The Independent is 100% funded by its readers. Your pay-what-you-can subscription or one-time donation provides a base of revenue to keep our bills paid and our contributors writing. For as little as $5 a month, you can fund the future of journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador.
St. John’s Ward 1 is the most affluent Ward in the city, with an average income around the $70,000 mark and 43% of households earning $100,000 or more per year. It takes in a large part of the East End, including Airport Heights and everything in between Portugal Cove Road and Logy Bay Road. It is also arguably one of the most homogeneous in the city, largely consisting of single-family homes and with the highest rate of homeownership at 83%.
In the 2020 citizen satisfaction survey, residents of Ward 1 identified road maintenance, road snow clearing and traffic planning as the primary issues of concern. Incumbent Ward councillor Deanne Stapleton is not seeking re-election, meaning that the seat will inevitably change over during the 2021 municipal election.
The Independent spoke with Ward 1 candidates Jill Bruce, Jenn Deon, and Mark Nichols about why they’re running, the issues facing the city, and what they want to do about them. All interviews were conducted live in person or over the phone, and candidates did not receive the questions or topics in advance. Read on to find out where they stand on bike trails, climate change, the budget crunch, public transit, and more.
Elizabeth Whitten (The Independent): Why do you want to run? And what life experience do you have that makes you feel qualified to sit on city council?
Jill Bruce: Well, I’ve always had a desire, I’ll call it, to help. I’ve lived in the Ward for 20 years, and when my boys were old enough to go to school, I started off with the school council because I thought, “well, that’s a great way to help.” I found with school council, there was always something that needed to be done. There was an issue, we’d have to figure out what to do, and then we’d try to spot a solution. When I wasn’t doing school council things, we’ve got a community Facebook group, and there’d be little things going on, like somebody would be looking for help to get their driveway clear in the winter or something. And I just like reaching out and I like trying to connect people and I loved the communication part. For me, city council is just an extension of what I’ve been doing for years in the community already.
Jenn Deon: I feel the impetus to pay it forward. I live a very blessed life in St. John’s and as some of your readers know, this is not my first run for office. My whole life has been about bringing people together. I run a feminist theatre company PerSIStence Theatre. I also have been an active volunteer my entire life. Currently I’m the secretary of Pleasantville Legion Branch 56 in the East End. And before that I had volunteered extensively in executive positions, such as treasurer, chair, Shakespeare by the Sea, YWCA ST. John’s, the MVP, you name it. Serving in public service is an extension of how I’ve always lived my life, trying to make my community better. I guess it’s as simple as that.
Mark Nichols: I want to run because I believe that city councils have a direct impact—in many ways the most direct impact—on the lives of citizens. But also my concern for preparing for the ongoing climate change and addressing it… Cities are on the front lines of the fight against climate change. And in my work as a parish priest over the last 15 years I very much have concern for people who are being left behind. People who are being marginalized. People whose voices aren’t being heard. I feel I have good experience through that work in listening to people whose voices don’t always get heard and represent them as well.
What are the main issues in your ward, and what do you propose to do about them?
Bruce: The things I’m hearing at the doors, one of them is the bike plan. That’s a big one. Snow clearing is an issue that people are talking about. Mile One I’m hearing a little bit, but I think the transportation and the bike path are the biggest ones.
I’m finding that I’m having two conversations at the doors. I’m having the people who really, really support putting bikes on the path. I’m having another discussion, maybe three homes down, with someone who really wants to leave the paths the way they are and just doesn’t feel like this is the time or the place for the bikes. I’m getting two completely different perspectives. They’re both really important. So I’m glad to hear the city say over and over again in the last couple of weeks that we just really need to focus on engagement. I think that’s the only way we’re going to find a happy medium with this. We do need to have a safe place for bikes. Is it on the paths? I’m not sure, but if it’s not on the paths, we have to find a place on the roads for them. And before any of that happens, it’s engagement and then it’s education.
We have to educate drivers, we have to educate people on bikes, people walking, all modes of transportation, because people need to be aware of rights of the roads. Then we’ll hopefully be developing a plan that works for the majority of the population. If we engage enough, we’ll find a happy medium there.
Deon: City governance has a tremendous impact on people’s lives. They are concerned about neighbourhood safety. Water and sewer. Their recreation facilities. Basic things that make our lives worth living in this city.
