The role of a city government is changing.
Across North America cities and smaller municipalities alike are taking a more active role in developing their local economies and making their communities more attractive to business investment. We don’t have to look far to see successful examples of this, Woodstock has long made itself an attractive place for industry to invest in and over the past decade Waterloo has transformed itself into a hub of new technology and software development companies.
London meanwhile has stagnated.
Our unemployment rate is consistently above the national average, our labour participation rates have remained stubbornly low since the last recession, and London has not seen a significant influx of new business to replace the losses of manufacturing jobs over the last few years and decades.
I believe London is at a serious risk of long-term economic decline and that we cannot afford to sit on our hands hoping to be rescued or believing that things will eventually recover on their own.
London needs to take its seat at the table.
The current city council has no actionable plan to attract jobs and investment in London. Instead they have bet the farm on the idea that building a Bus Rapid Transit system will lead to businesses lining up at our doorstep to invest their hard earned dollars - I don’t believe that for one single second.
Even if we could build the best transit system in Southwestern Ontario (which I do not believe the proposed system is) it wouldn’t matter if potential investors don’t have any idea of where London is and what it has to offer. This is a fundamental problem that successive city councils have failed to grasp; they treat London like it is a big city that has a self-evident value proposition for potential investors – it doesn’t. With the decline of the manufacturing sector in Canada, especially the auto sector, London is no longer strategically positioned along the corridor between Toronto and Detroit, it is simply a city that is too far west of Toronto and to most people in the GTA is known only by the signs on the highway which say West to London.
What We Can Do
London’s City Council needs to get out there and take an active role in selling London to potential investors. That means getting back to participating in International Trade Missions, directly reaching out to businesses both large and small to familiarize them with London and make the case for future investment, and above all else making London more attractive to tech startups that create the kinds of high paying jobs that will make our community successful and vibrant going forward.
As your councillor this is the agenda I will push for - putting job creation at the forefront and making sure that the money spent, and perhaps as importantly, the time invested by City Hall is in the pursuit of things that have tangible economic benefits to the London community. That is what our city needs most right now.
I commend the current City Council for trying to take bold steps to improve the functioning of London’s transportation network; the history of transportation in London is a history of missed opportunities and problems left unsolved. But I also believe that the current council’s attitude towards reforming transit has become dogmatic, they aren’t listening to what Londoners are saying, they aren’t diligently informing or consulting us on their decision making, and they’re not interested in entertaining the legitimate criticisms of their plan which have been brought forward. In short, their attitude is that the current plan is written in stone and we must accept it as is without questioning. I am saying no to that attitude.
I believe we need a transit system that is inclusive of all modes of transportation: one that does not punish people for choosing to drive a car and one that anticipates the introduction of technologies like electric and driverless cars, as well as a smart traffic system. In these 2 regards the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system completely fails:
The plan as it stands now is not car-friendly; in fact it intentionally punishes people for driving cars and banks on its own success by saying that the city will “shift” attitudes away from the automobile as a form of transportation by making it harder to get from A to B while using a car. What’s worse, it takes an outright condescending attitude towards younger generations by saying that they are not as interested in car and home ownership as their parents are – that’s simply nonsense.
The current transit plan, alongside the overall London Plan, also takes no consideration of electric and driverless car technology that will be integrated with a smart traffic system that actively manages traffic to move people from A to B in the most efficient way in the least amount of time possible. If we were developing a new transportation system 30 or even 20 years ago I could well understand why these technologies would be treated as hypotheticals not worth planning for. But as it stands now we are on the cusp of these technologies being introduced to the marketplace and they will fundamentally transform the way we commute and do so in a way that does not involve years of construction and large sums of public funds.
That being said, in the future not everyone will own a car but likewise not everyone will take the bus. London is in a unique position in that it will potentially enter into this new era of technology without a legacy system of transit already in place. We have a unique opportunity to invest in something that will suit our needs going forward rather than becoming a burden that we have to contend with down the line. We should be using this unique opportunity to develop a transportation system that puts us at a competitive advantage compared to other cities in the future.
