Nfld. & Labrador

Our survey of the St. John's mayoral candidates

We asked the three candidates for mayor in the St. John's election to spell out their policies on major issues. Here's what they had to say.
Dennis O'Keefe, Sheilagh O'Leary and Geoff Chaulk are running for mayor in the Sept. 24 municipal election. (CBC )

Three candidates are competing for the mayor's chair in the Sept. 24 municipal election. With mail-in ballots heading out in the next few days, we asked the candidates to answer a series of questions on major issues in the city. We are presenting their answers in the alphabetical order of the candidates' surnames.

1. Briefly, why should voters trust you in the mayor's chair?

Geoff Chaulk: Please see Geoff Chaulk's resume at this website. 

Dennis O'Keefe: I have served the people of St. John's for sixteen years as a Councilor, Deputy Mayor and for the past five years as their Mayor. I think they can trust me and I know they do. [Visit Dennis O'Keefe's website here.]

Sheilagh O'Leary: Voters have seen me in action for four years as a councillor-at-large. They know who I am - I am outspoken and passionate about the city, but I'm also a listener and a consensus-builder. Residents know me as someone who works hard to get results for the things I believe in, they know and I can meet and find common ground with anyone, and they know there is nothing I believe in more than the greatness of St. John's. [Visit Sheilagh O'Leary's website here.]

2. How do you describe your philosophy on development?

Chaulk: To boldly mix the old with the new, to promote walkable communities including mixed use development and higher density communities. And, build more much-needed affordable housing, in partnership with other levels of government, labour and the private sector, for our seniors, young people starting their careers, the working poor and socially disadvantaged.

O'Keefe: Development is necessary for the future progress and prosperity of this city. It will bring employment, prosperity and quality of life for future generations. However, the development that takes place has to be appropriate and suitable.

O'Leary: "Smart Development" is one of the three basic planks in my platform. By that I mean that we have to think about how we grow. We should encourage mixed-use neighbourhoods, multi-unit dwellings, and pedestrian-(and bicycle-)friendly development. I believe that our built heritage is unique and irreplaceable, and that we must protect it. That said, I am more than open to working with developers who have creative approaches to how we can preserve our heritage. I am also very intent on acting upon the final results of our Municipal Plan review process.

Voters in St. John's will again elect their mayor and council by mail-ballots. The results will be tabulated on Sept. 24. (CBC)

3. What are the greatest threats facing St. John's?

Chaulk: Re-electing Doc O'Keefe, or electing Sheila O'Leary, as mayor. They each had the last four years, did very little, and as a result, their time should now be up. Neither O'Keefe nor O'Leary have publicly stated any accomplishments during their tenure, or provided detailed platforms as to what each would do, if re-elected. Both realities are bad signs to the electorate.

O'Keefe: There are no threats! There are challenges which we must and will meet. There is the challenge of prosperity, declining and new infrastructure, homelessness and affordable housing as well as ensuring that we maintain/enhance our quality of life.

O'Leary: We should beware of complacency. Yes, we live in the greatest place in the world, and yes, times are good for many right now. We have to keep working hard to make sure the things we treasure — our environment, our safety, our relaxed way of life — continue to thrive in healthy neighbourhoods.

St. John's has been struggling for years to provide parking spaces to meet a growing demand in the city's downtown. (CBC )

4. What is the best solution to downtown parking problems?

Chaulk: Better, more effective and efficient public transit, bus/coach services funded by the commuter communities to St. John's key transfer/destination points, car pooling, and employer-sanctioned work at home programs.

O'Keefe: There is no one solution. There are several things we can do to deal with the issue. For example, we must encourage and partner with private enterprise to provide more public parking in developments that take place. We can encourage car-pooling into the downtown. The big impact would come from a regional transit system that would have direct routes into the downtown from transfer stations. This would require input and partnership from the surrounding municipalities!

O'Leary: I am not convinced there is one solution, unless you count combining several measures. We need fewer cars downtown. To get to that goal, we have to find ways to make public transit of some form more attractive. Park and ride programs with frequent shuttles could be part of it, as could incentives to downtown workers to carpool or take the Metrobus.

St. John's and some of its neighbouring municipalities. (Google Maps)

5. What's the best path for the city in terms of how it works with neighbouring municipalities?

Chaulk: To bill all the commuter-communities, including Mount Pearl, C.B.S, Paradise, Torbay et al., for their daily use, by their citizens, of St. John's and all our infrastructure. You use it, you help pay for it.

O'Keefe: The population of the St. John's Metro Area will soon be 200,000, or nearly half the population of Newfoundland and Labrador. We must work together on a regional basis to provide all the services and quality of life that people living in the region expect.

O'Leary: Let's accept that our neighbours don't want to amalgamate, and that forcing amalgamation on them is pretty hostile behaviour. Regional development must be our present focus and then we can talk about working together to find solutions to the challenges we all face. Parking is a problem in St. John's - not just downtown, but at large employers like MUN and the Health Sciences Complex. Traffic is a problem everywhere on the northeast Avalon. I know that I would rather work with neighbouring communities to find win-win solutions than impose something on them.

6. What's the one thing about St. John's you would most like to change?

Chaulk: To elect me, Geoff Chaulk, as your mayor. Please see my blog, on city issues and my city ideas.

O'Keefe: Really, I would not change anything but I would build on what we have. We are already considered to be one of the best cities in Canada in which to live and do business and one of the safest for a city our size. I would continue to build on this asset!

O'Leary: I would like to enhance accessibility in our neighbourhoods and do it with our existing natural resources. This would include a more walkable city, more accessibility for persons with disabilities, a well-planned harbourfront design and an improved transit system.

Construction of a permanent fence along part of Harbour Drive sparked a controversy over the last year. (CBC )

7. The harbour fence: was it worth it?

Chaulk: Yes. Security of our people, and city, must come first. The harbour apron itself was not a hub for walkers or tourists. Global security concerns had to trump emotion about an ill-used harbourfront. The new fence is much more attractive than what was there, is necessary, and now allows for public seating and viewing spots.

O'Keefe: For over five years our beautiful and historic harbor has been marred by a hideous chain link security barrier. This monstrosity is now being replaced by a security barrier that is aesthetically pleasing and designed with a heritage perspective along with beautiful resting and viewing areas!

O'Leary: Definitely not, and if I could take back one of my council votes it would be this one.

8. The city over the years has been on the hook for expensive over-runs on big-ticket construction projects. What will you do to prevent this from happening in the future?

Chaulk: Just not allow it to happen again, that's what contracts, estimates, quarterly reporting and contingency funds (by the developer) are for - a.k.a., good management by city officials and developers.

O'Keefe: The city tenders major projects! In today's economy costs for projects can escalate quickly! We can ensure that our design and cost estimates are correct and sharp and the projects are planned correctly. We have no control over costs that may escalate over a period of years or unexpected costs that may legitimately occur as a result of unforeseen circumstance. We can control what we can control.

O'Leary: Before we decide to go ahead with a project, we should have a fair idea of how much it will cost, and we can't base that on numbers from four years, or even one year, previous. After approval, we must move ahead as efficiently as possible to avoid delays and further increases. We should encourage staff to identify potential challenges and increases as part of a project. Finally, we must keep ongoing supervision of projects so that cost increases don't take us by surprise.

The Confederation Building is home to Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature. (CBC )

9. How would you describe the city's relationship with senior levels of government, and how would you describe your agenda?

Chaulk:  Please see my platform page: Geoff Chaulk's City Ideas.

O'Keefe: Excellent! I have cultivated an excellent relationship with both federal and provincial governments. The result had been shared cost programs with both other levels of government which have enabled us to tackle infrastructure issues as well as initiate other programs beneficial to the city. Intergovernmental relations are extremely important. There are many significant programs and developments in the city that have resulted from this beneficial relationship.

O'Leary: I think we should demand more influence at both the federal and provincial levels. We are not just home to the largest number of residents in the province, but we are the capital city, with everything that should mean. My plan is to continue to build the good relationships we have, and to make the weak ones stronger.

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