I believe that we can improve my Ward by bringing our neighbourhood together. I’ve learned during Snowmageddon that we needed to shovel out the fire hydrants and I realized I had no way of connecting with the neighbours around me and once we did connect, I went around and gave them flyers and said join with me your snowblowers. I connected over 400 people in my area through an app called Nextdoor, and Facebook has something similar called Neighbourhood. But by whatever means, it has become clear to me that it is essential for communities to be resilient against the unexpected, like the pandemic that hit us shortly after. That leads to so much health in the community, especially for those who are most vulnerable, like seniors. There’s so many ways communities should be coming together. Community gardens, taking responsibility for our parks and cleanups, safety of the neighbors like the old neighbourhood watch… Neighbour safety, neighbour resiliency all tie in back to being connected as neighbours. I’m also passionate about preserving our recreational facilities and greenspaces, which are such an asset to the East End. It’s so good for not only our physical but our mental health to be able to enjoy that.
Nichols: From my perspective, my campaign platform is around mobility. The ability of people to move about the city safely, all year round by the means they so choose. It’s also about inclusive representation, for me to listen to all voices, all residents in Ward 1, but with a special emphasis on those voices that don’t get heard.
In listening to residents at the doors as I’ve been canvassing, safer streets is a really big issue. People have been talking to me about that from a number of different perspectives. It’s all coming down to the fact that people don’t feel the residential streets are safe. They’re especially not safe for children but they feel they’re not safe in general. I do also hear about the fact that it’s not a safe city to cycle in because we don’t have protective cycling infrastructure. And that’s a very big part of my campaign is to bring about—or at least make significant progress—on a city-wide interconnected network of protected bike infrastructure.
I’ve also heard people talking about public transit, which is core to my platform as well. We need to improve public transit and make that a viable option for people.
Where do you stand on the future of Mile One?
Bruce: I feel like when I’m talking to residents at the doors, I say to them, I feel like I’m in the same position as they are. The information that I am getting is the same information that you or anyone else I’m knocking on doors would have—it’s from social media and it’s from websites, it’s from the news, that sort of thing. It would be nice to know all the inside discussions, just to get a full, clear picture. But for me, I support whatever best benefits the taxpayers of the city.
I was excited to see that we’ve got another three-year deal signed with the Growlers. It’s great that we’ve got them for three years, but what’s the long-term plan for Mile One? If it means a sale of Mile One, and that’s the best thing that’s going to benefit residents, then maybe that’s what we have to seriously look at. But whatever is the best benefit, that’s what I support.
Deon: Well, from the outside, it appears to me that that is not being utilized as the community resource it was designed to be. There is a segmented portion of the city that has access to Mile One for very specific reasons that are tied to monetary ability to attend events there. So right now I think it should be sold to a business, if it’s going to be run as a business. If we can move it back to a social enterprise where the city understands that it’s mandate is to run it not only with fiscal responsibility, but under a vision to make it a community resource, then perhaps we can retain it. But the way that it’s being managed now, from the outside, I’d rather just dump it and use the spillage of financial resources that we’ve been putting into it, into some much more needed areas, such as snow clearing.
Nichols: Well, I can say right now that I wouldn’t support the sale of Mile One until such time I’ve been able, with Council, to engage in a good bit of research and due diligence. I do not believe it’s as simple as people make it out to be. I know that it’s very difficult for me to talk about Mile One without the St. John’s Convention Centre. The two are co-located for a reason and the two are jointly managed by St. John’s Sports and Entertainment for a reason and that is to work in tandem with one another. So when you’re talking about taking Mile One and treating it as a separate entity, I have a bit of difficulty with that. I would want to make sure if we did sell Mile One that it was after that research and due diligence and that I honestly believed it was in the best interest of the people of St. John’s—because that’s who Mile One belongs to.
It’s a fact that the city has a budget shortfall. In what specific ways do you propose to solve the problem?
Bruce: I want to be part of the discussions. I think we have to look at everything. We’ve had a couple of rough years with municipal government, with COVID, with provincial and federal—everybody’s kind of feeling the pinch of the last couple of years. So there may be things that will be nice to have, but maybe have to be put it off for another couple of years until we kind of get back up to where we would have been pre-COVID.
Snow clearing is something that people are just really, really passionate about. They really want good snow clearing. They want sidewalk snow clearing. I’m not sure how we can cut that service. I don’t feel like that’s somewhere that we can take money away from right now. If anything, I’ve heard so many people at the doors say, “I’d pay a few extra dollars a year to have adequate sidewalk snow clearing.”
Deon: I definitely think a judicious re-examining of large expenditures, such as Mile One, are warranted. And making sure that spending we do have available is prioritized in appropriate areas. But recently an article in The Independent highlighted how very small the tax increases across the community need to be to bring significant improvement in areas that everybody’s complaining about. I will 100% support tax increases that are reasonable and deliver results.
Nichols: That’s a difficult one to really answer without being privy to all the information that councillors would have during the budget process. People have asked me where I will find the funds for things that I’m promoting in my platform, and I think it’s a matter of priorities. I see being able to move about the city, for example, by the means they so choose safely year round as a core responsibility of the city. A lot of the things the city is doing might be important, but is it really core in the way garbage collecting and firefighting services are?
Every parish priest will tell you you have to be very good at getting as much value as you can out of very finite resources. So I would bring that skillset to the budgeting process. But for me to answer specific questions about how to make up the shortfall or whatever, that’s really difficult to answer without all the information in front of me.
In your perspective, what do you see as the principal area of concern when it comes to getting around the city—from roads, the bike plan, and the bus system?
Bruce: We’ve got a huge issue with urban sprawl. Even in Ward 1. We’ve got Airport Heights, where we’ve got a Metrobus service, but it’s every hour, and the buses are never full. We need to make sure we’re fully utilizing this Metrobus service to the best of its abilities. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg—you have to have the people for the bus, but then you have to have the service for the people to use a bus.
Again, we need bikes. We need to have people feel safe on bikes. We have to find places for people who want to bike. We have to look at the GoBus service. Are we utilizing that to the best of its ability? I’ve heard from people at the doors that the wait times are incredibly long for the GoBus service. Sidewalk snow clearing affects transportation.
I could go on and on about transportation. There’s so many parts to it. We need to start really encouraging electric vehicles. That’s going to help with not only the transportation side, but the climate crisis. So happy to see that the city [recently] approved almost two dozen charging stations for around the city.
But connecting the communities is really big in Ward 1. Clovelly residents would like to be able to be connected to the trail system, which they’re currently not. We have the trail system just at Major’s Path here in Airport Heights, but bikes are only allowed so far on it, so that doesn’t really work out for bikers. And if you want to get down to the city, maybe you don’t want to end up on Torbay Road, so the trail is not the best, most efficient use of your time. So yeah, lots of different issues. It’s something I’m really interested in. I’d like to sit down and be part of a bigger picture when it comes to these discussions, and I think we really need to reach out to residents. You never know what’s going to come up in a conversation.
Deon: For many, this issue has become over simplified and divisive. While shared pathways under certain conditions can be viable, I agree that in the specific instances that most sections of the Virginia River and Rennie’s River Trail are unsuitable to be developed for shared use. There are better options and more judicious use of city resources that can enhance bike lane transportation in these areas.
What that comes down to is looking at our existing trail system from the correct perspective. When you design a new system like when they laid down Mount Pearl, they were able to plan for a shared-use causeway. Right now we’re looking at an existing trail system that was designed purely for recreational use and trying to cross-purpose it into transportation. I believe that is ill-advised in this specific instance. I am in support of what they did in Kelly’s Brook because it was able to be done. Let’s look at the corridors in the city that require enhancement for cyclist safety and put that into bike lanes and road infrastructure and road education in a much stronger way that can improve the safety for those people who need to move through the city. Not every road is suitable for a bike lane. There are certainly roads that are not being utilized appropriately.
In terms of enhancing the Metrobus, it’s totally essential for allowing for anyone who wishes to avail of the Metrobus system so it can become a more viable option for people in the city. For pedestrians, we need to look at the downtown core. The snow clearing and pedestrian issue in the downtown is a quandary that requires special attention because that is dangerous.
Nichols: Our city has really been designed around the car and moving cars around fast. We have to have much more of a multi-modal transportation model in how we move forward. I want to be moving forward in a way that public transit becomes a much more viable option for people, which means certain routes, like the frequent transit network, needs to become a reality so that people don’t have to look up schedules if they’re going to take the bus. The routes will probably need to be rationalized down the road. So, public transit has a lot of work to do and it needs to be more accessible for people who face barriers to mobility. I want to see the buses all be accessible. I want to eventually hear the stops being announced audibly for people who are visually impaired and those who are just a bit confused on a new strange route.
