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St. John’s Ward 2 forms an L shape over the east and south of the city. It takes in all properties to the east of the centerline of Logy Bay Road and south of Empire Avenue to the harbour, and all the way over to Shaw Street in the west. What this means is that the ward includes both the downtown and the East End including Virginia Park, as far as the Logy Bay boundary. 41% of Ward 2 residents land in the 18 to 34 age bracket—the second youngest Ward in the city, behind Ward 4—and 34% of its households are renters.

In the 2020 citizen satisfaction survey, residents of Ward 2 identified road maintenance, road snow clearing, sidewalk snow clearing, and land-use planning as the primary issues of concern.

In 2021, the Ward will elect its third councillor since 2017. That year, one-term councillor Jonathan Galgay was unseated by former councillor Hope Jamieson, who resigned the seat in 2020. Incumbent councillor Shawn Skinner, recently elected in the by-election of October 2020, is not seeking re-election.

The Independent spoke with Ward 2 candidates Ophelia Ravencroft, Peter Whittle, and Derek Winsor about why they’re running, the issues facing the city, and what they want to do about them. All interviews were conducted live over the phone, and candidates did not receive the questions or topics in advance. (Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed of this latter condition.) 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?

Art Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ophelia Ravencroft: The desire to run was born sort of out of two things. The predominant one was issues-based. As somebody who doesn’t have a car, who has struggled to find affordable housing, as somebody who understands the importance of things like cleared sidewalks, public transit and so on, I was feeling that it was important to have somebody with that lived experience at the table and who could actually assist in getting that work done.

The other piece was also a desire to see more people like myself represented in politics. I’m a nonbinary woman, I’m transgender, I’m a lesbian and I’m goth too. You don’t see a ton of goth politicians, unfortunately. I’d like to see more. But especially for trans and nonbinary representation, having never elected any legislator who’s openly transgender in the province, I thought that could be a remarkable first for our community. I’m hoping that by taking up this position and showing both the public and the community that folks are really ready for trans people in politics, that more of us will wind up stepping forward.

I’m an academic by trade. I’ve been working on a doctorate in ethnomusicology for some time. I also work in public policy and I’ve had extensive volunteer and activist experience within the community predominantly around issues like sex workers rights, trans and queer rights.

Peter Whittle: I’m running because there’s a number of issues that I have worked on in the community over the past 20, 25 years that I still feel are unresolved. As somebody who’s worked as a journalist, worked in business, worked for the nonprofit, for profit sector, and government—I’m very close to understanding all the programs in government, how government works, how it functions, the different levels and how they interact and bringing people together at all different levels in the community for successful resolutions to issues. I just believe in a balanced approach, and I’ve always found that I have the ability to find that balance to push it forward. That’s important in the city.

My experience in particular—I got particularly interested in education when I moved to the East End. We have a school here in Virginia Park that was pretty much dilapidated and the school board at the time said they were planning to close it. I felt very strongly at the time that boards in the past had really marginalized these kids. So I dug in and we worked hard to convince them to keep the school open. It took almost 12 years to get the project finished. I stayed involved in a leadership role all the way through. In the end, we ended up with the newest primary elementary school in the city for sure. That kind of work is what I like to do in the community.

I like building capacity. I like ensuring that everybody has an opportunity. Inclusivity is critical to me, no matter what it is. We’re all members of this society and we should all be treated the same. I’ve shown that I have a voice. I’ve never hesitated to use it for causes and there is probably an opportunity to see if I can be more active with some of these significant issues by going to City Hall.

Derek Winsor: Well, I’ve had my name on the ballot. This is my third ballot. Reason I’m running is because I feel that I have something to offer to citizens of St. John’s and particularly Ward 2. I’ve lived in the Ward for at least 50 of my 62 years. So I’m very familiar with the Ward and the areas around us. I’ve been heavily, heavily involved in the community over the years, both through sport and recreation. I ran a whole food bank. So I’m familiar with that part of our city—the vulnerable who need support. I just think that I have something to offer. I want to see the historic part of this city preserved, but at the same time make sure that the city is able to grow and prosper in a modern society.

You’re running in Ward 2, so what are the main issues in your Ward and what do you propose to do about them?

