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September 22, 2010

Why Ontario's October 25 municipal elections are important

Scott Stockdale

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Kitchener city council candidate Dr. Debra Chapman is urging everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote in Ontario's municipal elections, on Monday October 25.

“It's the only way to come back on our elected representatives,” Ms. Chapman said. “They're the only ones who are accountable to us (City Hall staff aren't). It's important not just to vote, but to research and try to vote for the candidate that will best represent the community.”

She noted that municipal elections have about a 27% voter turnout - far short of the turnout for provincial and federal elections – but she stressed that these elections are important to people's lives.

“It (municipal government) is the closest government to the people. It's responsible for our roads, water, parks and community facilities such as community centres.”

She lamented what she said was a huge emphasis on municipal politics at election time, but otherwise, media coverage is sparse.

“You have to go out of your way (to get information about municipal politics). Rogers Cable offers some coverage, but the print media has very little; and it's often sensational stories.”

As president of the Cherry Park Neighbourhood Association (CPCA), Ms. Chapman is aware of many of the concerns of residents of Cherry Park (Ward 9), in downtown Kitchener.

“There was a lot of crime when people were walking the street at night, and even in the daytime. Some people wanted to get the police involved; but we said we should try to consider ways to bring the community together to take back the streets, and that's what we've done.”

The CPCA has expressed a number concerns to Kitchener City Council, but Ms. Chapman said they are frustrated with some of council's responses, so she feels she could have more influence if she were on council.

“We don't have enough community space. We've got one community centre for a neighbourhood of 22,000 people.  It would be nice to have a new community centre but the city doesn't see it that way ... We're frustrated by the city's  micromanagement of the community. When they agreed to renovate a park, they held a community meeting at a school gymnasium, and put option A and option B on a bulletin board; and gave people a paper and pencil to write their comments on. I wanted to let people ask questions; but they said, 'Oh no, we don't want controversy.' “

She said this (a question and answer session) is the sort of thing she'd like to see for greater real participation in politics, because the people who live in the community have special knowledge about what needs improving.

“I live in a downtown neighbourhood. I'd like to bring more balance between development and what the community is asking for and needs. It seems that the focus is all on downtown development.”

She said that if she were elected she would constantly be reminding council of the balance between development and the needs of the people who live in the community.

“I'd like to see a greater greening of Ward 9. The city has let a lot of things deteriorate to the point where they can't be used or they're not attractive. They tore down a whole public housing complex on David Street because it was rotting, and then they had to relocate the people living there. It was a disgrace. It was a good enough building but it wasn't maintained.”

Ms. Chapman said she's developed ties with new Canadians in the community through her 20 years of community work, including teaching English as a second language; and her experience running a small business in the community has given her insight into how difficult it is for small business owners to survive in these difficult times, compared to multinational companies.

Moreover,  during her 20 years of community work she said she's been in contact  with Kitchener's elected representatives and city officials, so she understands some of the difficulties citizens have trying to get council to address their concerns.

“If I’m elected to serve the ward, I will reach out to people, rather than waiting for them to come to me. It can be daunting for people to have to stand in front of 11 councillors and the Mayor. I will reach out to community groups. This is not new or foreign to me.”

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