1. I think the biggest change we can make is around focus. We need to make sure that the revenue we’re taking in goes to the nuts-and-bolts services that enable citizens to access our city, and that when we’re not spending the money ourselves, our decisions are guided through that same lens. That means focusing on delivering services like infrastructure maintenance, accessibility improvements, public transit, and especially sidewalk snow clearing. Whether we wind up facing tax increases or not (and I do hope we don’t), issues like these should always be front and center. When we look at our decisions through that lens, we ensure our citizens – and, by extension, our businesses – receive maximum value for their tax dollars. If tax increases do happen, I’m pledging to ensure that new revenue is earmarked specifically for these projects.
It’s worth noting that my platform does contain some measures aimed at directly increasing City revenue. One such idea is a progressive reduction of the vacancy allowance on long-vacant spaces, such that large national property owners, who might otherwise sit on their vacant buildings, will be incentivized to rent them out – and pay the price if they don’t. But overall, my key response to budget shortfalls is to ensure that our City is delivering services the way it needs to be with what we have available, so that we all get the most out of our money.
2. In a system that’s often marked out by its relative opacity when it comes to contact, I’m a strong advocate for implementing as much direct contact as possible. When the City implemented the “big dig” project on Water Street, beyond ensuring direct contact was made to provide adequate notice of the project itself, the City identified a single staff member as a point of contact for stakeholders. I’d advocate implementing measures such as that for as many projects as possible, so that affected businesses aren’t left going through 311 for answers. The Engage St. John’s Web site is helpful in this regard, too – making information easily accessible is a good thing for everyone!
3. In many ways, COVID-19 exacerbated existing problems that challenged our small businesses; in my view, the best support we can provide is simply ensuring residents have the greatest possible ability to support them. So many folks with whom I’ve talked struggle to frequent the small, local businesses they prefer because of issues around access or cost, and that’s been made worse by the higher cost of doing business in COVID times. When our policies force residents to fill in gaps themselves, we all wind up with less money in our pockets and less time on our hands. Improving public transit, fixing our sidewalk clearing problem, enhancing municipal accessibility, and answering the call for affordable housing will collectively free up space in our budgets – and our lives – that can be reinvested into our economy. I also support projects like the time-extended pedestrian mall, which would have been a great driver of business for the downtown.
4. I think it’s important that we implement predictable, clearly defined processes for those instances when businesses need to engage with our City. The regulations around development and permitting should be easily available, enforced consistently, and written clearly, so there’s no grey area in their meaning. We should have adequate staff capacity to help businesses navigate those processes, and they should be subject to continuous improvement to ensure we handle things as efficiently as we can.
5. The pedestrian mall has been a game-changer for the downtown, and I’ll certainly vote to keep it in place in future years. I’d also extend it to other times of the year; for instance, I would have voted for the winter pedestrian mall last year, which would have been a huge boon for our local businesses and residents alike. My biggest change would be around transportation: I’d like to implement a park-and-ride service through Metrobus for future pedestrian malls. Doing so would enable us to reduce vehicular congestion in the downtown, solve parking problems for many who experienced them in the past, and reduce our environmental impact as well. I’m not clear on why the City hasn’t implemented such shuttles in the past; it’s certainly time we try them.
After our experiments this past summer, I’m aware there was some controversy about the mall’s extension to Duckworth Street. Implementing a partial road closure there created some new problems, and surveyed businesses weren’t universally in favour of it. I think it’s clear that this wasn’t a successful experiment, and that future expansion to Duckworth should be rooted in the results of this year’s public engagement process, as well as contact with impacted businesses. If this is ever an idea we consider again, I want to make sure it truly fulfills the pedestrian mall’s general goals of creating a vibrant, inclusive, accessible, and safe downtown. However, I certainly support the implementation of parklets on Duckworth Street in future, which have been quite successful for some time, and I’ll work to ensure they’re approved in future years.
6. Yes, absolutely. Not only do I think it can be improved, I know it must be improved. I don’t drive, and know firsthand the challenges we face trying to access our city in the winter. Residents often find large snowbanks piled in the sidewalk, sheets of ice all over walking surfaces, or sidewalks that simply aren’t touched for days or weeks after major storms, if at all. From a business perspective, that means residents are restricted in their access to businesses both physically and economically, as we often have to fill in the resulting service gaps ourselves by paying top dollar for transportation. An accessible city empowers its local entrepreneurs by enabling residents to choose local businesses over ordering online from large corporations, and I think that’s a good thing.
Some folks will say “there’s not enough money” or “it’s the best we can do”, but I don’t agree. We have the money to clear our sidewalks; we just choose to allocate it elsewhere. Even if we argue more revenue is necessary, many residents have already indicated they’d support a small tax increase (say, $25/year) to improve sidewalk clearing. By focusing on that service delivery, we’ll save our citizens a great deal of money every year. Personally, I’d have saved hundreds of dollars last year alone on winter cabs if our sidewalks were clear – and if I’d done so, I would have invested it right back into our local businesses. I’m confident others would do the same.