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The Council Round-Up (August/September 2023)
A snapshot of what's happening in council chambers around Waterloo Region
After a bit of a summer break in July, most councils were back to their regular meeting schedule by August. Let’s take a look at what they have been discussing.
Cambridge, Waterloo, and the Region have urged higher levels of government to adopt a guaranteed livable basic income. Each of these motions, essentially requested “that the provincial and federal governments establish a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income to combat poverty, income inequality and economic insecurity in our community.” (Ontario was running a basic income pilot, until Premier Ford cancelled it in 2018, despite some early signs of success.)
While urging upper levels of government to create a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income, Waterloo council notes that, at the municipal level, the city is, “addressing the impacts of poverty with fee assistance services, grants and rebate programs, funding and resources for community programs, and as a living wage champion employer.”
Local councils are also advocating for increases to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support programs that have not kept pace with inflation. Cambridge Regional Councillor Pam Wolf’s motion states, "That the Region of Waterloo asks the provincial government to increase Social Assistance rates for both OW and ODSP to reflect the costs of living and to tie these rates to inflation.” Given that “In Kitchener, a one-bedroom apartment is renting for over $1,900/month and a single person on OW receives $733/month to cover rent and basic needs,” it’s clear that our ‘social safety net’ needs a lot of improvement.
In advocating for a basic income, this Regional Council update notes that, “these measures would benefit individuals, families, and communities and protect the most vulnerable in society. Increasing poverty levels are putting unsustainable pressure on municipalities’ limited resources.” Waterloo Councillor (ward 5) Jen Vasic seems to agree. She says, with a basic income, “These folks will have more time to spend in the community and supporting community members, more time to spend with their family and greater flexibility to pursue employment because many folks are working two to three jobs just to get by.”
In other Council news…
building a connected city;
cultivating a green city;
creating an economically thriving city;
fostering a caring city; and
stewarding a better city
Specific actions proposed in the plan’s first two years include: continuing to implement the city’s Housing for All strategy; advancing climate, tree canopy and parks initiatives; accelerating business approvals; and enhancing engagement efforts to increase diverse representation.
Waterloo Council approved funding support ($25,000) for the construction of KidsAbility’s new inclusive and accessible playground (on Hallman Drive) to replace the older, existing playground. Council also offered further support “with the renewal and amendment of an existing land use agreement with KidsAbility that includes public access to the accessible playground outside of KidsAbility’s normal operating hours.”
Earlier this month, we learned about an exciting milestone for the Region’s transit system, as Grand River Transit set a ridership record with 150,000 riders on buses and trains per day since school started! In fact, one in 10 people in Waterloo Region took a bus or got on a train during the first week back to school. Doug Spooner, director of transit services, said the spike in numbers is “exciting because it means people are moving toward the modes of travel that we want them to.” Indeed!
Of course, with increased ridership, there have been delays this fall. In response to concerns about the impact of more transit riders, Grand River Transit released an update on actions they are taking, and what riders can do to help. Spooner noted also that, “Every regional bus is on the road and staff are monitoring routes and working hard at adjusting trips.” I look forward to staff addressing the challenges with increased transit ridership - but, overall, this feels like a good problem to have.
The Region of Waterloo has also approved an anti-hate street harassment bylaw. Council voted unanimously to amend the region’s bylaw on prohibited activities to address harassment based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation in regionally owned public spaces. The amended bylaw allows the region to fine violators $250. “Sarah Shafiq, the Director of Advocacy, Research and Outreach for the Coalition of Muslim Women KW, said there is a gap between hate crimes and harassment that needed to be addressed.” Shafiq also said that the Coalition strongly supports restorative justice. She states, “It’s not like you give a penalty and a person will stop hating. Hopefully, this penalty will enable us as a community to engage in further dialogue with the harm-doer.”
Wilmot Council considers who can speak at local council meetings and for how long. Councillor Kris Wilkinson has concerns about those outside of Wilmot delegating, saying, “I do have the belief that our delegations and the input received by this body should be purely from residents of Wilmot.” Councillor Lillianne Dunstall agreed, stating, “I do think it’s very important to make sure it’s the people who live here, because that’s the business we’re conducting, as the ones who delegate.”
Township manager of legislative services, Jeff Bunn, noted that he couldn’t find any other municipality in Ontario that limits delegates to only those who reside in the community. He also had privacy concerns around accessing and potentially sharing information about the addresses of delegates. “That process would concern me, in the sense of: What are we using that information for or how are we sharing it publicly?” he said.
Mayor Natasha Salonen wondered if the voices of Wilmot residents could be prioritized by giving less time to delegates outside of Wilmot. She asked, “Is it possible, if you are not a resident of Wilmot, that we give you time but it’s limited time, like less time than a prioritized resident who lives here.”
Currently, delegates are allotted seven minutes to speak. Council recommended reducing that to 5 minutes (that’s what Kitchener allows) but council seemed okay with seven minutes. As someone who has delegated at council and watched many council meetings, I actually think five minutes tends to be an acceptable amount of time to bring your main concerns to council. Council can ask questions of delegates as well which allows delegates an opportunity to provide additional details.
The motion went to council on September 11th and that report was ‘received’ so I believe there are no changes to either who can speak at Wilmot Council, or for how long.
I already have several additional updates on recent council decisions, so expect another Council Round-Up to land in your inbox soon!