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: The predominant issue in our Ward is mobility equity. The reality is that we are a Ward that has a higher than normal proportion of pedestrians, of folks who use active transportation in all forms—be that wheelchairs or bicycles or scooters, anything. The fact is that if you don’t have a car to get around, you still deserve to be able to access our city the same way as anybody else. If you have accessibility needs that the city is not meeting, you deserve to have those things answered. Right now we are looking at a public transit system that is badly underfunded, that doesn’t have adequate levels of service.

This is my number one priority: horribly uncleared sidewalks in the winter that are wildly unsafe, wildly inaccessible, and that badly exacerbate our city’s inequalities in the winter. It’s been really frustrating to hear council after council kind of say that there’s nothing more that can be done, that it isn’t necessary to increase service levels of any of this. We really need to get these things fixed and we need to get them fixed now.

In terms of other issues, we have a horrible affordable housing crisis in this city right now that is, again, particularly severe in this Ward. We need to do a lot more to address that both through collaboration with the private sectors and through increasing the availability and flexibility of non-market housing, be that particularly in our case through City of St. John’s Housing so that more folks can access the homes that they need.

Whittle: I hate to put any one issue above the other, but I think the biggest issue that I have found is the Robin Hood Bay landfill. The odor in the East End often, particularly in this area, it’s just simply gross and ridiculous.

I have worked in Environment as the executive assistant to the minister, and I’ve been involved with a bunch of environmental communities. I know the issue fairly well. I’d like support for a modern landfill that worked with modern principles for getting rid of waste diversion, but most importantly, dealing with greenhouse gases and leachate.

This dump has been there for 80 years now. It wasn’t built properly in the first place. We’ve been dumping things up there for that entire period. 60, 65, 70 percent of the garbage created in Newfoundland and Labrador comes to Robin Hood Bay. They don’t have the proper cover. The geography of the area is a natural valley, so when we get this rain drizzle fog stuff, it gets worse. So the odor issue got really bad. I lobbied very hard in the community to the city and to anybody that would listen that we had a problem down here. Every evening it seems we’re getting that smell right now, that sulfur rotten egg thing.

There’s a whole bunch of issues. Where we haven’t diverted the waste over the years, you’ve got hydrocarbons and wallboards and contaminated all kinds of stuff all there already. It’s creating a lot of leachate, which is full of chemicals like nickel and a whole bunch of other things. Mercury. Now this is the most toxic stuff you could ever imagine. They simply, believe it or not, in 2021, emptied that into the main sewer line and it runs through the Riverhead facility on south side and straight into the harbor. It’s not treated and it’s all going in the harbor. We’re just turning that into the harbor, just letting it go.

When council pats itself on the back for all the great work they’ve been doing on greenhouse gas emissions and eliminating our footprint as a city, I think it’s hypocritical for the city to expect to be praised for the work they’re doing when they have completely missed the ball on this particular dump issue. 

Another issue that is a big concern to me is community policing. A number of years ago, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary used to have a satellite office down in this end of town. They had one in a couple other locations too, and they closed. I think we need to reinstate these neighborhood police stations that we used to have, the community policing and to having that presence in the community. That’s important to me.

Winsor: Well, a lot of my issues right now are relief. I would have to classify them as probably motherhood issues. Again, coming back to the historic part of the city, how do we preserve it, but also allow that section in the city to prosper through some modern techniques and skills and opportunities. So how do we go through that fine line of preserving but yet growing at the same time.

Sidewalk snow clearing continues to be a big issue on a number of fronts, one from a pedestrian standpoint, but there’s a lot of things that can happen in the downtown with sidewalk clearing and working with the business community to allow the downtown to be a busier place in the winter. Many people avoid going down there, saying, “I just don’t want to climb over icy snowbanks,” even if they’re only a foot high. Even myself—I mean, I don’t want to be jumping over snowbanks in order to try to get something.

There’s plenty of ways that we can support the downtown business and have that sidewalk clearing and snow removal program the same as they do in many other cities across this country. I’ve seen them in different places. I’d like to bring that to the table and move it forward.

Where do you stand on the future of Mile One?

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: I want to ensure that that venue is the most vibrant venue that it can be and the most vibrant cultural hub that it can be, because that’s how I remember it being when I moved here about 15 years ago. I saw Elton John there, I saw Alice Cooper there, I saw so many remarkable artists. It’s been an incredible cultural hub and it’s located in such a great spot that’s really well designed. I’d like to see it used to benefit the community as much as possible.

