With only days left in our Municipal election it is important that we learn as much as possible from our mayoral candidates and their platforms for the city. Over the past several weeks I’ve had the honour to hold correspondence with these candidates (Danny Breen, Renee Sharpe and Andy Wells) regarding their visions for the future of St. John’s. Here some of those questions and our candidates’ responses.
According to the St. John’s Act, an individual is able to vote if they have been a resident for 30 days immediately before Election Day. Alternatively, Section 24 B of the Municipal Elections Act states “[that] residency is not lost by a person who leaves that residence for temporary purposes”. Seeing as how many MUN students living in Paton, Macpherson or Burton’s Pond often leave for several months—only to return shortly before the Fall semester—are they still eligible to vote? Broader still, what plans do you have to encourage younger voters to get to the poles and become involved with municipal politics?
“The elections act contains a requirement of being ordinarily resident. I believe we should give students the opportunity to vote in city Municipal election or if they choose to, [to] vote in the municipal election of the town where they are from. This choice is important for students to be engaged. I have proposed in my platform a Mayoral-student committee consisting of the Mayor and representatives of various post-secondary institutions in the City. This group can discuss issues important to students such as engagement, public transit, and housing.”
“There is no question that students living in St. John’s in order to study at Memorial University, CNA, or any of our city’s other numerous higher education institutions should have a say in the way that their city is run.”
“There are…two issues at hand that require action on a council level. First, I would work to amend the timing of the election to coincide with a later period of the semester. This would make it much more straightforward for Canadian students to meet the residency requirements required to vote. Moreover, it would give students more time to settle in and engage with the issues and debate surrounding the election. Second, I would fight to amend legislation that prevents non-Canadians from voting in our city.
“The second main barrier is our City’s poor communications strategy. The “Engage St. John’s!” website, the main portal for civic engagement, is woefully underutilized by both council and residents. I would invest in a quality communications strategy that would make it easy for all citizens to understand, participate in, and respond to council decisions. Communication between council and city residents is absolutely essential, and residents should be involved in decision-making every step of the way – not just at election time.”
“I understand that students must have residency documentation effective Aug.26 under the Municipal Elections Act. This is a statutory requirement that could only be changed by amendment to the appropriate legislation. You do raise an interesting question that requires consideration. Voter participation is a matter of personal preference and students like citizens generally decide for themselves as to their participation in the electoral process. People become involved generally when they feel they have a stake in the outcome.”
Increasing city efficiency and accountability is a common thread among each candidate’s platform. To do so, however, requires a commitment from not only the mayor but fellow Councillors as well. What are your plans to encourage healthy working relationships inside city council as a whole? Should you be elected mayor, what strategies can you implement in order to reduce in-fighting, eliminate “back-room deals” and promote transparency?
“As Mayor I will take a respectful, collaborative, consensus building [approach]. It is unlikely that all council will agree on all issues but I believe it’s important that different viewpoints are encouraged and considered. To promote transparency I will be reviewing the creation of a Municipal Auditor General. This independent oversight would review all aspects of the City operations both ongoing and when certain issues arise. We will also be implementing a code of conduct and ethics for all staff and elected officials. Private meetings are only held on Human resource, legal and inter-governmental issues. I would as Mayor strictly adhere to that policy. I do not agree with discussing changes in policy that provide a significant financial benefit to a developer and that being decided in a private meeting as it was in 2007 under then Mayor Wells.”
“First, the lack of decorum on council is deeply offensive to my sensibility as a consensus-building leader. The adversarial nature of municipal politics prevents council from getting important things done. Moreover, I believe that the tone and nature of municipal politics in our city (understandably) prevents many underrepresented voices – women, people of colour, and indigenous people among them – from feeling comfortable running for positions on council…As Mayor, I would work to apply stringent standards of workplace equity to all levels of city government, council included. This would of course involve setting a strict code of decorum in council meetings.”
“Second, as a citizen relating to council from the outside, city council never seemed very efficient. I believe that the best judges of efficiency are our residents…As Mayor, I would campaign for an audit of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (which operates Mile One) and Metrobus. In the 2017 budget council allocated over 15 million dollars to these two corporations, neither of which is fully transparent.”
