Support Centre is fortunate that it has many people right in our community that understand the value of their work, and support them financially through one-time donations, monthly donations, and by volunteering. SASC relies on financial support from its fundraising events, such as the annual Rosie the Riveter bowl-a-thon. However, like so many events right now, due to the pandemic, it has been moved to a virtual fundraiser. So, this year, we are being asked to #RallyWithRosie. Put on your best Rosie the Riveter outfit and post your photo to social media with the hashtag #RallyWithRosie. SASC will provide you with tools to educate and engage with your networks to help raise funds to support their work in our community. Visit their website to find out all of the details.
I have only known Sara for a couple of years now, but she continues to amaze me with her passion and support for survivors in our community. She gives so much to this work, including running a half-marathon on April 25th in support of SASC. You can learn more about that here. She knows how important the backing of donors and volunteers is to supporting survivors locally. You too can be a part of that important work this month by Rallying with Rosie.
Like many of us, I have been thinking about the impacts of the coronavirus, both in the short and long term. I’ve also been reflecting on how different people handle what is clearly a stressful and challenging situation.
I was reading an article in the Record recently with this headline: Connection Between Farmers and Customers Stays Strong. The article goes on to outline various ways farmers are adapting to the pandemic by offering online purchases, curbside pick-up, and deliveries. The article also reflects on the importance of the relationship between farmers and customers, stating “Market vendors are more than just a means to get food. There is an actual relationship there between vendors, customers and farmers." Now, I suspect that anyone who is a regular attendee of our region’s farmer’s markets, is well aware of this. I know I definitely have my regular vendors that I look forward to seeing each week and that is in fact, one of the many great reasons to shop at a local farmer’s market.
This article got me thinking though about how people attending the market regularly, and developing these relationships, has been important in maintaining these services in this time of crisis.
For me, there is a strong parallel to the work many neighbours have been doing over the years through things such as the #lovemyhood neighbourhood strategy. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with a variety of neighbourhood initiatives, associations, and committees that strive to encourage and strengthen connections between neighbours. Often those initiatives involve fun activities like plant swaps, easter egg hunts, or street parties. These events often result a great time had by all and perhaps some lovely memories as well.
I know some of my favourite neighbourhood memories include a neighbourhood event that partnered with Reception House where we welcomed over 70 newcomer children for a fun afternoon of tobogganing and hot chocolate. I also love the little Easter egg hunt our neighbourhood participates in each year. And I always look forward to the annual Pumpkinpalooza event in Victoria Park where neighbours put their jack o’lanterns on display for everyone to see.
I have been thinking about these events in light of the pandemic. As many of us spend far more time at home right now, the only people you may see are your neighbours. And I have been truly moved to see the creative ways neighbours are trying to stay connected during this time. I’ve seen themed neighbourhood art walks, chalking the walk, and evenings filled with pot banging in support of health care and essential workers. I’ve also seen people rely on neighbourhood email lists or Facebook groups to reach out to neighbours to offer a grocery run or just a friendly hello and check-in.
Although neighbourhood events can be a fun way to spend an afternoon with others (in non-pandemic times!), I suspect those events have actually been laying important foundations to stay connected. And thanks to the work of many neighbours, associations, and community groups, we see neighbours connecting in unique and important ways right now. What may have simply felt like a fun neighbourhood event only a few months ago, may prove to be an essential lifeline during this pandemic.
The list of challenges and negatives of dealing with this pandemic is long, and those impacts will be felt by many for a long time. However, if I may, I’d like to suggest one potential upside in all of this – the opportunity for having a larger conversation about what our cities are – and what they could be.
As governments, community organizations, and essential workers, both locally and globally, work tirelessly to support residents through these challenging days, we see important measures being put into place, such as increasing access to affordable housing (even if much of it is currently temporary/emergency shelter), increased funding to essential support services like health care and employment insurance, and even an increase in wages (again, much of it temporary) for minimum-wage workers. We are now surrounded by wide roads emptied of traffic as many of us strive to #StayHomeSaveLives. And there are many examples of neighbours supporting each other through all of this with creative ways to connect.
Although there are some unfortunate stories of people not distancing themselves or otherwise not participating in attempts to flatten the curve, I am seeing far more examples of people supporting each other and advocating for improved resources for our most vulnerable citizens. I am seeing people who have never contacted their elected officials before, doing exactly that to encourage more funding for affordable housing, or sharing petitions that advocate for subsidized rents or call for an end to evictions.
