Transit, infrastructure, affordable housing among Waterloo region mayors' top federal election issues
Reconciliation, economic recovery, broadband internet also among concerns
As politicians hit the campaign trail for the Sept. 20 federal election, mayors and the regional chair in Ontario's Waterloo region want this community's needs to be top of mind.
Regional chair Karen Redman said even during the pandemic, a top priority for regional council has been to invest in transit, such as the second phase of the ION LRT as well as the airport. She said council would like to see further investments, including from the federal level, for transit infrastructure like two-way, all-day GO trains.
"Those are all the kinds of things that keep us connected nationally, and help promote the region and the economic hub that we are."
The region is "a forward-thinking, innovative regional government and we can be a partner on national challenges," Redman said.
She added that when the region has received federal funding, it has been used to build for the future, such as a bus maintenance facility in Waterloo that will help house electric buses when the region is ready to buy them.
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"I would hope any federal government would recognize that investing in Waterloo region is well worth their while," Redman added, noting with post-secondary institutions and businesses competing in a globally competitive environment, "we punch way above our weight in the region."
Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak said rural issues could have been more top of mind for the most recent government.
"We feel more could be done to address ours and all rural issues. We are looking forward to applying for funding through their recently announced environmental fund and hope there is significant funding in that stream to, once again, address rural needs," Nowak said in an email.
"We have some significant infrastructure challenges over the next few years so I would appreciate a significant focus on the wants and needs of rural areas."
Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz agreed that funding for infrastructure "is always on our minds."
"We are trying to catch up on our roads and bridges as well as keep up with the recreation needs of a growing community. With property taxes as our main source of income, we need help from other levels of government," Shantz said.
North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton said there's a need for predictable, long-term infrastructure funding for bridges and roads as well as broadband internet for everyone.
"We need to do better and COVID showed how essential this is."
Shantz echoed Redman's comments on transit, citing the need for a GO train station in Breslau.
"I see the station as key to connectivity in southern Ontario — with the Toronto corridor, yes, but also as part of an integrated system between Pearson and our airport."
Address housing problems
Several mayors listed the need for more affordable housing, and funding to make that happen, as being a top issue for the region.
Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said there are "significant problems" when it comes to homelessness, social housing and first-time buyers.
"We must help our most vulnerable with a properly-funded Housing First program. Skyrocketing house prices mean that people must buy, and then commute, from further afield. Houses need to be homes, not a tradable commodity by commercial investors," Jaworsky said, adding it's an issue all levels of government need to address.
Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry agreed, saying increased funding for affordable housing, "including maintaining existing housing units," needs to be addressed.
Foxton said she's particularly concerned about housing for seniors.
"There are so many needs, so much to do, but working together, brainstorming, thinking outside the box we will be able to support, grow and flourish together."
Shantz said there's also the need for a federal plan to deal with the "economic toll of the pandemic" on municipalities and the economy as a whole.
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said any platform should be a vision for the future of Canada.
"It's clear that the pandemic has been a once-in-a-century significant event that will have profound impacts on our ability to tackle the issues that are important to Canadians and many of those issues bubbled up even more significantly over the past year."
He said he doesn't want to see "those catchy things that are going to grab votes," but rather "the kinds of systemic, long-term investments that are going to be necessary."
For Kitchener, he said, those issues include housing, climate change and infrastructure, as well as transportation and "meaningful movement" on reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
McGarry echoed that, and added "meaningful investments to mitigate climate change" as well as more resources for mental health and addiction.
Jaworsky said the federal government should lead the way for reconciliation, climate change and the opioid crisis.
"Reconciliation must be a top priority for the federal government."