Continuing with implementing the bike plan, with a lot of revisions of course, to bring about that interconnected network of safe and protected bike routes throughout the city is something that needs to happen. I hear people telling me how St. John’s is not a cycling city because a lot of people are afraid to ride on the streets. People say the topography—we’re such a hilly city. Well e-bikes have gotten rid of the issue of the hills for people who otherwise wouldn’t ride bikes so it’s time now to provide that as a viable alternative for transportation in this city. That work is going to take many years and we’ve got to get started on that. The city’s trail system needs to become accessible to people for whom it is not accessible right now and whatever we need to do to make that happen, we need to make that happen.
Decentralize the car. As we’re trying to get emissions down, it would improve health outcomes because people would be outside, engaged in active transportation.
How can the city mitigate the effects of climate change and help residents do the same?
Bruce: So, the city of St. John’s, we’ve declared a climate emergency, which is important. There’s things that are coming onboard now in January. We’ve got the clear bags coming with the garbage, so that’s a step in the right direction. I noticed when you drive around the city on recycling day, a lot of people have recycling bins out. Can we do better? Of course we can do better. So that will just encourage people to just keep an eye on it and be more cognizant of what they’re throwing out. I’d like to see a composting program started in the city. Other cities are doing it, and they’re doing really well with it. But it’s an issue in the city with rodents and not everybody wants to take that on. If the city had a composting program we’d see more from that, and that would help in turn with the climate change issues.
Community gardens, being able to sustain ourselves with our own grown food. I’ve had two residents up here in the past couple of months reach out to me and say, “Any chance we can get a community garden in Airport Heights?” When I was down knocking on doors around Vanier, they had the most wonderful little community garden down by the school. So we need to start encouraging more of this.
The planting of trees. The naturalization program that the city is attempting right now—I love the idea behind it, less mowing, less greenhouse emissions. However, I think it’s really important that we understand that the engagement part and that was kind of missed and there’s a lot of backpedaling. One of the parks, especially, the Laurier Park, I was involved with the residents on that one, just trying to get their voices heard—because, yes, the trees are important, but I think it’s important that we talk to residents and where they’re going so we don’t have to backpedal and spend the money to change it. People lose faith when they think their voices are not important.
We need electric vehicles, like I touched on before. Maybe we have to look at getting more of our Metrobuses to be electric. I know upfront costs are going to be higher, but obviously then what you’ve saved down the road will help with paying for them.
Lots of good things happening, but I think we still have a lot of work to do and I’m really encouraged to see the young people get involved. I did a garbage cleanup back two and a half months ago with a group, and it does your heart good to see young people so engaged and want to make a difference. We’re on the right track, we just have a little bit more work to do.
Deon: I am fully in support of the naturalization plan that’s underway. I admire how the city is engaging in a consultation process when they’re putting extra trees in our park system. I was even part of the plan in the city a couple of years ago where they provided a grant you could apply for and buy some trees for your front lawn. We put two fruit trees in our front lawn.
Climate change is one of the reasons I’m passionate about maintaining [parks]. As we move into larger and larger issues of food insecurity, community gardens can be a way of community resilience. There’s a non-profit community garden that one woman just started in a little plot of city park area where anybody from the neighbourhood can come and contribute and grow food.
Nichols: I sound like a broken record but certainly by improving active transportation opportunities in the city so people have an alternative to the car. And also greatly improve public transportation. That in and of itself is going to be a huge part of the city moving its greenhouse gases down. If people have an alternative to using a car I believe they will do so. Even just for the sake of being able to enjoy a nice day. So that’s one thing.
I know the city’s working on trying to reduce its corporate emissions with a corporate climate action plan and I would be supporting that work. But we’ve also got to look at adaptation as well, to prepare ourselves for the effects of climate change that are locked in coming our way, whether we want it or not. The transportation piece is central to the actions that we can take.
Where do you stand on the issue around snow clearing sidewalks, and what would you do to improve the service?
Bruce: Oh boy, that’s the million dollar question. I know the people are very passionate and I understand why they’re passionate. I spend half the winter advocating and calling 311, and talking to our Ward councillor every year, about the school zone with snow clearing, because there’s days when the crossing guard is climbing up on a pile of snow to try to hit the button for the light. Snow clearing in general is a huge issue, but sidewalk snow clearing is something that affects so many people. It affects people with disabilities who rely on getting out and using the sidewalks. It affects seniors. It affects everybody. If we’re trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle and an active city, we can’t just do it three months of the year, if we’re lucky, when we have summer. We have to be able to support this all year long, and being able to get out and walk on nice days in the winter is really important.