I’m open to considering whatever approach ultimately proves best to do that. What I will say is that it is really to the taxpayers’ benefit if there’s a resource like this that is publicly owned and if the control can stay there. If we can look at ways of managing risk and so on, that could maybe make booking and organizing things within the venue a little bit more flexible. 

I’m willing to keep an open mind for the future of Mile One. I just want to make sure that it’s as vibrant and as alive and as integral to the community as it can be.

Whittle: Mile One is an issue. We’ve got taxpayers in this ward. We’ve got a lot of significant issues, particularly social issues. We need to be doing better to be helping homelessness. We need to have bigger investments for sidewalk clearing. We need to ensure that our city is accessible and inclusive to everyone and the elderly and physically challenged in particular. And when I consider that we’re told there isn’t enough money to do these things, and I look at the money we waste at Mile One, it really upsets me. I would like to see all of the funding that we give Mile One reinvested into projects in the community that benefit everybody.

At this point in time, it’s a 20 year old facility. It’s going to need repairs. It’s got to be maintained. I certainly think that we’ve got to get that off our back. One thing I noticed this year is when the Growlers signed a three year contract, it kind of put off some alarms for me. It tells me they’re not sure about their future in St. John’s. Does that mean that they are going to go to another facility or build another facility?

I understand as well that the Steele Group Companies, the owners of the JAG hotel, are building a really modern entertainment area for an auditorium. It’s going to be a great venue. They’re going to be bringing in great acts and bands and stuff like that. So that’s another draw in the downtown that will probably take away from Mile One. So the reality is that Mile One is going to be a harder sell and it’s going to cost more money in the future. We’ve got to make definitive decisions on that and those decisions have to reflect just how big a piece of our taxpayers’ dollars are going to it.

Winsor: Well, there’s no doubt it’s a very complex issue. There’s a very quick answer in saying that if we have somebody who wishes to buy it and remove the public subsidy, we really need to look at that. And on the other side of that, I know the argument that this needs to be maintained as a public facility. It was put there by tax dollars. It wasn’t meant to be a surplus making facility per se, let it do what it can do for the downtown and at the same time benefit the taxpayer.

So there’s no easy answer. I will say that if someone were to ask me, am I leaning to sell it? I would say 60/40 towards selling it.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: As you’ll hear me say all of the time, when we make budgeting decisions, the fact is that we are making active decisions about how we choose to spend the resources that we have. The fact is that the mil rate right here is fairly low, which is not a bad thing. If there are ways to increase revenue or manage our money more effectively without raising taxes, I think everyone is in favor of that. But the fact is that if we are looking at a budget shortfall, the key thing that we need to do before increasing the revenue is really look at the ways that we’re delivering services and ensure that we’re actually impacting the lives of citizens as much as possible. There are processes that we could be handling things in much more efficient ways.

Whittle: There’s no doubt about it. The city has a shortfall. I can only imagine how much bigger that shortfall is going to become when you consider that this is a city where it’s about 86 percent of its revenue from property taxes, business taxes, that sort of thing. COVID has been a big hit. We’ve got to get back to being somewhat realistic in our expectations of the city, but at the same time, those who run the city have to find that balance to meet the needs, especially of those people that are most vulnerable in our community, homeless people, people that need accessibility.

In any budget exercise, I would certainly be looking at that first. I don’t think anybody in this race is running and saying, “Hey, we’ve got to increase taxes.” I certainly would not want to go down that route if at all possible. We have to look at how we spend our money and where we’re spending it. If we’re going to make new investments, a lot of people are saying they want new things, that money has to come from somewhere. The City of St. John’s can’t run a deficit. They have to deal with the problems they have. 

So this new council is going to inherit a bit of a mess. The people who are running for reelection need to be accountable for that. From my perspective, we’ve got to look at the bloated management at City Hall as well and and start there before we raise taxes.

Winsor: Well, I hate to say that we need to sit down and review everything, but in order to know exactly what you need to do and cut back on or change or whatever, unfortunately, you do need to do those kinds of reviews. And with our type of system, there could very well be 75 percent of the council being all brand new people. That will take some time to figure out exactly what is good and bad and what we need to cut back, where we need to change things or maybe just change operational styles when it comes to road maintenance and different things like that. How do we best utilize the dollars that we have, not only for the short-term, but for the long-term as well?

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: [Due to a technical error, a portion of Ravencroft’s answer here was not recorded, so it was supplemented by an emailed statement.] If you’re asking me exclusively about those three, the one that I focus generally the most heavily on is public transit. It’s really important for us to understand that public transit is not meant to be a last resort, it’s meant to be a service that’s there for all citizens that can actually be used in a way that’s effective and that gets you to your destination on time. This is why public transit exists. It’s not just there if you happen not to be privileged enough to own a car.

We need more transit running more often, whether that’s simply a matter of increased frequency across the board, a “hub and spoke” system, or implementing microtransit. Paratransit, in particular, could really stand to be improved—no more paternalistic approaches to ridership, and more accessibility on fixed routes. As a longtime Metrobus rider, I know those problems all too well. The bike plan is a good start in improving our active transit infrastructure, and like anyone, I want our roads to be in good shape. But I definitely think our public transit system is the piece that needs the most improvement, and I’ll work to make that happen.

That’s not to say that we’re going to completely discourage you from driving your car. It’s just to say that if for any reason a car is not an option for you, our city needs to have your back and you need to be able to get around just as easily as you can.

Whittle: I lived in Ottawa and Toronto and spent some time in Montreal, so I know how important public transportation is. Unfortunately here, it’s always been a struggle with Metrobus. We definitely have to enhance the likeability or the usage of the bus system and maybe integrate it more throughout the Northeast Avalon so that it justifies the amount of money that’s spent on it. Every modern city has to have something like that. The public transportation system is vital.

For people who are into active transportation, whether that be walking, biking, or using their skateboards, for that matter, the city is tough. We have to become a society that respects active transportation. We’ve had, what, three bike plans in the past 15 years? Every one has gone off the rails for one reason or another. We’ve got an incredible system of trails in this city. We have to find an accommodation that works for everybody. And that would include people who walk, people who bike, people who have accessibility issues—who can’t use parts of the trails. How do we all live and get along together?

It shouldn’t be one at the expense of the other at all. So in areas where it makes sense environmentally, if they want to widen trails to make it more accessible to develop the infrastructure to allow wheelchairs or people who have a right to active transportation in the city, I certainly support that. However, the current trails shouldn’t be disposed of necessarily to make room for pavement or whatever the case may be..

We’ve got to use common sense to ensure we’re finding that balance, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of another group or we shouldn’t be preventing accessibility and inclusion for others. Some of it is just never going to be as accessible as you’d like to have it. Where it’s safe or where it makes sense, let’s have multi-use trails. And where investments can be made safely and don’t impact the environment in terms of runoff, there is something else. You have to develop sustainable accessible communities, and that means active transportation has to be incorporated. It’s a significant part of any modern city and we need to do it and do it right. Nobody’s going to be completely happy, but we have to have people who can pull all the groups together and make a common sense approach. We’ve got to come up with something that works for everybody, or for the majority of everybody.

Winsor: Well, I’ve been in some pretty major cities who have some pretty complex public transportation systems. The downtown is an older part when it comes to bike lanes and that is not that easy to do. However, we need to sit down with the bike cyclists. We need to talk with users of the Metrobus and come up with good, clear ways on how we can improve that system to the betterment of everybody.

After seeing public transportation in Europe and other places I’ve been, I truly believe there are ways that we can do that and do it efficiently without costing taxpayers a lot more money and, in the long run, getting ridership and use of public transportation by more and more people. At the same time, cutting back on the number of vehicles that are on our roadways which causes us to require more and more maintenance. There’s monies saved on both ends.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: I know I bring everything back to a focus on mobility and transportation, but if there’s any major driver of climate change in our city right now, it’s car culture. The fact is that with a city that has a titanic amount of urban sprawl, with so many cars on the road and such inadequate active transportation and public transportation infrastructure, you are going to wind up with a lot more emissions coming out of this city than is necessary.

I know we love to pitch things like, we have an improved electric vehicle charging network around the city now, which that’s wonderful. But for folks who can’t afford an electric vehicle, unfortunately it doesn’t do anything. If we want to be looking at mitigating the impacts of climate change, the first thing that we need to do in my opinion is address the fact that we have fundamentally oriented our city to run on cars and that has to stop. We have to be able to build infrastructure for transportation that takes into account the fact that we are in a climate crisis and that we badly need to mitigate that by shifting away from cars.

