Change is coming to Region of Waterloo council. Candidates offer top reasons they want the job
Six of eight regional councillors not seeking re-election
Change is coming to Region of Waterloo council.
There are eight elected councillors who represent the three cities on regional council. Six incumbents are not seeking re-election in Monday's municipal election.
There's also a race for regional chair, with three candidates.
CBC Kitchener-Waterloo asked all candidates to answer a survey that listed their top three reasons for running. The responses are in alphabetical order by last name.
There are three people running for regional chair. They are:
- Brendon Da Costa.
- Narine Dat Sookram.
- Karen Redman.
Brendon Da Costa said his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- "It is my civic duty to get involved to represent the average persons' needs."
- Encourage community participation.
- Bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to issues in the region.
Da Costa says he may not have the same political experience as his opponents, "but I'm a tried and true middle class worker — I see the struggles that the average citizen faces everyday."
He says there are a numbers of issues in the region.
"We need to do away with ideological solutions that favour politics, and start managing practical ones that represent the needs of the people. I'm ready to listen and engage the community to make this a reality," he said.
Narine Dat Sookram said his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- "To help bridge the existing gap that has been widening over the years."
- "Closing the gap in whatever the grievance of the community happens to be, based on what arises and what had in the past been neglected."
- Providing leadership.
"Leadership is about bringing all levels to the table, staff, elected representatives, and the people we serve and guide the process to solve issues," he said. "I want to be that leader."
Dat Sookram works in human services and has been a community volunteer for more than 20 years.
"I believe that a healthy democracy requires a concerted effort and positive collaboration between local politicians and the residents they represent, and to have an open-door policy of listening more and talking less or even better still, go the extra mile to accomplish and tackle issues of concern and implement the necessary changes that are necessary," he said.
Karen Redman said her top three reasons for seeking re-election are:
- Desire to serve community.
- Contribute to positive change.
- Advocate for people whose voices are not always heard at the decision-making table.
"Every day is important as regional chair. Municipal government has a direct impact on all of us and offers the opportunity to build and shape our community for our future," Redman said.
"As the chair, I lead the conversation on identifying the region's priorities for growth, prosperity and social responsiveness. I see the priorities after the election to be facilitating consensus at council as we deal with challenges such as affordable housing, shelter services and budget preparations."
In Cambridge, voters will elect two councillors to represent the city at a regional level. The current councillors — Helen Jowett and Karl Kiefer — aren't seeking re-election, which means there will be two new faces representing the city.
There are six people in the race to be Cambridge's regional councillor (the two receiving the most votes will be elected):
- Tyler Calver.
- Doug Craig.
- Bobbi Stewart.
- Prakash Venkataraman.
- Crystal Whetham.
- Pam Wolf.
Tyler Calver says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- The need to address homelessness, encampments and crime.
- To serve residents.
Calver is calling for an immediate regional property tax freeze "to ease the financial burden" for residents, especially seniors, as the amount of money people spend on bills and groceries rise.
He said he's heard from residents upset about the encampments and homelessness and want the region to do more.
"From aggregate expansions like the Dance Pit, growing crime in downtown Cambridge, to increasing municipal budgets with no fiscal accountability, residents feel ignored by their elected officials," Calver said.
"I have a deep passion for helping others and want to use this opportunity to improve the lives of thousands of people. I will approach this position with compassion and courage by bringing real solutions to real problems."
Doug Craig says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Concern regarding the lack of safety people feel.
- Find a new strategy to help people with addictions.
- Reduce the budget to curb tax increases.
Craig, who served as mayor of Cambridge from 2000 to 2018, says there has been "a breakdown by the regional government to adequately respond to the homeless crisis and deal with the increase in property crime across our city."
He said the number of people who have died from suspected drug overdoses in the region is too high and "a very sobering admission of failure regarding the region's drug strategy. A new strategy must be found."
He says a projected regional budget increase of 6.8 percent is "unacceptable and the budget must be reduced."
"I have extensive operational knowledge of local governments and I have worked with various provincial and federal partners in dealing with local issues and securing funding for various projects and programmes," he said.
Bobbi Stewart says the top three reasons she's running in this election are:
- She loves the city and wants to serve people.
- Focus on health and well-being.
- Collaboration over polarization.
Steward is a retired social worker and has worked as a volunteer, which she says fits in well with being part of a team.
"I view everything through the lens of social justice and the environment," she said.
"I am a fresh face in municipal politics, a good listener and I believe strongly in the importance of direct conversations in order to make the best things happen.
She said she's an optimistic person and believes an "open, non–reactive, non–judgmental attitude is very important for all of us, but particularly for those in public office."
Stewart says she's particularly interested in the region's strategic plan to 2051 and ensuring enough housing is built while also making sure the environment is protected and "that everyone, regardless of their income, ethnicity or sexual identity has the opportunity [to succeed] and to thrive."
Prakash Venkataraman says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Help the city grow.
- To reflect the region's success and diversity.
- Focus on issues including affordability, smart growth, and sustaining the services each community needs.
Through his work as an engineer and entrepreneur, Venkataraman says he has the know-how and desire to ensure the region uses taxpayer dollars wisely.
"We need to work as our first priority to reduce barriers to building more housing faster and smarter. Identify the areas where we could develop four-season trailer parks, take inventories of abandoned buildings to look at potential conversion and also certain buildings owned by the region and city to have density and height restrictions revisited and lease it to developers to build and operate affordable rentals," he said.
He said it's important Cambridge gets "bigger pieces of the pie" when it comes to regional funding.
"We need to focus on delivering the core services of what our community needs," he said.
"Responsible growth is a must before spending our tax dollars on unproven ideas that are not the region's responsibility. We need to get the priorities straight and ignore 'nice-to-do' projects."
Crystal Whetham says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Be a fresh, young voice on council.
- Address the need for affordable housing and help those experiencing homelessness.
- Cambridge needs better police protection.
Whetham has served for four years as a school board trustee for the Waterloo Region District School Board.
"I believe Cambridge needs a fresh approach with new energy, youthfulness and vitality at the regional table," she said.
She said new housing projects require "proper planning of new developments and money allocations to community housing, social services and emergency planning."
She would like to see police foot patrols in the core areas of Cambridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"We need a better solution to keep our streets safe. We need small business to flourish and welcome new establishments to better serve our citizens in our region," she said.
Pam Wolf says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- To be a strong voice for the city as someone with "deep knowledge" of the city.
- Ensure Cambridge "receives its fair share of regional services."
- To make sure the region meets its climate targets.
Wolf has served four terms as a city councillor in Cambridge and has also sat on the heritage committee, three housing boards and more than 12 city and community committees.
"We pay 51 per cent of our property tax to the region so we must be able to allocate it where the funds and services are most needed in our city," Wolf said.
"Affordable housing, child and elder care, transportation including the extension of the LRT, visible responsive community policing, and economic development are just some of the areas we need to improve."
She says the region needs to build infrastructure to be resilient to extreme changes in the climate.
She also says affordability is an immediate concern as "prices soar, interest rates rise, and salaries fall behind inflation."
"I wish to help regional council make every effort to lower the expected rise in taxes and advocate for funding for affordable housing, and support for seniors and others on fixed incomes from the provincial and federal governments," she said.
In Kitchener, voters will elect four councillors to represent the city at a regional level. Three of the current councillors — Elizabeth Clarke, Geoff Lorentz and Tom Galloway — aren't seeking re-election, which means there will be two new faces representing the city.
There are 14 people in the race to be Kitchener's regional councillor (the four who receive the most votes will be elected):
- Heather Caron.
- Robert Deutschmann.
- Mac Graham.
- Joe Gowing.
- Michael Harris.
- Mary Henein Thorn.
- Tom Hiller.
- Colleen James.
- Soo Bok Lee.
- Duncan McLean.
- Michael Parkinson.
- Iffat Sultana Riasat.
- Matt Rodrigues.
- Kari Williams.
Rob Deutschmann says the top three reasons he's running in this election are:
- Bring a fresh perspective to help region through difficult times.
- Focus on affordable housing and homelessness.
- Concern over 2023 regional budget.
Deutschmann, a lawyer and previous regional councillor, says the region is "operating in very turbulent times, with high inflation, soaring rental rates, affordable housing and homelessness, and I feel that we need experience leadership with a fresh perspective to help us through these difficult and unique times."
He said the region needs to build as many affordable housing units as possible and quickly and there could be better co-ordination between the upper and lower tier municipalities, community and social agencies and private business.
"I am pleased to see the recent steps taken on homelessness by the region, but again, we need to see more concrete action much sooner than later," he said.
He says the regional budget faces "enormous cost pressures spurred by inflation and the cost of gasoline" to consider.
"In addition, there will be the police budget, which forms a sizeable portion of the regional budget. I am concerned about any pressures that will negatively impact our ability to deliver social programs for the most vulnerable in our community," he said.
"I want to give back to my community by offering my experience as a prior elected representative with a positive track record that demonstrates that I am a team player that is able to get things done," he said.
Mac Graham says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- The housing affordability crisis.
- The unsheltered crisis.
- Economic development — "it's time to move The Aud downtown."
Graham is a small business owner and says the region is the "best place in the country to live, work and raise a family."
Still, he said, there are "some big problems we are facing. I don't believe in presenting problems unless you are willing to be part of the solution. And that's why I'm running. I want Waterloo region to be a place that everyone feels safe, welcome and can afford to call home."
Joe Gowing says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- A chance to be part of change.
- Make sure services are working for everyone efficiently and effectively.
- Affordable housing.
Gowing says with more than 20 years working in banking, "I can help our region make better and more fiscally responsible choices with our tax dollars." He's also worked in mortgages for that time and has seen "a dramatic decline in first-time home buyers."
"I want to use my knowledge of the market to help make decisions that will help get more people into homes. We need to look at different ways of building homes to get more on the market. Even looking to zoning to allow basement apartments to increase our rental market," he said.
When it comes to services working for everyone, Gowing says that includes transit, paramedics and police.
Michael Harris says his top three reasons for seeking re-election are:
- Planning for the region's future.
- Serving the community.
- Respect for taxpayers, efficient government, and value for service.
Harris, a former MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga and who has been on regional council for four years, says the region needs to look ahead.
"Like all parents, I can't help look at things with my sons and my daughter in mind — whether it's considering the kind of community they're growing up in or what their future will look like. Our community matters and panning for the future — and what it looks like for each of us and our families — matters," he said.
He said respect for taxpayers is something he's "tried to champion on council and it's something that I will keep fighting for."
He said the pandemic was a difficult time, but now it's time to focus on what comes next.
"I'm proud of how so many of us came together as a community to help our friends and neighbours," he said. "We need to ensure that we continue to act with our community in mind."
Mary Henein Thorn says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Experience to help make big decisions.
- See the region that is strong, vibrant, inclusive and a great place to live.
- Think about the big issues such as affordability, housing and affordable housing, health care, ambulatory, mental health, infrastructure, development.
Henein Thorn said the region is facing big decisions that will affect people over the next 30 years.
"I feel that I have experience and can make a contribution to making those big decisions," she said.
"Kitchener-Waterloo region is an amazing place to live, we have seen an unprecedented growth over the last five years and we will continue to grow," she said.
As amazing as it is, we have some difficult and big issues we need to deal with. We need people who have the experience, and who are willing to tackle those challenges head on to ensure the best outcomes for our region."
She said with the region expected to grow futher, council has a lot to consider in the upcoming years.
"Experience matters, especially in this election. This is a very important time for our region," she said.
Tom Hiller says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- To serve.
- To contribute.
- To help the fast-changing community "pursue an arc of progress."
"All candidates are presumably targeting affordability and homelessness among their priorities, as am I," Hiller said.
"I believe that in a council with a wide spectrum of passionate interests, a focus on maintaining cohesion is necessary."
Hiller describes himself as pragmatic and politically centrist. He says the region must "maintain a fiscally sound approach to governance" and "policy foundations for all levels of government should be grounded toward family and work opportunities."
"I'm seeking a balanced economy with robust job opportunities available across the widest possible range of skill sets and abilities," he said.
"I believe the well-being of children and youth is the guarantor of our future. Their success and ours, relies upon workforce participation in an economy that enables us to address environmental issues and social concerns."
Colleen James says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Care for community and desire to reflect more people in the community.
- Bring diversity of perspective and lived experiences to council table.
- Affordable housing.
James says she knows many people don't see themselves reflected at the regional council table and she wants to change that.
"Regional council decisions impact our daily lives, and I want to ensure all voices are represented and heard there. The decisions we make today must reflect the growing needs of our community," she said.
"These choices have ripple effects that determine how we adapt and respond to the growing needs of our evolving community as well as prepare for future generations."
James says she's worked in public, private and not-for-profit sectors and is a business owner.
"My expertise addressing inequities in our community and connecting people will play a vital role in building a region that works for everyone," she said.
She said addressing the housing crisis is vital in the region, as is providing better access to services "that not only meet the needs of everyone in our community but also meets them where they are. This includes mental health and addictions support."
SooBok Lee says the top three reasons she's running in this election are:
- Affordable housing.
- Investing more in health care sector including attracting more family doctors.
- Increase civic engagement.
"Affordable housing has been the most important and growing concern for the majority of the existing citizens and newcomers to our city," Lee said.
She would like to see the region work with local corporations to re-purpose their unoccupied rental spaces into affordable housing options and also getting the approvals required for new housing constructions quicker.
Lee said the region needs more doctors and medical practitioners to serve people.
She moved to Kitchener from Seoul, South Korea 19 years ago and juggled multiple jobs before she started her own business as a hairstylist, then trained to become a personal support worker.
"The community here always supported me to stand on my feet, guiding me to create a better life for myself and my family," she said.
"Being an integral part of this community, I strongly believe that I can make the required decisions and changes to create a better society that we all deserve."
Duncan McLean says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Homelessness and affordability of housing.
- Climate change.
McLean says he's been vice-chair of the board for Kitchener Housing and has served as a board member for Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region, so housing is an important issue and his "skills and knowledge can help improve these situations."
People are feeling the pain of rising costs and it's important to keep the regional budget down so property taxes don't also go up.
"I'm running to make sure that the services and resources that property taxes pay for are are effectively allocated and any increases are held to manageable levels," he said.
He said climate change "is here" and now is the time to act.
"I support the regional initiative to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050," he said.
McLean says his role models are his dad, who was an alderman and an MP, and his brother Ian, who was a councillor in Waterloo.
"Watching and learning from them has provided me with the personal experiences that I'll need and are required to serve the residents of Kitchener," he said.
Michael Parkinson says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Bring experience in prevention mitigation.
- Help guide the region though the "multiple crises well underway" including homelessness, safety and growth management.
- Make a real, positive difference.
Parkinson, who worked on the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council before the region stopped funding it earlier this year, says it's been his life's mission to serve the public.
He says he gives "voters an opportunity to elect someone with substantial prevention-mitigation experience and expertise with today's major issues - housing and homelessness, community safety, drug overdoses, environmental-urban-rural growth management among them."
He said the region needs to consider "pragmatic, authentic and cost-effective solutions" to address those issues.
"Innovation, collaboration, and upstream prevention grounded in equity, evidence, and the wisdom of community is my passion," he said.
"Half of the upcoming regional council will be brand new to the role, and big, expensive, life-changing decisions are due quickly — the 2023 budget, the Official Plan review, and action on housing, homelessnes, and encampments among them," he said.
"I am not a natural politician. I am comfortable in a board room or a homeless shelter. I bring high-value experience and expertise, including operational insights, on the major issues for voters."
Matt Rodrigues says the three top reasons he's running in this election are:
- Serve the community.
- Address the housing and affordability crisis.
- Ensure region remains on the right track as it grows.
Rodrigues is an urban planner and chair of Kitchener's active transportation and trails advisory committee.
"I understand what it takes to build a community that leaves no one behind," he said.
He rents in downtown Kitchener, doesn't own a car and relies on transit or cycling.
"I understand and experience the barriers many in our community face when accessing important Regional services," he said.
"I will advocate for new public housing, and support and fund co-operative ownership and land trust models to build new deeply affordable housing units. I will also advocate for the use of regional lands to accommodate emergency shelters and encampments with wraparound supports in the immediate term."
He said the region has been a leader in areas like transit, managing growth and environmental protections.
He supports the "vision for 15-minute communities in the region's new official plan, advocating for continued growth in Grand River Transit bus and rapid transit, and incorporating walking and cycling safety as fundamental considerations in all road construction projects."
Iffat Sultana Riasat says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- Passion about helping others.
- Build the community and grow the region to be a major technology hub.
- I want to be a positive role model for her three children.
"I will approach issues with empathy and help the region make sensible decisions. I will work to ensure regional policies are aligned with scientific facts and studies," Sultana Riasat said.
Kari Williams says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- To address issues that have not improved since four years ago.
- An effective voice for community members.
- Lead by example for her children and other young women.
Williams, who ran for regional council in 2018, says she's frustrated issues she ran on four years ago persist.
"Transportation, housing, homelessness, the opioid epidemic, and protecting greenspace were the issues that were at the forefront of discussion four years ago," Williams said.
"These issues are still important to me and I have worked to gain experience and knowledge for the last four years that will allow me to be a knowledgeable and effective councillor."
Williams has experience writing and researching about policy and legislation, runs a free meal program out of Stanley Park community center and "I understand the struggles of our most vulnerable community members."
"I have seen the evolution of the city and the issues that need to be addressed in our community," she said.
In Waterloo, voters will elect two councillors to represent the city at a regional level. One of the current councillors — Sean Strickland — isn't seeking re-election.
There are 10 people in the race to be Waterloo's regional councillor (the two receiving the most votes will be elected):
- Jim Erb.
- James Ball.
- Jim Bolger.
- Mark Fisher.
- Gord Greavette.
- Chantal Huinink.
- Ryan Keating.
- Peter Neufeld.
- John Vieth.
- Cindy Watkin.
Jim Erb says his top three reasons for seeking re-election are:
- To create more affordable housing in the region.
- Create a region where everyone feels they belong and included.
- Continue to address the ongoing challenges of climate change.
"I consider myself a team player," Erb said.
"In business, as a community volunteer, and as a member of regional council, I have demonstrated my willingness to listen, consult and then hopefully reach a decision that is beneficial to the people we serve."
James Ball did not respond to CBC K-W's survey.
Jim Bolger did not respond to CBC K-W's survey.
Mark Fisher says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- To give back to the community.
- Bring knowledge and experience to council.
- Bring new ideas to council.
Fisher says he grew up in a family where his parents were heavily involved in the community. He's recently retired as the director of finance for a local manufacturing company and previously worked at KPMG - a tax and advisory service - where he audited the books of numerous municipalities.
"It's part of my upbringing to be part of the community where you live," he said.
"I will endeavour to 'think outside the box.'"
Gordon Greavette says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- To give back to people in the region.
- Health and safety of residents.
- Maintaining and enhancing parks, ensure urban-rural divide continues.
Greavette says he is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces and later worked in the "academic realm" where he's had the opportunity for leadership in Canada and internationally.
"While the most pressing issue at the moment would be tackling the homelessness and affordable housing issue, I believe that the most important issue is ensuring the health and safety of the residents of Waterloo and the entire region; especially from a policing and a comprehensive medical (physical, emotional and mental health) perspective," he said.
"Maintaining and enhancing the capabilities of our many parks and ensuring the urban-rural divide continues to be a priority that I would endorse."
Chantal Huinink says the top three reasons she's running in this election are:
- See implementation of upstream resources "that promote safety for all."
- Affordable housing, expanded public transit.
- Give voice to people who are marginalized.
Huinink, who has a masters in social work and lives with a disability, says she navigates many barriers and challenges in her life.
"I embody, as well as understand the value of diversity. I will bring my life experience and all those who share their stories with me to the regional council table," she said.
"I wish to give voice to issues and concerns faced by those who are marginalized because of gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or ability."
Ryan Keating did not respond to CBC K-W's survey.
Peter Neufeld says his top three reasons for running in this election are:
- The homeless crisis we are currently experiencing.
- Climate action "or the lack thereof."
Neufeld says his family immigrated to Canada in 1967 when he was a child.
"I have made this my home since. I am devoted to my family, I love to spend time with my grandchildren and enjoy spending time outdoors," he said.
John Vieth did not respond to CBC K-W's survey.
Cindy Watkin says her top three reasons for running in this election are:
- A natural progression of 20-plus years of community service.
- Bring leadership and work with others.
- Help the region and residents progress.
Watkin says she is a "strong, dedicated leader, award winner, advocate," a volunteer and works with her husband at his insurance agency.
"I believe in the power of what is possible when people work together," she said.
Read more of CBC K-W's municipal election coverage: