Late last week, while grocery shopping in Byron, I was approached by a store patron who expressed their disappointment that I was not running in the upcoming municipal election. This thoughtful sentiment, which has been shared with me by a number of area residents, is both humbling and sincerely appreciated.
However, my response to the kind patron was the same that I have reiterated to several people who have asked me the same question – namely, that I did not consider myself a public figure per se, and after two turns at the election wheel, am more than happy to serve my community in a low or no-profile role. And as such, I am very grateful for all the support that I have received from Londoners and plan to continue to contribute where I can to help advance the interests of our city.
More importantly, during that same shopping trip, I was approached by another customer and the store cashier who both asked me who I would be supporting in the upcoming municipal election. I shared with them my recommendations, and encouraged them to learn what they could about each candidate to ensure that their preferred selection(s) best fit with their civic wants and needs.
It then occurred to me that others may benefit from my perspective, especially since my blog garnered such a large following in the last municipal election and the fact that I spent the better part of two election cycles knocking on doors, learning the issues and understanding the needs of Londoners throughout the city.
To this end, I have prepared the following two blogs for Londoner’s review and consideration. Today’s blog focuses on what I believe are/should be the key issues influencing voter preferences while tomorrow’s blog provides a list of recommended candidates, both new and incumbent, that I believe would make for an excellent City Council.
My hope is that you find these insights helpful and worthy of your consideration coming voting time.
Part 1 – The Issues
While any one person’s list of key issues is both subjective and highly personal, I do believe that a few issues stand ahead of the rest by virtue of their broad impact throughout the entire city, and council’s direct ability to address them.
First and foremost, I find it surprising that so few candidates are talking about property taxes. Londoners may be gobsmacked to learn that property taxes on existing homeowners have, on average, increased by nearly 3% each of the last ten years. This is a full 0.5% above the rate of inflation over the same period despite enjoying one of the highest population growth rates in Ontario. In fact, the City’s annual budget has increased from $474 million to a whopping $742 million over that same ten year period.
Clearly, the days when annual tax rate increases dominated election cycle debates now seem a distant memory, and yet, in the absence of residents asking the candidates what their rate targets are and how they plan to limit spending – especially with so many post-covid big-ticket expenditures still pending (e.g. social housing infrastructure, rapid transit, roads and sewers) – Londoners may see this horrid pace continue with little consideration for people’s ability to pay.
I, for one, would like to see the city return to annual budgeting. While I was a supporter at its use at the outset, the four-year budget process coupled with so-called annual service reviews has done little to stem the tax rate and led to a massive transfer of funds from homeowner to the city. Greater annual scrutiny would force councillors and city staff to more carefully manage our money and hopefully slow a growth rate in taxes that clearly is unsustainable, especially for those on fixed incomes and/or living with limited means.
Second, housing affordability remains a material issue in our community and one that I have written about extensively in a previous post Our Housing Challenge. Yet the ‘tissue reject’ our local builders routinely receive from City Council still surprises me as area builders try to expand London’s housing inventory.
In addition to risking millions of their own capital to build our needed housing stock, creating thousands of jobs, and contributing countless proceeds to local charitable causes; our builders must endure both the public contempt of some community influencers and an unnecessarily arduous planning, approval and inspection processes to complete their projects.
My hope is that the new Council will stop repelling private sector investment and embrace builders as a valued partner by streamlining their planning and approval processes in the pursuit of our collective goal to increase housing supply and by extension make housing more affordable.
While some within our community and the media are rightly concerned with London’s increasingly complex and untenable homeless crisis, I believe that a vast majority of Londoners are much more concerned with the real or perceived erosion of safety along our streets and in our neighbourhoods. And I imagine most Londoners would like the next Council to place a much greater emphasis on the protection of our citizens – our merchants and the employees, patrons, residents and visitors – that live and work in and around the many retail/entertainment districts and neighbourhoods nestled throughout the city. Candidates need to be clear not just on what they plan to do to help our most vulnerable citizens, but demonstrate an equal commitment to our businesses and citizens who dutifully pay their taxes and should not feel fear while conducting business and enjoying their lives.
Tomorrow – Part 2 – Councillor Recommendations.