On the evening of Wednesday, October 6 the candidates for Ward 7 Councilor gathered at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex for a debate hosted by the Voter Support Committee. The room filled quickly, mostly with older residents from the ward. There were a hand full of students—5 or 6 at most, including candidate Erin Epp. Former Ward 7 Councilor Tricia Siemens was on hand to moderate.
The evening began with two minute opening remarks from the candidates. Noel Butler spoke first, introducing himself as an engineer, and citing that his skills and education were particularly relevant to the job considering the issues of growth in the core and concerns of sustainability. He was followed by Melissa Durrell, a former CTV journalist who covered city hall concerned with past questionable decisions of council. Erin Epp, Laurier Political Science student, then spoke, presenting numbers and advocating the need for a sustainable growth plan for the city. Speaking next, local community leader Edwin Laryea presented his past work as an educator and volunteer as the basis for his qualifications for the office. Local business owner Duncan McLean spoke second to last, raising local concerns of the negative effect students have on property values. The introductions concluded with Peter Woolstencroft who voiced resident's concerns with rising taxes and the city's debt.
With introductions out of the way Ms. Siemens began the questioning. The first asked the candidates how they would balance the broad mix of interests in the Uptown ward, from students to expanding businesses. The responses had a common theme of transparency and increased contact with ward residents, with the exception of Mr. McLean who only stated that he would take ``a balanced approach''.
Candidates were also asked what the biggest issue facing the ward was and how they would cope. Growth and intensification featured heavily with all candidates in agreement that core growth must be sustainable and was a priority. As a part of core growth, the issue of LRT flared up. Ms. Epp and Mr. Laryea were in agreement that the two issues went hand in hand and core growth needed to be well planned to ensure well placed stops that were useful to the population. Mr. McLean spoke against LRT, suggesting that with the Provincial government pulling out of the deal the costs needed to be re-evaluated, and rapid buses should be explored as an alternative.
How students fit into the city has been an ongoing theme in this election considering the recent clashes in Northdale. This debate was no exception, and the candidates came down in three camps. The first camp acknowledged that students needed to be engaged, and that the city had failed in planning. Ms. Durrell and Mr. Butler both advocated a planning approach with better zoning, intensification, and development for students needed to help smooth relations. The second camp suggested engaging the students directly, with Mr. Laryea suggesting that a group of students and residents be the first contact in disputes, not the by-law officer or the police. Ms. Epp also advocated direct engagement, in the form of educating students to protect them from abusive or absentee landlords. It should be noted that in her response Ms. Durrell also mentioned student engagement, though it was not the core of her stance. The third camp called for more police. Mr. McLean presented this as the totality of his solution, stating that increased enforcement during problem months was the way forward and suggesting that students be taught to respect the community by the police. Mr. Woolstencroft also advocated more police, but took a more moderate approach, including working with the University administrators, and a seemingly token mention of student engagement.
Sadly, this would be the last time in the debate the student question would come up. I took a seat near the moderator, and watched her sort questions by similarity. I too submitted one, asking Mr. McLean and Mr. Woolstencroft if they were worried about the increased police presence ghettoizing or alienating the students without much effect. Ms. Siemens placed it in the largest pile on her desk, but neglected to re-raise the issue. Perhaps she was trying to avoid the fireworks at the Ward 6 debate over Northdale, but this is no excuse. A vigorous debate on an issue important to the citizens could not hurt. Disappointingly I remained to hear the candidates positions on the referendum questions, despite these having no bearing on their platforms, and what the candidates would do for the community if not elected. The answer to the second was unsurprising and largely the same: continue to be an involved member of the community in other ways.
by Al Gore