I am also seeing calls for re-prioritizing our street spaces to focus moving people safely (as we practice physical distancing), instead of moving cars. As cities are shifting towards stricter measures of ensuring we don’t see a rise in covid cases, we see many outdoor spaces being temporarily shut down, with some cities even closing trails all together. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just this week, London, ON decided to close a few streets to vehicles, to ensure pedestrians and cyclists can access those spaces while practising physical distancing. Calgary is changing their beg buttons (those frustrating buttons pedestrians must push to activate the cross signal) so pushing the button is no longer required, in light of concerns around community spread of covid.
These are only a few small illustrations of how things are changing as we deal with this crisis. However, these changes don’t need to be temporary and they don’t need to be small. These small examples simply show us a glimmer of what is possible and remind us that this may be an opportunity to upend the status quo of how cities operate. We are seeing the first signs of things changing that many have said were previously impossible (I mean, how many of us expected to see the Provincial Conservatives working well with the Federal Liberals?). We are housing people who previously had no shelter; we are offering financial support to those with precarious, limited, or no income; and we’re seeing shifts in how people are moving around the city.
For me, this feels like encouragement that we can make permanent changes that allow our communities to offer affordable housing for all, a basic income program, and more active transportation options that focus on moving people, not cars. So, with all these challenges around covid, I do still find glimmers of hope. In this crisis we are seeing some examples of a new vision for cities, one that is more compassionate, sustainable, caring, and equitable.
There are several ways that the city of Kitchener engages with residents on a variety of issues. Both the city and individual councillors use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share information and update citizens on important information. There are also public consultations, open houses, citizen advisory committees, and of course, all Committee and Council meetings are open to the public and streamed online. There is also Engage Kitchener, an online tool for gathering input and feedback from residents.
I have filled out a number of surveys on the Engage Kitchener site and I check it somewhat regularly as it’s a good way to stay up to date on what projects the city is currently working on and also an easy way for me to provide feedback on those projects. In fact, I just completed a survey on there this week on a topic that is extremely important to me - Affordable Housing. When you visit the site, you’ll see a number of surveys up there, including one on the bike lane pilot, inclusionary zoning, and Kitchener’s website transformation.
If you click on the Affordable Housing Strategy link, you’ll see details about the main steps in the process and where the project currently sits. There’s also a bit of background information and goals of the project. The site states that "The City of Kitchener recognizes the importance of strong and diverse neighbourhoods where residents can grow and thrive. As a vibrant and caring community, we’re taking steps to make housing more affordable in our city so Kitchener can be an even better place for everyone to call home. A key action from our Corporate Strategic Plan is to create a caring community through the development of an Affordable Housing Strategy.
In collaboration with the Region of Waterloo, community groups and the development industry, the city is currently in the beginning stages of developing an Affordable Housing Strategy aimed at addressing challenges to housing affordability in Kitchener across the housing continuum. As demand for housing in our city increases, we’re working to find solutions that will encourage a broader range of housing options and increase the supply of affordable housing opportunities available."
After reading that information you can fill out the survey which asks for your thoughts on challenges to affordable housing, what actions should the city prioritize in this strategy, and what areas of the housing continuum should we most focus our efforts on. You can then provide specific ideas and feedback on how different stakeholders, such as upper levels of government, developers, and community organizations could best be utilized in creating and maintaining more affordable housing in our community.
Surveys take varying amounts of times, and this one was estimated to take about 10 minutes. It took me a bit longer as I had a lot to say on this particular topic. All comments are collected, reviewed by staff, and included in the report that eventually goes to council for approval. You can fill out surveys as a guest, or you can register with Engage Kitchener. One benefit to registering is that once you have completed the survey, you are emailed all of your responses, so you have a record of it. You also receive occasional updates of new surveys available to complete.
No single approach to seek feedback from residents will work for everyone, so I appreciate that there are a variety of engagement tools that the city uses (although I have some thoughts about other engagement tools they could include, but I’ll save that for another day…) For me, I appreciate being able to provide feedback online as I can do it from my home when my schedule allows. If that appeals to you, and you have not yet visited the Engage Kitchener site, I encourage you to take a look at it soon. And because I think it’s such an important issue, I’d encourage you to fill out the Affordable Housing Strategy survey while you’re there.
Well, it's been way longer than I planned for getting back to this writing thing. But given a little more 'available' time right now with social distancing and isolation, it seems like a good time to get back to it. So here's a few thoughts on the most recent Kitchener Council meeting.
