Kitchener-Waterloo

2018: Regional Chair Ken Seiling talks LRT, opioids and affordable housing

Region of Waterloo Chair Ken Seiling says getting the LRT up and running is a top priority for council, but so too is addressing the opioid crisis hitting the region. Plus, the need for a lot more affordable housing will only grow in 2018.

More road work to come in 2018 plus a municipal election in October

Regional Chair Ken Seiling at a 2017 announcement about GO Transit in Kitchener. He says transit - specifically getting the light-rail transit system running - will be a top priority for the region this year. But he said they will also need to focus on the opioid crisis, which is significantly impacting the region, as well as figuring out how to build more affordable housing. (Joe Pavia/CBC News)

This will be a big year as Waterloo region grows in population and the LRT gets up and running. But there are ongoing  problems plaguing the community that local politicians will need to focus on, Regional Chair Ken Seiling says.

In an interview to kick off the new year, Seiling joined CBC K-W's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris to talk about the top issues he expects will affect the region in 2018.

Seiling's top three:

  • The LRT.
  • The opioid and fentanyl crisis.
  • Affordable housing.

"We should be up and running in late spring of this year, that's our target," Seiling said of light rail transit in the region, and he said Bombardier assures officials they will deliver the rest of the vehicle fleet on time.

Along with that, planning work will begin on the massive transit hub facility planed for downtown Kitchener at Victoria Ave. and King Street.

Hear the whole interview with Regional Chair Ken Seiling:

'Wish we had the magic solution'

When it comes to the opioid crisis — and the dangers of fentanyl — Seiling said there is the need for the region to establish some interim steps to dealing with it.

There's a wide range of opinions on the matter and, he said, that makes it hard to come up with a quick and easy solution.

"I wish we had the magic solution. It's a crisis for all communities right across North America — nobody seems to have the correct answer," he said.

This photo shows a bag of suspected fentanyl, worth about $450,000, seized by Waterloo Regional Police in October. (WRPS)

Housing shortfall

The issue of affordable housing is also high on the region's radar, Seiling said.

The Region will be watching the federal government with interest to learn more about the upcoming national housing policy.

"Affordable housing continues to be an ongoing issue, no matter what we build. We've been one of the more successful communities in Ontario in getting some affordable housing on the ground, [but] our waiting lists don't shrink," Seiling observed.

There are always about 3,000 families on the waiting list in Waterloo region.

"We want to see what kind of funding the federal government is going to put forward through this policy that hopefully will allow us to increase the amount of affordable housing we can create," he said.

The region hopes some of that affordable housing will include spots along the LRT transit corridor. Seiling said they want to see a mix of developments along the rail route and also potentially in the transit hub, which will see a mix of homes, offices and retail space for shops and restaurants.

"I think there are opportunities," he said.

Road work ahead

It will also be a year of construction in the region — in particular road work. The Highway 7 bridge on Victoria Street will be coming down this year as part of a provincial project.

As well, Weber Street from Frederick Street heading east will be rebuilt this year; work will wrap up in the Shantz Hill area of Cambridge; and a roundabout will be going in at Franklin Boulevard in Cambridge.

Old courthouse: unified first response?

As well, the region will begin to look a the old provincial courthouse on Frederick Street in Kitchener to plan how to convert it into a new detachment for police.

"It's a very large building, but it's always an opportunity to keep the detachment downtown Kitchener, but also we're working toward creating a unified emergency dispatch system for the entire region and that's currently housed at the headquarters down on Sportsworld Drive," he said.

Police and fire are on board for the new dispatch system and Seiling said he hopes they can get ambulances there as well.

Regional Chair Ken Seiling, second from right, stands with a group of officials after the first LRT vehicle arrived in Waterloo region last February. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

October election

The other big issue on the minds of politicians and voters in the cities and townships in the region is the municipal election on Oct. 22.

The campaigns can't begin until May 1, which is the first day people can file nomination papers. Those wanting to run have until July 27 to file paperwork.

When asked which way he was leaning when it comes to running for regional chair again — a position he has held since 1985 — Seiling sidestepped the question and said there is currently too much to focus on in the region to worry about the election just yet.

"I'm leaning to not telling anybody until later in the spring," he said.

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