I’ve heard from people at the door that nobody wants a huge tax increase across the board, but I have heard from multiple people that if it was just a small increase and they knew what it was supporting, it was supporting sidewalk clearing, they’d be okay with it. People need to trust that it’s going where they say it’s going to go, and they see the results after the fact. I don’t know. I really look forward to getting on Council and being part of these discussions. I think sidewalk clearing is definitely one of the biggest issues I’ve heard. And when you’re hearing people talk about snow clearing on 30 degree days when you’re knocking doors, you know it’s important.
Deon: Snow clearing issues are very specific to certain areas of town. Right now we have a dangerous issue in the downtown core where we have older streets and a high density population where there’s nowhere for the snow to go. We have got to take care of those people first because that is where people are tragically risking their lives every single winter. So the new snow clearing equipment to improve services to high density areas has to be our first priority because of safety.
Outside of that, I think there are more creative solutions we could be doing in our neighbourhoods. In the suburbs our streets are wider, we have less density of housing. I don’t think that’s such a priority we need to address right now. Sure, everybody might like their street plowed 10 minutes after the storm, but I’m a bit more of a ‘suck it up and get out your shovel or snow blower.’ And again, in suburbs we have communities that know each other. During Snowmageddon we had to learn to take care of ourselves so lets start doing more of that. Let’s have property owners with the snowblowers help to do some of the sidewalk. Let’s look on a case by case basis and see what roads are the priority, keep it down to the high density low visibility areas for walking in the winter and let’s fix those first.
Nichols: Number one, itt needs to be treated as a core responsibility of the city. We trap people in their homes during the winter because they cannot go out the way the sidewalks are.
Certainly, on busy main streets people should be able to safely walk on the sidewalks. And it’s not just about the people using the sidewalks. It’s for the drivers too. I have yet to meet a driver who enjoys encountering pedestrians in the street during the winter. They would prefer them to be on safe, cleared sidewalks rather than the road. Everybody’s going to win when we do this.
It just needs to be treated seriously. We are a winter city. We’ve got to deal with this. It’s going to be treated, by me anyway, as a core responsibility of this city.
In your opinion, what’s the best decision the past council made?
Bruce: Honestly, the best decision that I’ve heard is that they’re really focused now more on this engagement piece. It goes across all the issues. So if we’re talking about bike paths, engagement needs to be there. If we’re talking about snow clearing, engagement has to be there too. We have to find out what streets are most important. Not every single street maybe needs a sidewalk. We don’t need sidewalks cleared on our side streets up here [Airport Heights] because our streets are wide and they’re not busy and we can probably walk in them. And when it comes to heritage, engagement is huge. Across the board, public engagement should be the very first thing that rolls off our tongues before any decisions are even thought about. So the fact that this is something that in recent months has become one of the main discussion points in all the meetings, is fantastic. People on council, they’re people, and they’re going to make mistakes, but I think they’re trying, they’re listening, and they’re understanding that all of these issues, all these changes, and anything that we want to do, are going to have to involve major public engagement.
Deon: I love their strategic plan. The way they’re accountable and how they’ve identified their priority areas for engaging and building a more resilient city are super. Decision-making based on that has been appropriate, such as the naturalization project. And how they’ve really started to streamline their communications, where you can Connect St. John’s. You can Engage St. John’s. So it’s really clear how people can find out the information about what’s going on in their city. That has really come a long way in the last four years.
Nichols: Boy, that’s a tough one, because I would have to think back over the number of years. Some of the moves they’re making with our trash collection. I have been really supportive of that, that we’re trying to move forward on trash collection. It’s a core responsibility of this city but we have to be managing our trash, our waste, better. Going to the bins that we now have, that’s a positive move. And now we’re shifting to the clear garbage bags next year because we don’t have as much uptake on recycling as we need to have. What the city has done around the trash collection and waste management—I don’t really have any issues with what they’ve done.
What specific committees are you interested in participating in and why?
Bruce: I would love to be involved in the Seniors Advisory Committee. We know our population age is shifting, we have a lot more seniors in Newfoundland in general, but also in the city. I love this. I knocked on a door and it was 2:00 in the afternoon, I had the day off, and the first five homes, everybody answered the door and I thought, it’s 2:00, that’s great—great conversations, and they were all seniors. Maybe the fifth or sixth door I knocked on, the gentleman came to the door and he said, “Welcome to geriatric row.” And we laughed. He said, “Everybody on this street is a senior.” And I said, “Well, it’s great for me because I’m getting people to answer the doors and having great conversations.”
