By Bill Jackson
CAMBRIDGE – Candidates running to represent Cambridge on regional council agree the city needs more sway.
At a public meeting organized by the YWCA and Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries on Thursday (Oct. 16) evening at Wesley United Church, Preston resident Paul Robertson wanted to know what candidates would do to ensure Cambridge is no longer “dictated to” when it comes to issues such as light-rail transit and roundabouts.
Candidate Helen Jowett cited the “dysfunctional” relationship with an upper-tier government that “orders Cambridge around.”
Citing her background in human resources, Jowett said she’d worked to change relationships before and would try to do it at the regional level, if elected.
Responding to another question about how to increase the number of votes Cambridge has on regional council, Kurt Ditner said he’d work to increase the number of Cambridge regional councillors, from two to three.
The Galt resident, who formerly lived in both neighbouring municipalities of Kitchener and Waterloo, believes Cambridge is “grossly under-represented” on a regional council that needs to open better communication with city council “so they know it’s not a flat world.”
Including the mayor, Cambridge has only three of 16 votes on regional council, but is the second-largest of six lower-tier municipalities that comprise it.
“We’re certainly wanting and needing more representation at the region,” agreed candidate John Florence.
Returning to the double-direct form of governance, whereby some city councillors also sit on regional council, was discussed during a meeting between Mayor Doug Craig and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin earlier this year.
Changing the number of votes Cambridge has on regional council or reverting back to the double-direct system that was abandoned back in 2000 would require the province’s intervention.
“Now having a representative on the provincial government, we are going to be able to have a lot of persuasion,” said Karl Kiefer, a longtime city councillor who is running for regional council in the upcoming municipal election.
Kiefer admitted Cambridge is often forgotten in the region’s plans but said the role of regional councillor is more complex than people may think.
“As a ward councillor, you’re also responsible for the whole city and as a regional councillor, you’re responsible for the whole region,” he noted, stressing that his longtime experience as a councillor and financial adviser proves he can do the job.
Candidates were also grilled on questions pertaining to poverty and the environment.
“Why can’t we stay within the cost of living?” Florence responded, citing the story of a local single parent who might be forced to sell his home.
Florence said local governments should make better choices between big-ticket projects such as Galt’s former post office, or building 100 townhomes for people in need of housing.
Jowett said she’d work to create better balance at the regional level and “de-red tape” developers.
Kiefer said working with upper levels of government on a national housing strategy is paramount to reducing waiting lists.
“We need to relax some of the bylaws so people can put an apartment in their home,” Ditner said.
In opening remarks, Ditner said he would commit to not make any more cuts to social programs, if elected to regional council. He also said he’d introduce a motion to quash planned, roundabouts on Franklin Boulevard.
Kiefer believes roundabouts are more cost effective, though while good in some places, not so good in others.
“What seems to happen is we’re forgotten in the plans.”
Fellow candidate Ron Koenderink did not attend the debate.