“Relationships are based on trust and trust comes from honesty. The business of Council must be conducted in the public chamber and not behind closed doors. The current Council has spent millions behind closed doors with no public debate and discussion. Many of these expenditures are in violation of municipal by-laws and should be investigated. I have proposed an Anti-Corruption and Transparency By-Law to force council to conduct the business of Council in the public chamber. Please see my web page:andywells.ca”
Many voters find that throughout the election period, candidates run a litany of slogans, ads, and big promises for the public that do not necessarily come to pass. Often, mayoral campaigns are hard to differentiate and, subsequently, public confidence in the system becomes fraught by mistrust, pessimism and a residual lack of interest. What specific parts of your campaign separate you from the other candidates? How do you plan to use your four years differently from those that have come before?
“My platform is [built] on a plan and a vision for the future. It’s based on economic development, low taxation, efficient service delivery and building a City where people want to live, work and raise their families. I do not believe in the basic services only approach as I believe residents want parks, trails, recreation facilities and other amenities.”
“Our city council needs to serve everyone in St. John’s, not just a select few. We can work towards a safer city on the municipal level; indeed, municipal government has the potential to be the most responsive level of government to people’s needs. To move from a reactive to a proactive type of governance, however, we need a fresh perspective – or, if you will, a Sharpe alternative.”
“With a new perspective, moreover, comes attention to issues often overlooked on city council. I have extensive experience working closely with some of the most marginalized people in our community, and my sense of compassion for others has deeply influenced my own priorities as a mayoral candidate. I am the only mayoral candidate, for example, advocating for more municipal action on the opioid crisis (including a safe injection site) and on reconciliation with indigenous peoples (including establishing an ongoing municipal partnership with indigenous community leaders, and celebrating our indigenous heritage at St. John’s Days). As a working-class woman (I am ironworker welder with Local 764), I am also the only candidate advocating for better labour practices in city council and City-funded projects, including requirements of gender parity
and mental health support.”
“We have a comprehensive platform that addresses a range of issues: transparency, disclosure, no spending of money in the public chamber and other measures to insure that the business of Council is done where it should be- in public. We have also led the debate on the most important issue in this election which is serious tax reductions.”
For students across the city, roads, traffic and transportation have become a key issue in everyday life. The daily commute during winter—whether for pedestrians walking or driving to MUN campus—can be dangerous, expensive and downright annoying. If elected, what are your plans to maximize snow clearing efficiency and aid public transportation? What specific changes need to be made to the existing system so that it can better accommodate pedestrians?
“8 Years ago when I came on Council there was very little sidewalk snow clearing done. Since that time I have been a proponent of increasing the number of sidewalks done and the quality of the clearing. We continue to improve but there is more to be done. I am supportive of further investments in snow clearing. As well I am proposing we complete a city wide transportation plan that incorporates not only vehicle movement but pedestrians, public transit and cycling.”
“As your question rightfully pointed out, our snow clearing practices need rethinking. To that end, I would create a working group on snow clearing separate from the Public Works Standing Committee. It would be up to them to come up with creative ways to spend the money that council allocates to snow clearing (15-18 million dollars in a given year). In my own research on the topic, I’ve also come up with a few ideas of my own – ensuring that City Hall steps are not given undue priority over other parts of the city, and finding ways to ensure that all businesses comply with the requirement that they clear their own sidewalks.”
“Keeping our city on the move also means overhauling our Metrobus system. The main problem with Metrobus, however, is that city council, let alone taxpayers, have no idea what goes on internally. This is despite the fact that tax dollars subsidize Metrobus to a tune of 63.5% (one of the highest levels in the country), at a total cost of 13.5 million dollars per year! As Mayor, I would advocate for full transparency from Metrobus, the first step in rebuilding a transit system that responds to the needs of our residents.”
“These two areas are obviously important in the context of the severe winters that we can face in this city. The new council should conduct a review of the current snow clearing and removal policy to address an increased level of service. On the public transit issue the same should apply. What measures can be taken to improve service and at what cost.”