In September 2013, Better Choices Waterloo Region held two public meetings, one in Cambridge with 35 participants and one in Kitchener with approximately 50 participants. During each of the meetings participants were asked to identify their top priority for the upcoming municipal and school board elections in 2014.
The broad themes were:
- Strengthening our Local Economy
- Building an Open and Inclusive Government
- Creating a Liveable and Sustainable Community
- Addressing Poverty
Theme 1: Strengthening our local economy
- Good, steady Jobs
- Buy Local, Buy Canadian
- Positive labour relations
Good Jobs: The Region of Waterloo is experiencing increasing levels of unemployment and a number of large employers have either reduced their workforce or shut down altogether. Supporting local industry is an investment in the community. When we have more good quality, steady jobs in the region, there is less drain on social services and more worker income is recycled into the local economy.
Candidates for local government should commit to working collaboratively with community stakeholders and other levels of government to attract and retain businesses in the Waterloo region. They should also commit to working with employers to ensure they provide good quality, long-term jobs.
Buy local, Buy Canadian: Municipalities and school boards invest millions of dollars in our local economy by buying products and services made and sold here. Using local businesses and industry means these funds stay in the community. This ongoing investment supports local businesses and creates employment.
Candidates should commit to promoting Buy Local/ Buy Canadian requirements in the policies of their organization and within their sphere of influence.
Positive Labour Relations: As the employer for thousands of workers in the region, councillors and trustees can play a significant role in respecting and protecting the rights of workers. Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of these protections and has come increasingly under attack both locally and across the country.
Candidates should commit to respecting and protecting the rights of workers, including the right to bargain collectively. Candidates should also oppose the contracting out of public services and, when tendering contracts, promote businesses who participate in collective bargaining.
Theme 2: Building an Open & Inclusive Government
- Citizen engagement and transparency
- Inclusion and diversity in public services and programs (LGBTQ, women, individuals with disabilities, newcomers, cultural communities)
Citizen engagement and Transparency: Municipal governments and local school boards make important decisions on the delivery of services that everyone in our community relies on. Residents can take a more active role in the decision making process through open and transparent citizen engagement methods. Some examples of these methods include participatory budgeting, public meetings, and consultations with citizen advisory groups.
Candidates should commit to hosting town hall meetings, participating in social media, ongoing canvassing and meaningfully engaging citizens in major policy decisions and the budget process.
Support for inclusion and diversity: The community of Waterloo Region is strengthened by the diversity of its residents. It is important for members of local governments and school boards to celebrate diversity and promote inclusion for groups that have been traditionally underrepresented or excluded from participating fully in all that our community has to offer.
Candidates should commit to supporting programs and services that meet the needs of Waterloo’s diverse community. It is important to be clear that Better Choices will not endorse candidates that oppose full equality for members of the LGBTQ community, support for newcomers and refugees, accessibility, equity in hiring or gender equality.
Theme 3: Creating a Liveable and Sustainable Community
- Healthy, local food system
- Walk-able neighbourhoods
- Intensification of the core areas
- Water quality
- Protection of natural areas and agriculture
- Public spaces
- Addressing traffic congestion
- Age Friendly design and planning
- Enhanced and accessible transit
Liveable and Sustainable Communities are ones that:
- Preserve green spaces that promote clean air and clean water, sustain wildlife, protect agricultural land, and provide residents with places to walk, play and relax.
- Ease traffic congestion by improving road planning, strengthening existing transportation systems, promoting cycling and walking and expanding use of public and affordable transportation.
- Restore a sense of community by fostering citizen engagement in local planning, including the placement of schools and other public facilities.
- Promote collaboration among neighbouring communities – cities, suburbs or rural areas – to develop regional growth strategies and address common issues.
- Enhance economic competitiveness by nurturing a high quality of life that attracts well-trained workers and cutting-edge industries
Candidates should commit to using a liveable and sustainable community framework when making decisions.
Theme 4: Addressing Poverty
- Living Wage
- Discretionary Benefits
- Housing & Homelessness
Living Wage: A living wage is the hourly wage needed for a family to afford basic, everyday expenses like housing, food, clothing, utilities, transportation, and childcare.
Candidates should commit to supporting a living wage for all direct and contracted workers within their organizations.
Discretionary Benefits: Discretionary Benefits are a classification of benefits available to low income residents. Some examples of Discretionary Benefits include food hampers, dental/vision care, bus ticket, and eviction prevention. Recently, the provincial government has re-organized its benefits programs resulting in a significant shortfall in the Discretionary Benefits budget in Waterloo. This led to some benefits being discontinued or access becoming severely restricted.
Candidates for Regional Council and Mayor should commit to maintaining 2013 funding levels for discretionary benefits.
Housing & Homelessness: There is a shortage of affordable, supportive, and co-operative housing units available throughout the Waterloo Region. The Region’s community waitlist has over 3,000 households on it. Shelters throughout our community have experienced extreme increases in the number of individuals, and alarmingly, families with children requiring emergency shelter.
Candidates should commit to supporting increased incentives to develop affordable, supportive and co-operative housing. Some incentives include providing land at reduced/no cost, development charge grants, and tax incentives.
During the two public meetings participants were asked to identify what qualities Better Choices should seek in potential candidates for endorsement.
The broad themes were:
- Knowledgeable and seeks information
- Shows Leadership
Knowledgeable and seeks information
- Strong understanding of mandate and jurisdiction
- Knowledgeable about the community
- Open to input and does research
- Committed to learning or training
- Committed to an ongoing relationship with Better Choices
- Willing to communicate via social media
- Name recognition
- Appeals to a broad range of people, including young people and other equity seeking groups
- Willing to run a serious campaign and has a realistic plan to win
- Strong advocate, outspoken
- Has vision
- Builds relationships and makes connections
- Celebrates Diversity
Candidates were assessed for these qualities through interviews and personal insights from Better Choices members.