St. John’s City Election 2021: Ward 4

We spoke to Ward 4 Councillor Ian Froude about his acclamation, the issues facing the incoming council, and his priorities for the new term.

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St. John’s Ward 4 includes the university area, Churchill Park, and the area around the Avalon Mall, stretching northwest to the Paradise municipal boundary. Ward 4 boasts the youngest population in the city, the greatest prevalence of low income, and the greatest number of newcomers—with 31% of residents having lived in the city less than five years.

In the 2020 citizen satisfaction survey, residents of Ward 4 identified road maintenance, road snow clearing, traffic planning, sidewalk snow clearing, and Metrobus as primary areas of concern. Ward councillor Ian Froude was acclaimed to represent the Ward for a second term.

The Independent spoke with Councillor Froude about his acclamation, and some of the issues facing the ward. The interview was conducted live over the phone, and questions were not provided in advance. Read on to find out his thoughts about transportation, climate change, the budget crunch, sidewalk clearing, and more.

Elizabeth Whitten (The Independent): You’ve been acclaimed, but why did you want to run again? And for people who might not know you, what life experience do you have that makes you feel qualified to sit on city council?

Ian Froude: I wanted to run again because there’s issues facing this city. It’s unsafe in some areas. There are opportunities that we need to take advantage of, and I felt like building on the progress I’ve made in the past four years. Some projects in particular run past one term into another—the shared use pathway for Kelly’s Brook, investments in public transit. I wanted to see those projects through to completion.

I am an engineer by training. A lot of city issues are nuts-and-bolts infrastructure process items, and I feel my engineering background gives me a good, solid foundation for that. I’ve done a lot of work in the nonprofit sector. I founded the St. John’s Tool Library, and previously worked for Engineers Without Borders Canada. So, my feet are grounded in community and community action.

We younger people need to be involved in politics. Younger people with families… or not families, but younger people who have a passion for what their city is going to look like in the future. So I wanted to step forward and make sure that representation is around the table.

From your perspective, what are the main issues in your Ward, and what do you propose to do about them?

I hear a lot from residents about how they feel getting around the city is unsafe. Primarily about pedestrian access, pedestrian safety. Being able to bike in the city in a safe way—I hear a tremendous amount about that. Especially as well from pedestrians in the wintertime. 

So, I have been working on trying to improve sidewalk snow clearing, bike trails and lanes in the city. We’ve done a sidewalk infill project to tie together places that have poor pedestrian connectivity, but have decent or high pedestrian use. I hear a lot about basically people getting around and feeling safe doing so. Primarily on foot or on bike, or in a wheelchair, or other mobility concerns. But also about vehicles speeding through residential areas. So, I am committing to continuing the work on making our streets safer by putting in traffic calming measures and supporting enforcement.

Transportation is a big piece of it for me, as well as investing in public transit. A good public transit system is the backbone of a modern city. For people to be able to live well and take advantage of opportunities without having the high cost of owning a vehicle—and the high personal and environmental cost of owning a personal vehicle.

That’s what drives it a lot for me. The second piece would be climate change. I hear a lot from the people I represent about our needed action on climate change. That connects well with the transportation infrastructure, but also in how the city operates itself, and what the city does to enable emission reduction amongst the community. We completed a corporate climate plan, but the community climate change plan has not yet been adopted by Council. I want to see that get adopted, and then both the community plan and the corporate plan to be acted upon.

Where do you stand on the future of Mile One?

Well, I’m pleased there’s a lease in place with the Growlers for the next three years.

To the broader question of whether it moves to private ownership or private management, we have the earlier report from KPMG. I’m waiting to see the details of the building condition assessment to understand the existing condition of the facility. I’m hoping it’s going to give some good certainty on that. Is the facility providing the value to the community against the cost of maintaining it and the cost of operating it? I want to have the answer to that question.

I am open to third-party management, or selling it if the conditions were correct. If there was a solid price from the person or the organization purchasing the facility, that would have to be fair to the residents of the city. I don’t feel comfortable with the option of private ownership, but still public subsidy. I’m more comfortable with public ownership, and some public operating grant or subsidy to it.