But as I said, my parents are seniors and they live in the city. My mom will tell me about walking in the winter. I’ve heard at the doors, one lady said, “I’d love to have a pickleball court close to my home. We played all the time, but we had to go so far to get it.” I think that it would just be the most rewarding, the most interesting work, and I would absolutely love to be involved in it.
Deon: I’m interested in serving on the accessibility committee, the recreation committee, and also the biking committee. We have four people with registered disabilities in my family that range from mobility issues to autism to deafness, so I’m aware of the challenges of moving around the city in wheelchairs and walkers and hearing impairments and sensory perception. I’d like the city to get more involved by incentivizing local businesses’ accessibility support. Maybe we give you a tax rebate if you put a powered door in the front of your place or you do enhancements to make your business more accessible.
Nichols: I would be very interested in being on the transportation commission. I would be very interested in the inclusion committee as well. One of the things I’d like to see on the inclusion committee is people with lived experience serving on that committee, as opposed to organizations. But one of the things I’d hope to be doing when I make decisions that are affecting people who have been excluded, everybody from students or recent immigrants or people with disabilities, I really want to be able to listen to people with lived experience. So, I think the inclusion committee could be a venue for that.
What initiatives would you include to make St. John’s a more accessible, inclusive city?
Bruce: I mentioned before about the GoBus, so that’s one thing. We have to look at the transportation means that we’re providing, we have to make sure that, of course, we’re getting the most for the residents with these services.
For me, the biggest thing that I would do if I were elected as councillor of Ward 1, is reach out to the specific groups and talk to people who are advocates for people with accessibility issues. I may not have all the answers. I may not even be aware of some of the issues. So for me, it would be to reach out to people who could provide me with the information that I could then work with and try to make the city more accessible to everybody. I know that there’s a lady on Twitter, I won’t say her name, but she’s been a fantastic advocate for people with disabilities. And when I started tweeting, I had a comment from someone and they told me about the alt text and I thought, you know what, that’s great, because it’s education, and maybe I wouldn’t have realized until later on, so I’m so glad that someone could reach out and educate me. There’s definitely a lot of work I’d like to be involved in, but again, reaching out to the groups who have lived experiences and could provide me with some information and education, that would be my priority.
Deon: So my initiative would be looking at tax incentives for small businesses to help make their businesses more accessible for all. Supporting parking infrastructure. We have a ridiculously growing need for accessibility because of our aging population here. So encouraging design from an accessibility-first perspective in all aspects of city planning, whether it’s parking or navigating the city, should be number one.
Nichols: Right now I can tell you from the time I have spent with people with disabilities and lived experience of trying to get around is that we are not an overly accessible city. Everything—from what I mentioned earlier about bus stops being audibly announced and all of the Metrobuses being accessible, to sidewalks. There’s still sidewalks in the city that do not have bump outs. There are buildings that are not accessible. One of the things I would want to do is insist that the principles of universal design be mandatory right at the initial design stage of any public spaces being developed. It’s been around for fifty-eight years. And yet we are still doing stuff that’s inaccessible at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. This is mind boggling to me. Even easy things like painting the edges of stairs yellow on stairways the city controls, and audible signals on crosswalks for people who are visually impaired. There is so much that we can do.
How do you propose to make life more affordable for residents, particularly the most marginalized?
Bruce: Well, affordable housing part is a big thing. Affordable housing should just be a human right. It’s something I think a lot of us just take it for granted. We have to look at affordable housing. And the micro units—I know the city is talking now about one on Cabot Street, and these are great. The concept is fantastic. And I know there’s work to be done with that and make sure that we can regulate them right and all that kind of stuff, but it’s filling a space that people need. They need affordable housing and it’s no good to put affordable housing somewhere where there’s no reliable transportation or it’s far away from grocery stores.
I know there’s a 10 year affordable housing strategy the city is proud of, but I don’t know. I hear it at the doors, people say, it’s so expensive and rent’s expensive, and then maybe you could rent if you could find a spot that was in the right price range, but sometimes that takes you outside the city, and right back to there again. Making cities affordable also attracts newcomers, and when they come, we have to try to retain them. So again, this affordability piece is really important. If you’re not involved in the city, on Council, or you’re not involved with an organization that helps people who are struggling, it’s really easy not to see it. We really have to make this a huge issue. There’s people in the community who want to help people, and we need to avail of that and make networks and bring neighborhoods together and just try to help each other too.