If you follow me on social media, especially Twitter, you’ll know that I often 'live-tweet' city council meetings. I do my best to remain somewhat objective and try to just tweet what’s being said, without adding much of my own commentary. However, as my spouse will attest, that doesn’t mean I don’t actually have feelings about what’s happening at those meetings. I most definitely do, often some fairly strong ones at that! So, I thought I could use my blog to share some of my thoughts on council meetings occasionally.
Let’s get started with the March 23rd meeting which was done electronically, for the first time ever. In fact, the mayor mentioned that in order to proceed with an electronic meeting, rather than a regular in-person meeting, a provincial state of emergency needed to be declared. That of course happened last week which set things in motion for Monday’s meeting. Kudos to all those who got everything set and running because, other than the usual online meeting issues like people being on mute or speaking over one another occasionally, everything ran very smoothly.
Much of the meeting was spent discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and how the city should respond. The meeting started off with a prepared statement from the mayor stressing each of our roles in this to fight off this virus (go home and stay home!), and also thanking all of the frontline workers spending tireless, stressful days and nights dealing with this crisis.
Council then heard from CAO Dan Chapman about steps the city has already taken to address the current challenges. We then heard from Cory Bluhm about the economic realities the city is facing and he offered a quick overview of the proposed Economic Recovery Response that council would need to vote on later that evening. Discussion followed with support for the recovery package, with some questions and comments about additional options such as: turning community centres into hospital overflow or space for people experiencing homelessness and offering relief for renters. The recovery package passed unanimously.
The discussion then moved to a number of tenders and there was some discussion around whether this was the time to be doing certain work, such as putting a new roof on a fire hall. The tenders were all passed with just Councillor Gazzola voting against a couple of them.
And finally, the discussion moved on to Community and Infrastructure Services reports. #8 in that list was the Vision Zero strategy. Whether the city should develop a Vision Zero strategy was discussed in a lot of detail two weeks previously at Committee. During that discussion, it was suggested that perhaps the city should develop its own Transportation Safety Strategy instead of adopting a Vision Zero plan. Councillor Davey was a strong supporter of this “Transportation Safety Strategy’, with Councillors Chapman and Gazzola also voting in favour of that motion. However, it did not pass at Committee. And when the full motion of moving forward with a Vision Zero strategy (at Committee), all councillors voted in favour of it except for Councillor Davey.
Therefore, I was a bit surprised that when it went to council on the 23rd, not only did Councillor Davey vote against the Vision Zero strategy, but so did Councillor Chapman. I know Councillor Chapman has advocated for some active transportation initiatives in the past so I found it surprising that she did not support the Vision Zero plan. Fortunately, the other 9 folks at the table did vote in favour of it, so it easily passed. I for one am very excited about seeing more active transportation initiatives and infrastructure be put in place, and I think support of the Vision Zero strategy will definitely assist in that process.
Thanks again to all of the staff who made that meeting happen, as it did run so smoothly…and I suspect we may see a few more meetings in this format in the next while.
At last night's council meeting, the issue of boulevard parking was raised. This refers to allowing vehicles to be parked on the paved part of the driveway between the sidewalk and the street. Current bylaws prohibit this practice in the City of Kitchener. However, after a pilot project in ward 5, it is now allowed in ward 5 each winter from Dec 1st-Mar 31st. Councillor Ioaniddis put a motion forward to allow boulevard parking during winter months throughout the city.
There was some discussion around the horseshoe on this issue. Councillor Michaud asked for a deferral however as she only received notice of the motion that day and has not had a chance to hear from her constituents on the issue. More discussion ensued and it was decided that the motion would be withdrawn and presented at Special Council on January 7th.
Several councillors mentioned that they were hearing from constituents that this is an option they would like to have. Although I don't doubt that's true, I'm not sure all sides have had a chance to speak to the issue. Personally I wonder what effect this would have on a walkable city. As a pedestrian, I am cognizant of the need to be aware of vehicles at all times. It feels like this only adds to that challenge. If we are serious about creating a city that is walkable, then we need to make that experience easy, comfortable, and pleasant. Allowing cars to park on the boulevard seems to contradict that goal.
However, I do wonder if in practice it would have much of an impact. I'm curious how many people would in fact park in the space if it were allowed. On my walk home from last night's council meeting, I didn't see any places where a car would actually fit on the apron section of the driveway. Perhaps there are fewer options for this in the downtown wards.
I am curious what you think about this proposal. Would you park your car there if it was allowed? Do you think it would impact your experience of the street as a pedestrian or cyclist? Feel free to comment with your thoughts. Also, this motion goes back to council on Jan 7th. I encourage you to reach out to your councillor to share your thoughts on this as well. In ward 9, that is Councillor Chapman who can be reached at email@example.com
Thanks again to everyone who followed my campaign, and supported it in some way. I truly can not express how much it all meant to me. Though it was hard at times, with many long, tiring days, this introvert (ironically) was frequently re-energized by knocking on doors and connecting with residents.
I’ve been so impressed meeting so many people in our community doing amazing things and I have learned a lot through that. My learning encompassed some really practical skills such as designing and maintaining a website, creating online videos, and feeling more comfortable speaking in public, even on television! It also involved learning how to tackle challenges, face criticism, and delve deep into problems to identify possible solutions.
I loved accumulating many stories from my adventures on the campaign trail. Some of those stories involved the other ward 9 candidates as I had a chance to connect with them over the last several months. I especially appreciated Phil’s sense of humour as he often had me laughing throughout the campaign (see middle photo below when Phil noted that even my flyers are taller than him). Several fun stories came from all of this being a new experience and not necessarily knowing protocol, like when I completely forgot to give a speech at my own campaign party! There are too many stories to share here of course, but I already enjoy looking back over them.
And when I reflect back to the beginning of this journey, my only hopes were that I would learn more about my community and I would run a positive, creative campaign that I could be proud of at the end. I feel like I succeeded on both counts. I honestly believe that politics can be a force for good in our community and I hope I modeled that throughout the past 6 months. I’m proud that my campaign seemed to attract so many people who were positive about their neighbourhood and city and enthusiastic about building it up rather than fighting against it.
Of course, none of that could have been achieved without support from family, friends, neighbours, and residents. There are too many people to list here but I hope to reach out to you in person over the next while. I am particularly grateful for the group of female candidates running in the region who connected online and in person and were a huge support to one another and to me. It is just another example of the positivity that can happen through politics. And a huge congratulations to all those who ran. The time and effort you put into this process is to be commended.
My last paragraph, though, is saved for my number one supporter throughout my campaign (and life!), my spouse Todd. He was quick to support me when I tossed out this wild idea of running for council, and his support only grew through the campaign. He spent day after day (after day!) helping me with the campaign, placing lawn signs, editing my website, recording videos, and knocking on thousands of doors in rain, snow, and heat. Without a doubt, I could not have run the campaign I did without him.
So now a bit of a rest and a few quiet evenings at home. But I already have some thoughts on how to support and build upon the great things happening in our neighbourhoods, ward, and city. Thanks again for your support and I look forward to continue building community together!
I’ve noticed more press coverage lately about development in Downtown Kitchener. There have been Record news stories, a blog by current councillor Frank Etherington, and a column by Luisa D’Amato.
This coverage is sometimes limited or incomplete in my view, focusing only on the pace of development or on heritage preservation. The issue is also much broader than any one particular development or proposal. Rather, the discussion needs to focus on how Kitchener grows and develops thoughtfully.
One way the city demonstrates priorities and its commitment to issues is by establishing committees on those topics: arts and culture, safe and healthy communities, heritage, and environment. The creation of these citizen committees indicates the city’s desire to hear about these issues and act to address them.
As councillor I would propose a citizens housing committee to actively seek out partnerships and innovative solutions to some of our challenges around housing supply and affordability.
Kitchener needs a more proactive approach to housing and development. Currently a development is proposed and we only hear from those who oppose it. It’s reactive and the strongest voices may not be representative of the feelings of the broader community. We need a more diverse group of people involved in these discussions and much earlier in the process. I believe a citizens housing committee could offer exactly that. Such a committee must include a variety of perspectives and backgrounds such as those just entering the housing market, renters, those in multi-residential buildings, and newcomers.
I believe all ward 9 candidates are concerned about housing. However, be cautious of any who promise both affordable housing and intensification, while at the same time actively oppose multiple development proposals.
I am working toward a city that is more inclusive, engaged, and supported. I believe a citizens housing committee would address all three goals. It would be an inclusive committee that intentionally seeks out various perspectives and backgrounds. It would engage citizens to create innovative solutions in providing more diverse housing options. And it would be supported by the city which would provide tools, resources, and staff.
I’m glad to see people are talking about housing and development. Now we need to take the necessary steps to create more and varied housing, beginning with the creation of a citizens housing committee to ensure we develop a city with housing for all.