For me to move forward, it would have to be a solid selling price, and confidence that there wouldn’t be in the short term any public subsidy to a private operation. And then have confidence [that the proponent who would be purchasing and operating the facility would be] a long-term provider of that type of activity for the city, and that they wouldn’t be coming back in three or five years and asking for public money because of the condition of the facility or the business model.

It’s a fact the city has a budget shortfall. In what specific ways do you propose to solve the problem?

It’s a challenging one. As we get closer to the budget, I will have a better sense of the specifics behind what that figure is and what gap we need to close. Right now the shortfall is in the ballpark of $10 to $13 million for 2022. As was my approach going into budget 2021, it’s to look at existing operations and see if there are savings. And look at fees to see if they need to be adapted to bring in additional revenue.

So for instance, fines around parking on sidewalks. Those were increased, because it’s an obstruction to sidewalks, and the penalty wasn’t large enough to discourage it. There are ways within fee structures that can be changed to bring in additional revenue, and existing program savings.

It’s really tough. In 2016 there was significant reduction in spending. And then again last year, and we’ve been looking for efficiencies over the past few years. There’s not a whole lot of money to cut that wouldn’t have an impact on either the quality or the reliability of public services. I want to avoid an increase in the taxes people pay. But I hear loud and clear from the people I represent that they want improved services, and they want maintenance of existing services. So, that to me is a priority going into the budget.

In your perspective, what do you see as the principal area of concern when it comes to getting around the city—for roads, the bike plan, and the bus system?

Our road system for vehicles is quite strong. When you compare us to other cities, we don’t have real traffic congestion. There are some areas of concern in the city where some small changes can be made—Torbay Road, for example—to better enable flow of vehicle traffic. So, I’m generally content with vehicle traffic in the city.

But where the substantial and wide gap we have is in pedestrian, bike, and accessibility for people with mobility issues. That’s the big project that we need to work on to significantly change the city so that people can get around the city safely, 12 months of the year.

How can the city mitigate the effects of climate change and help residents do the same?

We have, as a city, the roles to help mitigate it, and to adapt to a changing climate. I’ll stick with transportation for a second, but a big shift we need to make is how we get around—to get around in ways that are either low carbon or no carbon. So whether that’s on foot or on bike or public transit, we need to invest in those, and to encourage people to take those ways of getting around.

City operations: we made the decision to put electric vehicle charging stations in the city. 10 of the electric vehicle charging stations will be put in city facilities for those at Metrobus, and the 16 other city facilities for our fleet. Then there are the several hundred buildings that the city owns, and a smaller subset of those that are directly operated by the city. So, City Hall, the Depot, those buildings need investment to reduce the amount of energy they are using, or to shift to electricity instead of furnace oil. Or in a lot of the city housing, we have furnace oil heating, and over time that needs to be converted as an action on climate change, and also a way to stabilize electricity prices for those people living in those homes.

We’re also working on a project now to be the administering municipality for energy efficiency upgrades for people’s homes. The people would apply for funding via the city, although it wouldn’t be city money doing it, it would be federal funding. So that people can do upgrades to their home to reduce energy use.

Where do you stand on the issue around snow clearing sidewalks, and what would you do to improve the service?

I’ve been working on it for four years. We have made progress, but not near enough. More funding needs to be put into sidewalk snow clearing. Right now we have a service standard of four to seven days that a sidewalk is cleared. But the time triggers again with a new snowfall. So, each new snowfall, it restarts at four to seven days. Whereas I think sidewalks need to be cleared on the same speed as the road that they’re adjacent to. That is within 24 hours, so that people can reliably get to work, school, or wherever else.

Once we get the service standard to a point, or to that 24 hour figure for the 167 kilometres of sidewalk that the city currently clears, we need to expand the network. Because there’s people that move around on foot, and we need more people moving around on foot, and they need to be able to do that between December and April.

So I’ll continue to advocate for additional funding for sidewalk snow clearing, and a more frequent renewal of the sidewalk fleet—the equipment that’s doing the clearing. We have too many breakdowns with some of the older equipment we have now. I don’t think there’s any changes to the approach that can be made. We keep being asked to be more efficient within the existing resources. I think we’ve gotten to the point where that’s not possible anymore. Now it needs additional funding.

Second piece to sidewalks that always gets lost is the laneways that don’t effectively get shoveled. Laneways and crosswalks. We need to add resources to that as well so people aren’t climbing over snowbanks to get to a beg button to get the crosswalks and signal to flash for them.

In your opinion, what’s the best decision the past Council made?

The best decision we’ve made as a council… it’s broad, but it encapsulates a bunch of things. It’s setting a goal for the percentage of trips that people take within the city—the percentage of those that people take using sustainable transportation, walking, biking, a mobility device, or public transit. By trips I mean you go to work, you come home from work, you go to the gym, come home from the gym, etc. Council has set a goal on that. That very much connects to creating a safe city, creating a city that takes serious action on climate change.

So, that’s pretty policy wonky. But it’s important, because it creates a framework for action that I think will produce results for residents.

You’re coming back to Council acclaimed, and you’re already on certain committees already. But what specific committees are you interested in being in or participating in or staying on, and why?

So for me, transportation, public works, and public transit are the pieces I’m interested in. But it’s going to depend on who gets elected, and what expertise they have. We lean on one another to move things forward. So if there’s a portfolio that I’m interested in making progress on, but I have high trust in the colleague who is leading that portfolio, then I’d leave it to them and partner with them. So, it’s very much going to depend on who was elected. But I want to make the most progress on transportation, because the other things sort of feed into that.

What initiatives would you include to make St. John’s a more inclusive, accessible city?

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but sidewalk snow clearing is absolutely key. We need more infrastructure being put in place, and we have to ensure that it’s built accessibly. By which I mean there has to be curb cuts, traffic signals have to have the audible signals for people with sight issues. On projects like the Pedestrian Mall, we need to make sure that the accessibility aspects of that are maintained and improved—making sure sidewalk width is maintained, that there’s no obstructions. And then when there are obstructions, they’re taken care of by enforcement staff, or the offending business or individual. Enforcement is important in that aspect.

I lean a lot on the accessibility committee that the city has, in specific projects that we’re working on to ensure that advice is provided to council. And then right now, Cllr Burton and I are members of the St. John’s Urban Indigenous Coalition. That is an important aspect of inclusion and making sure that there aren’t barriers to Indigenous people accessing city services.

That’s something I’m looking forward to working on or working on with them, developing a community action plan. That’ll define some specific actions we can take as councillors and as a city to support Indigenous people in our city.

How do you propose to make life more affordable for residents, particularly the most marginalized?

I provided a lot of leadership on the development of the bus pass program that we announced a couple years ago—the city and province partnership for people on income assistance to get a free bus pass. Transportation costs are extremely substantial to any family, especially at lower incomes. A lot of the costs are fixed on insurance and fuel costs.

Also, by investing in expanding the public transit system and making sure our sidewalks are clear 12 months of the year. That, to me, is a very significant way to improve affordability in the city, because people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on vehicles because of insurance and fuel costs.

And then housing. It’s apparent and clear to me that we need a significant expansion of what affordable housing is available in the city. And connected to that is ensuring that there are shelters for those who need critical housing at those points in time in their life. 

Housing and transportation are significant costs to individual and family finances. The city has a crucial role to play in both of those.

What ways would you like to improve accountability and transparency at City Hall for residents?

There’s a few items on that. We need to improve our budget engagement. There’s not enough of it, and it’s not in-depth enough. So, there need to be further opportunities for residents to be engaged in budget consultation. There’s changes recently to shift the Committee of the Whole agenda not being public until the Monday prior to the Wednesday meeting. That action lacks transparency and needs to change. 36 hours or so notice of Council debating something is not enough.

When you look at other jurisdictions, they have greater ability for residents to participate in those types of meetings. I think it’s Saskatoon, where residents can present to Committee of the Whole more frequently on items that are on the agenda. You have to submit an application to present to the Committee a week prior to a meeting, at least. But here, you don’t know what’s on the agenda until 36 hours before it. So, is that effectively available for people? I suggest it’s not. So, we need to make that change.

There’s some important changes on campaigns, and there’s a movement to allow permanent residents to vote, because they’re residents of the city. We need to move in that direction.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

With files from Hope Jamieson.

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