Tag Archives: Waterloo region

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, My Fifth Priority for the Next Term

My pledge: I will support the work of the Economic Development Corporation and the programs in social services  and the college that help workers upgrade their skills

When I did my first round of election calls, a retired couple talked to me about their son who they think will be moving to Alberta to work in the oil patch. They were sad that he had lost his job during the Great Recession and still can’t find anything  equivalent to what he earned at Kitchener Frame.

Waterloo Region has weathered the Recession in much better shape than the rest of Ontario due mostly to our high-tech industries. The manufacturing industry has not done as well. Kitchener Frame (Budds) and Schneiders are gone along with other large manufacturers. Yet according to the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin, 82 % of those who lost their job want to return to manufacturing.  The problem is a mismatch between the workers, many of whom don’t have high school diplomas, and the skills needed in modern manufacturing. It is difficult for them to upgrade their skills. This comes up many times at the Employment and Income Advisory Committee that I chair at the Region.

Fork lift operator

Training to be a fork lift operator

There are manufacturing jobs in Waterloo Region.  The Workforce Planning Board notes that 1 in 5 jobs in the Region is in manufacturing. But when even a labourer needs grade 12 to get a job, the problem is large.

The Region of Waterloo has a number of programs to help people get back into the workforce. When I toured the Foodbank last week, we saw young men being trained to be fork lift operators through a Regional program. Helps the food bank and the worker.

The main reason the provincial and federal government gave money to the Region was to provide jobs. 16,900 jobs will be created around the LRT/ION stations, everything from shops catering to the urban dwellers to high-tech start-ups. 4,000 local jobs will be created in the building and operating of the ION.

The Economic Development Corporation has been created so that all the Region’s cities and townships can speak with one voice when looking for new business to come to the region. It is an arm’s length corporation that will include Canada’s Technology Triangle. Arms length from local politics seems to work well in our Region. The Eastside lands in Cambridge are also being opened up with large parcels available for large plants.

The other problem for the Region is keeping and attracting skilled workers. These high-tech workers want  a city that is a great place to live, work and play. It means a vibrant cultural scene, good alternate transportation like walking, cycling and transit, and an urban environment coupled with rural recreation like hiking and canoeing, along with regular recreation. These new startups and workers need to be able to go to and from Toronto without being stuck on the 401. Go Transit is key.  We must also support the universities and Conestoga college and make Waterloo a welcoming place for students while understanding some of the concerns of other residents.

The Work Force Planning Board

Transportation: Transit, part 4 of my Fourth of Five Priorities

My Pledges: I will work with staff to keep the buses coming on time and frequently. I will continue listening to and responding to GRT customer concerns. I will keep working on improving bus routes.

I ride the bus. My husband rides the bus. My older daughter rides the bus. My younger daughter and her family ride the bus. My three-year old grandson loves the bus and the song, The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, is his favourite . On a personal level and a political level, transit is an important file for me.

In the 1990s when I was a school trustee, transit was run by the cities. I had a devil of a time trying to get a school special put on for Bluevale Collegiate. Not much interest from Kitchener Transit which also ran the buses in Waterloo. There was no municipal bus between Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, let alone Ixpress or Bus Rapid Transit. Frankly, transit was not a priority for the city councillors of that time.

In 2000, transit was taken over by the Region of Waterloo and the new system was named Grand River Transit. Over the last 14 years, since I have been on Regional Council, transit has grown by leaps and bounds.

Specialized Transit

According to the Mobility Plus business plan, the service includes:

services provided by MobilityPLUS in the urban areas and North Dumfries and by contract to Kiwanis Transit for services in Wilmot, Wellesley and Woolwich townships. Since assuming this responsibility the total number of accessible trips provided by the Region increased by 116% from 190,936 in 2001 to 411,964 trips in 2010. This includes approximately 106,000 annual trips taken on conventional low floor transit buses on scheduled GRT bus routes.

All GRT buses are now accessible and the LRT will also be fully accessible, the first Light  Rail to do so in North America.