Whittle: The number one thing we can do is to deal with the ridiculous situation we created for ourselves at Robin Hood Bay and the fact that we’re dropping toxic chemicals into the harbor with no concern whatsoever. So I think we have to continue developing our city in a green—I hate giving stock answers—in a green sustainable way that ensures that we limit our carbon footprint and the amount of greenhouse gases that we emit. And we have to be prepared for the changes that are coming in weather patterns. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to prepare us for the future. We need to be sustainable and introduce measures like the electric vehicles and all that sort of stuff.

Winsor: One of the biggest things for me right now is looking at Robin Hood Bay and the amount that still continues to go into that landfill. We need to work with the province and the waste management and the recycling organizations to come up with a way that we recycle much more material than what is being done right now. We don’t have a recycling for glass bottles. Is recycling worth the while for the individual? For instance, if you’ve got an old washer and you want to recycle it, you bring it down to some of the companies and you say, “Well, okay, what can I get for that?” “Oh, we’ll give you a dollar for it.” Was that worth the gas going down there?

So we need to start working together. I know companies want to make profit and want to be able to survive. There has to be a way that we can work together, that companies are successful with their bottom line, but then the community also benefits from that through whatever kind of recycling program the city can put in place or the region can put in place. The regional management system is going to be important in this whole thing as well.

One thing with my campaign is that I am trying to reduce the footprint on the city with not having large flyer campaigns, going door to door and being just dropped in mailboxes. And I’m limiting the number of signage I have and doing very little time of having paper dropped in people’s mailboxes. To me that’s just another environmental issue that all of a sudden gets dumped down in Robin Hood Bay.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: The condition of sidewalks in the winter is absolutely deplorable. There’s no reason that so many sidewalks in the city should continue to go uncleared, that the network of sidewalks that are cleared is fairly minimal, that it’s not always done particularly well, ice control is often nonexistent. The work is simply not in the place that it needs to be.

The biggest thing we need to do is we need to actually be able to budget enough money to get this dealt with. We need to improve the priority of sidewalk clearing so that it’s done with the same priority as the adjoining streets. We need a cultural and operational shift and we need to change the way we do business to ensure that we prioritize folks we need sidewalks. I’ve spoken to so many people across the Ward and I know from personal experience, if ice control is not existent, if sidewalks are not plowed, if you’re walking in traffic—to be perfectly frank about this, you wind up housebound and that’s not acceptable. It is absolutely something we need to tackle much, much more substantially than we are right now.

Whittle: Again, I talk about balance. I’m a bit of a realist and I’m pragmatic. We live in a northern climate. This is an expensive thing to do. We need to be more innovative in the way we approach our snow clearing, whether we engage community groups or other people to assist it or shop owners or homeowners have to be more engaged. But at the end of the day, we have to do a better job to ensure that as much as possible, we expand the amount of sidewalk clearing and the efficiency in which it gets done after storms.

It would be nice to have a service standard of 48 hours to have these opened up or 24 hours if it’s in important areas where people have to get to stores and shops and stuff. I’m all about improving accessibility and better snow clearing of sidewalks. The reality is we’re coming into a fiscal crunch, so if we’re going to offer new services, we have to be seriously asking ourselves, “What is it that we can’t afford to do anymore? What can we afford to do? What gives if we’re going to have new services?” That’s part of a broader expenditure issue, but I certainly believe that we have to do better than we’re doing.

Winsor: Well, I know the city has put a lot of money into improving sidewalks, snow clearing, both around the schools in the downtown area. But again, I see it as that we all have to play a part in that. I clear my own sidewalk. I clear my neighbours’ and so on because I think it’s part of our role.

Now, can everybody do that? No. And that’s why we had the city program to be able to assist people. But businesses have to play a role in making sure that we do this efficiently, whether or not they play some kind of a role, or there’s some way of having people in the downtown area constantly removing snow so that there’s never any large build up people have to be climbing over on a regular basis. Again, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. What the end result will be, could be anybody’s guess on that. But if you don’t put the ideas on the table, if you don’t discuss them, if you don’t ask questions, then you’ll never know the answer.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: I think the fact that I’m struggling to answer this question as much as I am is not a good sign. We’ve had what Drew Brown called the progressive wedge over the last four years with young progressive voices that have been trying their best in many cases to do some fabulous work, and unfortunately the institutional pushback led to a lot of difficulty accomplishing things. I’m really struggling with answering this one.

I can point to the Pedestrian Mall. That was a great choice but then we wound up not doing the Winter Pedestrian Mall, which was a shame. I can look at the fact that we elected not to slash Metrobus’s budget in the most recent budget as a good choice, but we only did that after significant public outcry because there initially was this plan to create a pretty substantial cut to Metrobus’s funding. These are not good things.

I’m really struggling to come up with one to point to and say, “Yeah, that’s a great thing.”

Whittle: This council has made some really good decisions on climate change in particular. They’ve done a decent job of introducing sustainable policies that are important to the community. They’ve been developing the work to assist homeless people in particular and the issues related to people who are in the sex trade. Those decisions to me have been positive. They reflect the need for a social conscience at City Hall as well as anything that has to do with development. This council has been trying to find that balance to assist those that are the most vulnerable in our society, and I think they’ve been doing that very well.

Winsor: I’ll be very truthful with you. Whoever’s in those positions has to make tough decisions from time to time. And I don’t want to be able to judge what other people have had to do based on the knowledge that they’ve had. I wouldn’t have that same knowledge to be able to judge whether it was a good decision or a bad decision.

What specific committees are you interested in participating in and why?

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: As wonky aspirational goals go, if there’s any possibility of becoming a representative on the transportation commission, that was always a dream. I like knowing that commissions and committees have folks with real lived experience with the work that they do sitting on them. I’m aware also that the Inclusion Advisory Committee has done some incredible work. Councillor Stapleton, who’s been their champion for quite some time now, is not reoffering and if there’s a need of someone else stepping in there as a transgender woman, as a nonbinary person, as a person with extensive and diverse lived experience, it will be a real honour to step into that role.

Whittle: I’d be very interested in any committee related to climate change, any committee related to developing opportunities for those that are more vulnerable, the community centers, that sort of thing. That’s where my heart is. That said, I am a trustee on the school board and I was chair of the finance committee. So I understand budgets, I’ve worked with significant budgets, and I’ve had input, worked with employees. So finances is also an area that I’d be very interested in getting engaged with.

Winsor: Public works and transportation. Again, for a lot of the reasons that we just spoke about, I think when it comes to financial burden on the city, our public works is an essential part of running our city. But how do we make that more efficient? We have to be able to make sure that work gets done in an efficient manner.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: So in 2020 I made three key commitments in terms of accessibility, and I would extend that now to include a fourth. If you’re going to start with immediate actions that folks with disabilities have been calling for for quite some time, we need more audible crosswalk signals. We need to implement audio visual stop announcements on the Metrobus because we need our transit made accessible. We need yellow nosing on city stairways because that’s a serious hazard for folks with visual disabilities, and we need to increase blue zone parking in the downtown. So many folks that I’ve spoken with said that they really struggle to find adequate parking in the downtown given the lack of designated accessible parking. That can be a pretty significant game changer for anybody who needs that.

I’m actually going to come out and name another candidate, if I could. I’m voting for Anne Malone. It’s incredibly important that our council reflects the diverse lived experience of folks who we share space with. It’s incredibly important to have someone on there who speaks from experience with accessibility needs in our city, and can do that.

Whittle: Better active transportation opportunities, better snow clearing, and education. Education is critical. People have to understand that not everybody gets around the same way or is able to. As an individual who doesn’t have any physical limitations, you can take it for granted. We just take it for granted that we can jump in our cars and go off and do whatever we want and go wherever we want. We’ve got to understand that investments need to be made to make the city more inclusive and accessible.

Winsor: Well, I believe everybody has the right to voice their opinion. They have the right to their, you know, whether it’s sexual orientation or their wherever they live, whatever, all of the above. Bringing more immigrants into our city and inviting them and making them proud of our city is a way to make our city grow and be inclusive. I’m actually working with a immigrant family now who brought his wife and son, and I’ve been helping them furnish their apartment and make them feel comfortable here in the city. Because again, we’re here as a community, we’re all part. We’re all here for a very short time, but let’s make the time that we do have in this city and on this planet, good, efficient and enjoyable.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: We need to be focused on affordable transportation and we need to be focused on affordable housing. We have a real shortage of affordable housing. I would certainly look at expanding non-market housing options through City of St. John’s Housing. I would look at implementing a roommate model within CSJ Housing to facilitate filling vacancies so that we can have more people that actually get the homes they need, probably at more affordable rates than they might otherwise.

I also want to collaborate with the private sector to whatever extent is possible to ensure that we have as much space used and rented, as affordably as possible. I’ve proposed a progressive reduction in the vacancy allowance, which has been a real kind of block. Vacancies having been a serious problem in the city for quite some time, so that we can hopefully have as much space rented as possible at good, affordable rates. If some of that is handed over to residential rentals, that would be a good thing.

Serious improvements to public transit are badly needed and serious improvements to active transportation infrastructure are badly needed. Serious improvements to sidewalks are badly needed. No one’s ability to access this city at any time, no one’s ability to move around the city at any time should be impacted by inability to pay. 

Whittle: We have cycles of poverty in the city. We have opportunities. Other people haven’t had the same opportunities. There is an imbalance. So I strongly believe in investments in housing, affordable housing. The federal government has offered a lot of funding to work towards that. We should be certainly utilizing and taking advantage of those opportunities. Affordable housing where we have accessibility issues that are looked after from the get-go and modern homes that are environmentally tighter.

Having a community drop-in centers is a good idea as well so that people that are marginalized that are on the streets have places to go where they can feel safe, where they can feel that they can go to talk to someone, so you have your social workers and your doctors and stuff. The Gathering Place is a great example of what we should be replicating if possible in different parts of the city, particularly in the downtown area. But homelessness is hidden in the city. There are a few people that you see from time to time on the street panhandling or whatever the case may be, but one of the biggest issues of homelessness in St. John’s is young people. They’re couch surfing. They’re sleeping in people’s sheds or whatever the case may be. We can’t be blind to the reality that we have a homelessness problem in St. John’s and it has to be addressed.

Winsor: Well, when it comes to affordability, we have to be able to work with the provincial government on a number of initiatives—when it comes to supply, when it comes to housing, when it comes to the availability of materials for affordable housing and getting affordable housing. There’s a whole bunch of different things. Conversation between the city and the provincial government that would work towards making the city a more affordable place for people to live based on their income and so on.

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

Puddister: [Art Puddister stopped responding to interview requests when informed he would not get questions in advance.]

Ravencroft: The main thing that we need to be concerned with here is ensuring that individual councillors are as transparent as possible in explaining their motivations for decisions and in communicating with the public in effective ways. Whether that’s through actually responding to emails, actually picking up the phone and talking to constituents, maybe speaking out on social media—whatever it takes to ensure that we understand where folks are coming from.

As someone who is hoping to win election in Ward 2, I think it’s a real honor to be able to address the needs of constituents directly. It comes down to the willingness of individuals to hold themselves accountable and actually be prepared to explain themselves to the public and answer to the public.

Whittle: I’d like to see “accountability and transparency” be more than just buzzwords. We have a freedom of information program here in the city so that you can make an application for information if you need it. Personally, if I were to win this Ward, I’d commit to maybe a quarterly People’s Congress sort of thing, or a public meeting where I would get together with residents and discuss issues that are important to them and answer their questions and take their advice and any proposals they have. Communication is critical and when people don’t get answers, they get suspicious. And when you get suspicious, you lose your trust and your faith in the way things are done. So more accountability would directly come from better communication.

Winsor: I know there’s a structure within the council meetings, within committees. I would like to be able to see that become a little bit more open, allow individuals to be able to voice their issues and concerns—not necessarily at a public meeting, but through their councillor, whether myself as a Ward councillor or through an At-Large councillor. An opportunity to stand up in that council chamber and say: “we have a question from a resident and here is the question.” So that resident knows that when something is brought forward, they can see that it’s being discussed on a public level, especially if it’s a broader public issue. We have to make sure we’re accessible, and the staff are accessible, to answer the needs of the taxpayer.

[Candidate responses have been edited for length and clarity.]

With files from Hope Jamieson.

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Elizabeth Whitten is a St. John's-based journalist and one of The Independent's 2021 municipal election reporters. She's previously worked for allNewfoundlandLabrador and Downhome Magazine, and her work has been published by CBC, The Overcast, and the Toronto Star. She's currently writing a book about how Dr. Cluny Macpherson invented the gas mask in World War One.