We need to change the transit conversation at City Hall
As your Councillor I will push to change the conversation at City Hall towards building a transit system that respects the needs and wishes of Londoners across the city as they exist today and which anticipates the introduction of new technologies we can already foresee. First and foremost that means bringing the conversation to you and then bringing your views to City Hall. I feel that this is something that the current City Council has utterly failed to do, they never asked us what we wanted to see and they never bothered to consult on or explain what they were doing until all the big decisions had been made. This has led to the creation of a transit plan that has left the majority of Londoners scratching their heads and wondering why it’s even happening - this does not bode well for its future success. It also means getting away from imposing a plan that prioritizes buses over cars. The future I see for London is not a city that is bus first, car second. For better or for worse the primary mode of transportation in North America will continue to be the automobile, and rather than trying to force people to “shift” their attitudes towards taking the bus we need to set ourselves up for success by laying the groundwork for the introduction of technologies that will eliminate our fossil fuel usage and reduce road congestion.
As I mentioned above, the current City Council has taken bold steps, I don’t agree with them on everything, indeed I don’t agree with them on many things. But I commend them for using their mandate to try to get something done when previous councils seemed unable to produce a deliverable after 4 or more years in office.
But their swiftness has come at a cost. Both the Transportation Master Plan and the city’s official plan (the London Plan) were developed in near isolation with minimal consultation of the public. Where consultation did take place it was held in the downtown without proper notice given to the people who would be affected by the plans they were making. We can see that in our own Ward, first with the development at 420 Fanshawe Road and now with the development at 230 North Centre Road.
City Council did not bother to tell us that they were altering the city’s official plan in such a way as to allow developers to build projects that would alter the character of our neighbourhoods. They also did not bother to meaningfully consult us on what we wanted for the places we live in. We are not being treated like residents of our community but rather as something that stands in the way of what they define as success, and when we try to challenge them on their results of their plans they tell us it’s a done deal. I don’t accept this attitude and I want it changed.
I believe that new developments should be constructed in such a way that matches what has already been built in the neighbourhood and I do not accept planning documents that were created barely 2 years ago being treated like they are the definitive text on what a new building development should consist of and look like. In short, I do not care if a development is ‘in line with the London Plan’, as a community we can do better than that kind of circular logic.
We Need to Put Consultation and Character First
As your Councillor I will push to see changes in city policy that require new developments in existing neighbourhoods to match the character of the structures already built. Under current policy developers are both incentivized and rewarded for constructing buildings that do not conform to what has already been built – that simply doesn’t make sense and I want to see it changed. I also want to put consultation first, that means that when City Council asks residents for their opinion on a potential development they do so proactively, it means they explain the proposed development in plain language, and most importantly of all it means that they hold meetings on the proposed development in the area it is being proposed. You shouldn’t have to drive downtown just to tell your City Council what you want to see in your own backyard.
Painted metal trees, odd stones by the airport, the Canada 150 pavilion, and the fruitless debate over whether to designate London a “sanctuary city”, these items are just a sample of the many little ways in which City Council has wasted time and money over the past few years on pet projects that do not add value to our community or translate into a tangible benefit for it, economic or otherwise.
The time and money we invest on these pet projects is a distraction from the much more pressing issues that we as a community need to address, be that joblessness, the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, or the increase in the rate of petty theft and crime. If we do not take action on these issues we are not only letting Londoners down by failing to maintain a community where everyone has the opportunity to pursue success, but we are also at risk of unwinding the efforts of the last 15 years that have been put into revitalizing areas like the downtown.
We need to change the culture at City Hall
As your Councillor I will fight to keep City Council on track, period. If I see other Councillors wasting time or money I will hold them to account. If I see other Councillors engaging in endless, fruitless debates that do not result in actionable or meaningful policies I will hold them to account. If I see existing policies that serve no useful purpose or waste your money I will fight to change them.
At every step I will be a voice for getting things done and delivering results that matter.
If there is a specific issue that you would like to chat with me about feel free to reach out with an email. I want to hear from you.