Regular Buses

Ridership has increased from 9.4 million rides in 1999 when GRT was established to 22 million in 2013. Ixpress and the Route 7 is packed with riders. Here is a link to the GRT business plan giving details of fares and route expansions, some of which have already happened.  It has a nice graph showing the growth of GRT.

http://www.grt.ca/en/aboutus/grtbusinessplan.asp

There is still a long way to go with the buses, though things are extremely improved. There still needs to be work on more routes, frequency and timeliness. Open Data and has been released which, along with GPS in the buses,  is leading to good apps to tell when the bus will arrive. Though the other day when my daughter’s bus was 10 minutes late, it was because the bus had been in an accident. Something that we would hope to avoid, but can’t always.

Transportation Part 1

Transportation Part 2

Transportation Part 3

 

Transportation: Roads, part 2 of the Fourth of My Five Priorities

My Pledge: I will work to get money added to Roads Rehabilitation

This past term, the Region of Waterloo built the first new bridge over the Grand River in 40 years. The new Fairway Bridge – I voted with Mayor Doug Craig to name it the Kossuth bridge, but what can you do? – links Cambridge and Kitchener and gives new routes to the 401 and Guelph. It is one of the areas of greenfield development, not everything is downtown intensification.

Three under/overpasses have been built this term, two in Kitchener and one at the Delta in Cambridge. The City of Waterloo has had a number of road upgrades and construction is all over the city.  Ira Needles is going to four lanes.

People are saying that the Region is seriously cutting road work to pay for the LRT. Here are the actual figures for spending on road construction from Regional staff.

In the 2014 Budget, the additional $1.3 million that would have been added to the Roads Rehabilitation Reserve per the long-term funding strategy was cut along with an additional $1 million reduction to the transfer to the Roads Rehabilitation Reserve for a total reduction in the transfer to the Roads Rehabilitation Reserve of $2.3m.

The Net Operating Levy for Planning, Admin and Construction in 2014 was $26.2 million; for Operations and Maintenance the 2014 Net Operating Levy was $20.5 million for a total Roads Net Operating Levy of $46.7 million.

On the Capital Budget side – The 2014 Capital Budget was $93.5 million ($915 million over the 10 year forecast 2014-2023). The $915 million breaks down into $409 million for Rehabilitation projects, $ 476 million for expansion projects and $30 million for Vehicles, Buildings, Equipment, and other.

That being said, I will vote to have money put into the Roads Reserve this year.

 Transportation, LRT part 1

Transportation,    Cycling and Walking part 3

Transportation, Transit, part 4

 

Transportation: The LRT/ION. Part 1 of The Fourth of my Five Priorities for the Next Term of Council

 My Pledge: I will continue to make sure that the LRT/ION is on budget and on time.

Why did I vote for the LRT?

I have a Master Library and Information Science. Before I made my decision on the LRT, I did my research. I looked at information for light rail and information for bus rapid transit, both pro and con.

In 2010, I said I wouldn’t accept LRT in its present form with respect to cost. The province had said they would give 500 million to the light rail project. They came in with 300 million. So changes needed to be made to the financing of LRT before I could find it acceptable.

Staff found efficiencies and savings and we went to a Public Private Partnership which brought the burden on the taxpayer down to 11 dollars per year per household. If the estimated cost of fares is included, the amount is .5  increase per year until 2018. When weighing the increase against the 20,900 jobs LRT will create, the benefits to intensification and reduced gridlock, the benefits outweighed the costs.

Also Grandlinq is very experienced in building and running light rail. The Region still owns the ION and will control fares.

During the last election, I promised to support looking again at rapid buses. Once again I did my research. I found BRT wanting.

For my research, I studied the light rail of a number of cities, both southern and northern cities like Edmonton and Calgary. The city I looked at in particular was Portland Oregon.

This is what a traveller had to say about Portland in 1970,

Scattered bomb-site look of downtown parking lots.

Compare this to today where the downtown is according to the Lonely Planet,

Portland positively rocks. It’s a city with a vibrant downtown, pretty residential neighborhoods

Why? Portland turned away from parking lots to intensification, light rail and transit. Waterloo Region is doing the same to save our farmland, stop sprawl, cut gridlock and create great vibrant downtowns. Downtowns that a few years before the hope of this project were dying.

The provincial and federal governments supported Waterloo Region’s light rail because it is a job generator. 16,900 jobs will be created around the ION stations. This does not include direct jobs such as ION drivers, construction workers and engineers building the line.

Waterloo is the city that will benefit most from the ION. 70,000 university students already jam the Ixpress and crowding is one of the issues the Feds talked to me about when we met. Imagine the gridlock if students got off the buses and drove again. The Universities and their high tech spinoffs are Waterloo’s bread and butter.

Traffic congestion can be solved by transit or by expanding roads. If we do not have the ION, we will have to build 300 to 400 new and expanded roads at a cost similar to the ION. Westmount at Glasgow will have to be 6 lanes as will Fischer Hallman and Victoria St.

The LRT is being built as you read this. Caroline St. is already dug up, the rail cars are ordered, contacts are signed. To stop it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for nothing. Look to Ottawa where the LRT was cancelled then restarted when the buses ended up in a gridlock conga line at rush hour. If Bus Rapid Transit, with its slightly lesser cost upfront but more costs later to replace buses, were put in, it would end up costing more than the LRT because the millions wasted by the cancellation would still be on your tax bill.

That being said,  I will continue to make sure that the LRT/ION is on budget (Inflation has been built into the 818 million cost) and on time.

Transportation, Roads  Part 2

Transportation, Cycling and Walking Part 3

Transportation, Transit, Part 4

Homelessness and Housing. The First of My Five Priorities for the Next Term of Regional Council.

My pledge: I will work to get funding to build more homes for the homeless with supports. I will continue to work on the building and repair of affordable housing.

 

I went to my daughter’s apartment at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to pick her up for her 25 km run at Pinehurst. (The Run for the Toad). I stepped into her apartment vestibule and there were two teen-age girls sleeping on the floor. One of them woke up when I began to dial my daughter’s apartment.

I said,”There are shelters you can go to. They have space.”

The girl said,” It’s full.”

I said, “If you ask there should be a motel room available if everything is full.”

I could see she was considering that.

On our way to Pinehurst, I said to my daughter that maybe this was their first night homeless but she pointed out that they smelled, so had probably been homeless for awhile. My daughter lives near Victoria Park and while she is sympathetic to the homeless, particularly teen-age girls, she doesn’t want them sleeping on the floor in her vestibule. Especially when we are now supposed to have enough shelter beds.

We were also concerned because not all of the men and teen-aged boys hanging around in the park are people those girls should associate with.

Another Out of the Cold site closed this past week. That makes 5 of the 7 volunteer-run church sites closed. Fortunately, the YWCA and Mary’s Place has stepped up with a 50 cot temporary location in a community room.I should point out that Out of the Cold opens on November 1st but there are shelter beds.

What can we do about homelessness?

The Homeless Hub website says the following about homelessness:

Ending homelessness means doing things differently, and not simply managing the problem through emergency services and supports such as shelters and soup kitchens. When people come to depend on emergency services without access to permanent housing and necessary supports, this leads to declining health and well-being, and most certainly an uncertain future.

When I was a librarian at a public library, we always had the homeless sitting in the library and looking at the newspapers. Shelters close in the day, other places only open for meals.

The best way to help the homeless is to get them a home, often with supports.

There are two types of homeless. First those who are temporarily homeless: teenagers kicked out of their home, men without a home due to family problems or job loss, mothers and children homeless due to domestic violence, evicted families. While not easy situations, these people can be helped to find new homes. Those under threat of eviction can go to the rent bank or other programs. This does not mean that we have enough affordable or supportive housing for all who need it, we don’t, but progress is being made.

The next group is those with mental health or addiction problems that are hard to serve. They may not want to go to a shelter for various reasons. I saw two men sleeping in an ATM vestibule as I passed by from attending an event the other night. What do we do?

We need more outreach workers to help the hard to house. We need, as always, when the problem is the least of our people: more supports, more mental health and addictions programs, nore housing with supports.  It is worth the cost.

A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote “Million Dollar Murray” about a homeless man who used up paramedic, police and  hospital resources at a tremendous rate. The people who run Supportive Housing of Waterloo have proof that the number of emergency calls surrounding some of their permanently housed homeless have dropped. The people now have supportive workers in their building that they can interact with.

Obviously, I am running on continuing the work that the Region of Waterloo is doing to build more affordable housing.  The Region, the Province and the Feds must work together to help house the chronic homeless. We also need to repair the housing built in the 60s,  70s and 80s that is now reaching the end of its life. New housing or rent subsidies for those in need of affordable housing are also needed, although the region is in the forfront compared to other cities in the province.

AS shown by Million Dollar Murray, it actually costs us less in the long run to help people.

Taxi cab sex assaults

I’m absolutely spitting furious. I am a member of the Region of Waterloo Licensing and Retail Committee and I cannot believe the members had to find out about numerous, not one, but numerous alleged and proved sex assaults in taxi cabs through the Record. Before this, I can only remember one or two times when sex assault came before the committee. Of course the driver lost his license.

I have always told my daughters to carry enough money to take a taxi if a date goes bad or they feel unsafe or they have drunk too much. What am I to tell them now? Taxis are supposed to be a safe place for women.

 

In Waterloo, 70,000 students have just arrived to live away from home for the first time. Half of them are young women who can no longer call home for a ride.

I cannot believe that the Chair of my committee said, “Innocent until proven guilty.” and when I wrote to him upset about the Record article, he added, “We’re not Syria Yet”.

Taxi drivers are like teachers and priests. People who have a responsibility to work at a higher professional standard.  Yes I know it is only a very small percent of the taxi drivers who were convicted of sex assault and are on trial as the staff head of our licensing division said. But do we say this about the handful of murders in our community? About the number of regular assaults? No these are subjects of deep concern.

When I was a school trustee, a teacher was removed from the classroom if they were accused of a sex crime. Yet a taxi driver was still driving around! And my committee wasn’t told.

Then there is the case of the woman who was drunk and the driver was acquitted. I quote from the Record:

“The Crown argued a driver picked up an intoxicated 20-year-old woman at night and took her to a deserted parking lot in October 2012. It was alleged he assaulted her in the back of his cab, where he took off her clothes, fondled her and touched himself. At his jury trial this year, the cabbie argued the woman initiated the contact. He was acquitted.”

The woman was drunk, therefore not in the capacity to give consent. I know a number of women who have been raped and never reported it.This is why.

I have been told that everything is cleared up now. That it was all because our by-laws didn’t require the police to report to the Region, who give and take away licenses. And soon drivers will have to report charges as well as convictions. Actually we use driving records.  Surprisingly, not everyone reports their convictions. There will be cameras in the taxis. Because, as the head of the taxi association says, “It’s for everybody’s safety — drivers, passengers.”

The head of the taxi association is organizing a training meeting with police and drivers to tell them what is acceptable and not acceptable. Seriously? It’s not obvious? No, sadly, it’s not.  I suggest trained women from the rape crisis center teach this course.

The Licensing committee hates drivers who speed in their taxis and this is a hundred times worse. I am furious.

I have since talked to the Head of Licensing and he is working with the sex assault centre as well as working on the other solutions mentioned. He told me he takes this issue very seriously and the evening we spoke, he was heading out to check out taxis and how things are going on the first weekend of students’ terms.

Food Deserts and Food Swamps

Food Deserts (Not desserts!)

Imagine riding a bus for an hour to get to a supermarket to buy fresh fresh fruit and vegetables. This happens in the low income centers of a number of American cities and is called a food desert.  A few years ago, Waterloo Region Public Health and Foodlink tried out a pilot project that located temporary farmers’ markets in various neighbourhoods, many low income, throughout

Preston Towne Market

Preston Towne Market

Waterloo Region. The ones at St. Mary’s hospital and the Preston Towne Square come to mind. The pilots were not continued for various reasons, except for the market at Preston Towne Square which has grown in popularity over the years. It should be noted that supermarkets do exist in Preston, it is not a food desert.

