Wellington Times – full answers

1. What can council do about housing affordability? How can it attract younger families?
I support the work being done by the Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Corporation, particularly the recent secondary suites pilot project. If I look at the PECAHC needs analysis and the County Foundation it seems our principal need is for rental accommodation for singles and couples. I am a firm proponent of “gentle density” initiatives so smaller projects of 4 to 10 units, including conversion of old homes into triplexes for example which would help older residents to stay in their homes and generate extra income. Gentle density will help us maintain the heritage and culture of the community, improve walkability (good for the environment) while meeting the critical need for affordable housing.

Two opportunities to defray costs would be accessing funds through the Green Municipal Fund which supports affordable housing using green building and grey water recycling techniques, and lower both future utility costs and the environmental footprint. The County Foundation’s Vital Signs project has been discussing developing an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scoring system – something I have past work experience with. This is a great initiative which will not only encourage us to establish measurable targets but also unlock opportunities for social impact fund investment. I would like to see us explore this further with Queens University’s Sustainable Finance Institute in order to beef up funds for affordable housing.

It was startling to read the County Foundation’s report based on the 2021 census information for the County that found our 15 to 64 year old population has fallen nearly 6% since the last census [see footnote]. Housing affordability is at the core of that, but we also need to encourage the development of year round jobs in the County (as opposed to seasonal) to help improve incomes in the community (and reduce our vulnerability to the ups and downs of one industry – tourism.) We also have to improve our primary and secondary school student outcomes (always a critical concern for parents) as 25% of our kids don’t finish high school (math scores are particularly poor) as the County Foundation notes. One thing younger families would have in common with our older demographic is the need for primary health care support – not only family doctors but nurse practitioners. We have to be prepared to compete for such resources with other communities and not rest on our laurels of “well we’re a great place to live”. We are of course, but with medical students graduating with heavy debt loads we have to step up and recognize their realities.

2. What are your thoughts on tourism management? Is it working? Have we gone too far?
Should there be a better balance?

It’s always a struggle to introduce a new policy in the middle of a chaotic backdrop like the Covid pandemic. On the one hand we saw an explosion of near or “stay-cations” in 2020 as people stayed close to home. I’m concerned about using that year as a “new normal” for policy purposes. Then as things moved back toward normal you had nearly three years of pent up demand from people to travel further afield this year (Witness the chaos at airports). So we’re in the middle of the swing of the pendulum as we find out just what normal will be. On the one hand I think the Sandbanks beaches reservation system has to be more flexible (do people really stay at the beach ALL day?) with moves to half day reservations and reservation free access after say 4 p.m. worth exploring. At the same time, I think some of our Airbnb owners became overly optimistic in their pricing at a time when so many other options were opening up for tourists and have priced themselves out of the market. (I hear many complaints about this from 30-somethings who want to visit the county). Frankly we don’t need more summer tourism promotion at all. I would like to see any tourism promotion confined to shoulder seasons to help improve the income of tourism sector employees and our businesses reliant on the sector. It is frustrating that the Province dictates that our Municipal Accommodation tax has to support tourism. The County has a global tourism profile! We should be approaching Queens Park to say give us more latitude to spend the money – for example on affordable housing as STAs (short term accommodations) have pressured our affordable housing supply.

3. The County’s waterworks system is complex with a small number of users footing the bill. Do you feel Council properly represents waterworks ratepayers. Any suggestions on how to manage water rates in the future?
How about we start by resurrecting the wastewater and water rates “ad hoc” committee which
disappeared with a whimper in 2016. It was allowed to die (and Council never went looking for it). Countless volunteer hours and costly consultants were employed to produce a draft report that was never finalized. What a waste of taxpayer money and community support. This report should be finally presented and the committee restruck with a mandate to update its findings. This is particularly critical given the planned water infrastructure spend in Wellington. What did we learn from the Picton fiasco?

What were the takeaways and how can we make sure we don’t do THAT again. A key aspect of that
report was the set of suggestions for helping low-income people in the County with their water bills. Thus, it can address three strategic goals of the County: Financial Sustainability, Infrastructure Renewal and an Affordable Livable Community. We could also encourage Greywater recycling in our planning policies and this would serve our Climate Change/Environmental objectives. Perhaps look for financing opportunities/funding for grey water recycling initiatives from the Green Municipal Fund.

4. Do you feel there is adequate attention given to heritage, environmental sustainability, stewardship and protection in the County?
In a word – No. We have lofty goals in Financial Sustainability, Maintain Rural and Historic Character, Stable and Diversified Economy and Adapting to Climate Change. Climate Change threatens all of these. We declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 but little was done. Flooding costs to municipal property were $1.7 million in 2017 and 2019. Quinte Conservation Hydrogeologist Mark Boone, a technical advisor to the Environmental Advisory Committee for the County which I chaired, says we will see increasing incidence of such events, as we will see increased frequency of droughts. These will threaten our agricultural community which is 25% of our economy and our tourism industry (consider our beaches) Look at the ripple effect this will have into our economy, our municipal finances etc. We have a tree policy but the developer who sat on the committee to create it ignores it when it comes to his own developments. This should become a Tree Bylaw with some teeth to enforce it. We establish environmental requirements for developments but neither the County nor Quinte Conservation has any resources to verify that promised protections are actually completed. This is a pantomime of protection. We made headway on the 2021 Official Plan protecting Natural Core Areas and increasing the setback for provincially significant wetlands to 50 metres from 30. But we haven’t taken the steps to make Quinte Conservation employ that 50 metre setback in its review! Again fake protection. We need to start recognizing that our biodiversity and these protected areas are assets that support our economy and our community. And we have to include Climate Mitigation as well as Adaptation in our primary goals – if we don’t take steps to mitigate, our costs to adapt will be that much higher. Think preventative medicine to avoid expensive emergency room care later. A climate change lens should be applied to all policies, procedures and bylaws. We joined the Partners for Climate Protection under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities but lodged responsibility with someone who is already overloaded with responsibility. We have made some good hires, our new Environmental Sustainability Supervisor, an arborist (critical as Emerald Ash Borer wipes out our Ash trees which will cost us millions when we could have taken steps years ago to protect them, next up are Oak and Sugar Maples) and our new Director of Operations has been very supportive of our Natural Cover Group. Our new Manager of Planning has been engaged with the Environmental Advisory Committee but we can’t ask Planning Staff to be biologists in assessing Environmental Impact Studies – and Quinte Conservation should not be going through four rounds of Environmental Impact Studies with development proposals – what a waste of EVERYONE’s limited resources.

5. Are you happy with the current size of Council or Would you like to revisit the issue?
I feel there is some room for modest reduction but I’m reluctant to say revisit again when we went through the time and cost to do this once before and then couldn’t get enough turnout to ratify a decision. There is also the reality that we are 25,000 people spread out over a chunk of geography the size of Toronto which also constrains a reduction. So worth considering? Yes. An urgent priority? Not compared to other issues. More important is councillors who take the job seriously and don’t treat it as “charity work” that they do when they have a few spare hours. The issues we face are serious. Being a councillor will be my full-time job.

Footnote on population increases: Strict comparisons are difficult as the census techniques for the Household Survey in 2016 deviated from StatsCan prior practice which was restored for the 2021 Census, but trends can be reasonably determined.

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