Deon: I think by going back to community resiliency—I don’t like the attitude of everybody looking to government to solve all their problems. I think what government can do is be a catalyst to provide a place for people to come together to find solutions together. So in terms of saving money for people, well, in terms of the most marginalized, going back to community gardens, helping each other out, being together on things with neighbours can really save your a buck in so many ways. Next door we had a single mom who had a small grooming business and because we connected as a community, she was able to share it out and people were able to give her a bunch of work. Ultimately that is going to mean savings because when you’re isolated you have to spend more. So by coming together there are actual bottom line savings.
Nichols: We need as much affordable housing as we can. I don’t even like to use the term affordable housing because you could play with that a bit, right. I like to call it non market housing. I’m interested in non-market housing—by that I mean housing where the rent is determined by your income as opposed to what the market price is. So people who are struggling to make ends meet on low incomes would have affordable shelter. Shelter is a basic human right. Any new units that are built need to incorporate universal design and they need to be located in places where people are near things. They need to be near amenities, near bus routes, near where they can buy groceries. That would be one of the things that the city could do because I know the city is involved in affordable housing and looking at building some more units. That would be one thing that would make life here more affordable.
We could really push the public transit side—the pilot project where people on income support have a free Metrobus Pass and stuff like that—that kind of thing would be very helpful. Making transit free for high school students and under. Right now it’s twelve and under, but if we could make it free right up through high school. There are families that struggle to get by and that would be a big help. And making the bus fare free for eighteen and under—everybody gets it, it’s not something specifically targeted to people of low income so there’s no stigma in that.
What ways would you like to improve accountability and transparency at city hall for residents?
Bruce: One of my main things is accountability. Because as a Ward councillor, if somebody has an issue in my Ward, I should be their point of contact. I should be the first thing that they think to do. You can call 311 sure—311 is a fantastic service. I’ve used it myself. But I think my role as a Ward councillor is to be responsive, accountable, and to be involved in the community. I’m hearing it time and time again: “We want someone we can reach out to, we want someone who’s accountable, and we want someone who’s involved.” That’s what I feel like I have to offer the residents of Ward 1. I keep saying to them at the doors, I don’t know what I can change and what I can make better—I know I’ll try. But the one thing I guarantee people is if they reach out to me, they will 100% get a response. We might not have to agree, but they’ll get a response back.
Deon: So the processes—in terms of making decisions, particularly regarding development and heritage areas—need to be much more accountable. It’s weird; the city seems to be consulting on everything but development. Development is a thing that kind of hits us at the last minute, where the public seems to find out about it after a developer has put a lot of time and money into it, and as a result it’s much more difficult for concerns to be addressed. I would like development-based planning to be much more transparent and the processes to be involving the public in a wider way at a much earlier stage so we get away from the sense of fat cat, old boys club support. I am not anti-development—I believe in supporting business owners. It’s a hell of a lot more expensive and more of a headache for a developer to have to deal with a massive protest and bad PR after they’ve put hundreds of thousands of dollars into designing a project. Well, I’m sorry, but you’ve got to involve us from the get-go because we’re going to find out sometime.
Nichols: Speaking for myself as someone who’s running for a Ward councillor, I think I have to work hard. I can’t just rely on social media. I have to find other venues. But I have to work hard to communicate decisions that the city is making or has made to residents of Ward 1. As a Ward councillor, I need to really be accessible to people—to explain the decision so that people understand why we’re doing stuff.
I have a couple of examples. I had a lady ask me why they’re not mowing this area beside a new road they put in next to her neighbourhood. And I know why it is: they’re reducing the area that they’re mowing because they want to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from mowing. So, I explained it to her and she is like, “Ok that makes sense, I was just wondering why they weren’t doing it anymore.” Then another person was expressing to me that they were confused about the clear garbage bags: “Where do I put that? Do I put that with my recycling or whatever?” So, I just took time to explain what they were doing with that, and when I was done, he was good. We need to explain ourselves, communicate the decisions that we’ve made better to residents. I don’t think you can just rely on a website. As Ward councillors, we have to have direct engagement with residents.
[Candidate responses have been edited for length and clarity.]
With files from Hope Jamieson.
Did you enjoy this article? Fund more like it, and support the future of journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador.