Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo Region Votes 2018: Kitchener's top issues

There are four people vying for the mayor's seat in Kitchener and there will be change around the council chambers as two candidates are not seeking re-election.

Opioid crisis, development, housing and sidewalk clearing among top issues in the city

Four people are running for mayor in Kitchener. They are, from left, Myron Steinman, incumbent Berry Vrbanovic, Narine dat Sookram and Jiri Marek. (CBC)

The mayoral race in Kitchener may have been a quiet one, but it doesn't mean there aren't big issues on the minds of voters.

Mayor Berry Vrbanovic wants to continue his work in building community.

"It means continuing to maintain some of our community's small town feel, while fulfilling the growth mandate that has been designated for our region by the province and dealing with some of the challenges that come with that," he said in a survey response to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo in September.

Vrbanovic is facing three other contenders for his job.

Narine Sookram says he wants to see Kitchener develop a "cohesive vision regarding how to manage growth in a way that engages neighbourhoods and stakeholder groups." He also wants to see subsidized housing integrated into development projects.

Myron Steinman is concerned about transit and accessibility. He also notes Kitchener should ensure land use planning is equitable for all income levels, ages, families and abilities.

On his website, Jiri Marek says he's a "strong believer in common sense solutions" to fiscal and social issues.

Council itself will also see change. Two high-profile Kitchener councillors who have each served since 2010 have decided not to seek re-election: Yvonne Fernandes in Ward 4, who surprised her fellow councillors last January when she suggested pulling funding for Communitech from the city's budget, and journalist-turned-politician Frank Etherington.

Downtown development

Much like Waterloo, Kitchener is seeing more development, particularly in the downtown core and along the LRT route.

The past four years, there has been a push to build a sense of community in the various neighbourhoods in the city with "placemaking" events.

But along with those friendly, community events, there are calls by community groups for the city and developers to create affordable housing. This is happening at the same time condo developments are going up along the LRT route, pushing those living in poverty further out of the centre.

Some of the issues in Kitchener intersect with each other, including affordable housing, homelessness and the opioid crisis. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Opioid crisis

The city is also facing an ongoing opioid crisis. Public health officials would like to see a supervised consumption site in Kitchener, but those plans are on hold until after the province completes a review of those types of services to see if Queen's Park will support moving forward with them.

At times, the response to the crisis and supervised consumption sites in Kitchener has differed greatly from how neighbouring Cambridge would like it handled.

In a regional committee meeting in August, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig butted heads over the issue, largely because Craig said his city doesn't want to see services like supervised consumption sites in the Galt core.

"It saddens me that's the direction the municipality chose to go because if we all do that, quite frankly, we're going to be in a world where we're not caring for the people that we need to care for in this community," Vrbanovic said after the region voted in favour of putting the supervised consumption sites plans on hold until Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott completes a review.

A City of Kitchener employee clears snow in February. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

'We will remember'

Snow clearing has also been a point of contention with the city. In January, the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) released a winter sidewalk study that looked at snow clearing in Kitchener. It said having homeowners be responsible for snow clearing of sidewalks "fails us, especially our most vulnerable."

In June, staff had made a number of recommendations for snow clearing pilot projects and those recommendations were approved by the city's community and infrastructure services committee, but later shot down by council.

Mike Boos, an advocate for active transportation and accessibility and a member of TriTAG, called the decision "feckless, cowardly, short-sighted."

He also warned politicians, "We will remember come election time."