Food Swamps (Includes desserts!)

Which leads to the interesting NEWPATH report on Diet and Food Environment Findings presented at Community Services yesterday. The Region participated in a project from three universities that analyzed 1,334 retail food establishments and 1,170 individuals from 690 households in Waterloo Region in 2009.

People kept two day food diaries and the researchers  looked at what kind of food establishments were near the individuals. The study participants had a range of income, walkability from their home and number of occupants. They reported their weight, height and waist circumference.

The study found that the availability of healthy versus unhealthy food influences our eating behaviors and and health outcomes. An extremely small proportion of residents in Waterloo Region eat a good diet, .3%. The percent for Canada is .5% so we are slightly worse. But everyone is truly bad! No wonder overweight and obesity is an epidemic.

The researchers found that the vegetables and fruit in Regional retail food establishments are of excellent quality and that Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, rather than gaps in access to healthy food (food desserts), have an overabundance of unhealthy food and beverages (food swamps). We are swamped with bad food and beverages.

Within one kilometre of study participants’homes:

There were five times as many convenience stores and fast food outlets as grocery stores and specialty stores.

There was over three times as much shelf space dedicated to energy dense snack food (chips and candy for instance) as compared to shelf space for vegetables and fruit. 

Convenience stores were on average 521 meters away, fast food outlets 582m and grocery stores 1001m away.

  Food stores with fruits and veggies close in price to junk food had less fat people living nearby. Those who shop at health and specialty stores were less impacted by price.

Food Deserts Versus Food Swamps

The study showed that in Waterloo Region, people do have access to healthy food and we do not have food deserts. However the results of the study suggest that exposure to unhealthy food is associated with poor diet. Also if healthy foods are priced the same or lower than unhealthy foods, they are likely to be purchased.  The current environment in the region is a food swamp, an overabundance of poor nutritional choices.

What can we do?

It is a strange thing to purchase medications to control obesity induced diseases then walk down an aisle filled with junk food and beverages to visit a cashier surrounded by chocolate bars for sale. Pharmacies gave up cigarettes, shouldn’t they also think about the selling of junk food? Parents across the region would thank our stores for removing junk food from the check out area.

Public Health will explore improving the affordability of healthy food and  beverages with such ideas as zoning by-laws, recreation centres, and healthy corner stores.

Temporary Food Markets

This brings me back to the temporary farmers’ markets. I asked the presenter if temporary food markets are  necessary since we don’t have food deserts, we have food swamps. She said that actually, they are still a good idea as long as the food is comparable in price to the junk food. Interestingly, this was one of the reasons given for a failure of the temporary food market pilots in low income areas.

The City of Waterloo has a Thursday evening market in Uptown that has become quite successful and of course bargains are to be had at the St. Jacob’s

St. Jacob's Market

St. Jacob’s Market still buzzing the Thursday after the Fire last year.

Market, Cambridge Market, Elmira Market, Kitchener Market and Preston Market (and how lucky we are to have these permanent farmers’ markets!) The City of Waterloo has just passed revised licensing by-laws and farmers’ markets are under flea markets with licenses valid at a particular location for 90 days on private property and 6 months on city property, and require public health approval. (Thanks Councillor Jeff Henry for this info)

The Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable is asking municipal candidates their opinion on zoning for temporary farmers’markets. The Roundtable wants broad zoning so the markets can pop up anywhere. Some candidates have privately told me they wonder if that is too broad. In any case, public meetings are coming up in the next year in Waterloo.

Temporary markets might help with locations for the strawberry trucks and corn sellers who park on the side of the road, sometimes causing traffic problems. Finally, after my questions in committee, Mary Ann Wasilka a citizen who was a delegation on another topic yesterday, sent me an interesting article about fruit and vegetable carts in New York city, basically pop-up vegetable stalls. They are for the poor in food deserts but they could be fun in the parking lots of our food swamps.

NEWPATH Research Project — Diet and Food Environment Findings. on page 24 of the Community Services Committee Agenda of August 12, 2014.

Food Spaces, Vibrant Places Campaign

Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable

Foodlink.ca