Though they are all competing against one another for a seat on council, each of the seven female candidates running in the upcoming municipal election in Stratford believe that together they would only serve to improve resident representation at Stratford City Hall.
“I think you have seven really strong candidates sitting here before you. Seven out of 23 is not (a) majority, but… if these seven people get enough votes, you have seven really strong women sitting at the table,” incumbent Coun. Danielle Ingram said during Thursday night’s women municipal candidates debate at the Queen’s Inn.
During the debate, which was hosted by the Stratford chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, the candidates were given two minutes each to respond to three set questions surrounding the issues of public consultation, affordable living, and the environment. In between questions, candidates also had one minute each to offer rebuttals or additions to the statements made by their fellow councillor hopefuls.
Those in the audience also had opportunities to respond to and ask questions regarding the candidates’ answers, both in between the set questions and during a half-hour, question-and-answer period at the end of the debate.
When asked how council can operate in the best interest of those it represents without bending to the will of one special-interest group or another, all of the candidates discussed the importance of public consultation before any given project moves forward.
As a way to better educate and engage residents during public consultation on any given project, incumbent Coun. Kathy Vassilakos said she would support council using the city’s strategic plan as the foundation for all decisions made at city hall.
“When we actually re-do the strategic plan for Stratford this fall, we should be doing a solid consultation that involves all the ways that people want to communicate their vision for the future and what our future priorities are. That document should be the foundation for all of the decisions we make. Spinning out from the strategic plan should be a review of all the different master plans that the city has… We need to move to an integrated master-planning process where all these different master plans come together, and they’re informed by the (strategic) plan to have sort of a long-term and short-term vision that then guides council, it guides policy,” Vassilakos said.
“Once we have that process that has included the public right from the beginning, and has done it well, then I think we’ll be able to make decisions where we’re not reactionary.”
However, council candidate Katia Maxwell suggested hosting consultations for any project needs to be more than just a show for members of the general public.
“In this iteration of council there has been a lot of what we’re calling consultation theatre, where you host sessions and people step forward and they share their ideas, and then council goes in a completely different direction,” Maxwell said. “A really good example is the Market Square… It’s been going on for a long time and we’ve had international competitions, we’ve had local architects put their ideas in… I think we need to ensure (these people) are heard, that we take down barriers and put things in place so they are heard.”
During a discussion surrounding the question of how city council can address the issues spawning from and contributing to poverty in the city, each candidate touched on the need to attract new affordable housing developments and employers committed to paying their employees a living wage, improve transit reliability and affordability, and work with Stratford’s community partners to assist the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“I would put all of these together and then maybe we need to approach people who are facing this struggle and ask them to come and sit on a focus group, or have some way for them to give input to tell us, out of these things that we could do, what would be the number-one way that the city could help (them) in moving forward — or maybe two ways — so that we can focus our strategies,” said council candidate Jo-Dee Burbach.
“We know that these are the pieces of the puzzle, but which are the pieces that need to be put in first?”
Finally, turning to the question of whether candidates are committed to lessening the city and its residents’ environmental impact, those participating in Thursday’s debate touched on supporting the establishment of a curbside composting program, improving curbside recycling, and completing the city’s 20-year bicycle and pedestrian master plan and improving transit to reduce reliance on vehicles in Stratford.
“One thing I’ve been talking about is a complete streets policy,” Ingram said. “… I would like to see it implemented anytime we do any sort of road resurfacing project or a sewer project where you have complete road reconstruction… Specifically for collector and arterial roads, you have the contractor, you have the materials, you have the equipment all right there so that if there is a sidewalk missing, or there is a bike lane missing, or you want to put in a multi-use path, it’s all right there. We’re not doing it at different times, we’re not closing down the road to do it at a separate time.
“Do it at once. Get it done and do it right the first time, and then you don’t have to go back.”
What’s your view? Do organisations need to focus more on ensuring that the public are heard and that their views influence decision making? Do barriers exist that make it difficult for organisations to accept public feedback or do the public have little influence on proposals or policy? Share your views by emailing The Consultation Movement at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Friday 12 October 2018 in the Stratford Beacon Herald. The Consultation Movement cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.