St. John’s mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates explain how they will create a world-class city
Friday morning in a municipal election forum the candidates for mayor and deputy mayor were asked what they would do, if elected, to make
St. John’s a world-class city.
All residents of St. John’s likely have their own thoughts and ideas as to how the province’s capital can become a world-class city.
It could be through economic development in the downtown core, a greater focus on environmental issues, the need for more proactive relationships with other levels of government or improving access to services.
Friday morning in a municipal election forum at Easter Seals House sponsored by The Telegram, the St. John’s Board of Trade and the provincial chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association, the candidates for mayor and deputy mayor were asked what they would do, if elected, to make St. John’s a world-class city.
Mayoral candidates Current Ward 1 councillor Danny Breen said that while the city already has a reputation as being world-class, more can be done to strengthen that.
Breen says in addressing the issue it needs to be asked how council can do more of what makes St. John’s a world-class city, how that can be promoted and clearly identifying the city’s role.
Doing more, he says, starts with achieving greater economic gains and a better reputation. “First, I will drive the creation of the St. John’s economic development corporation,” says Breen, who promises an economic summit within his first 100 days in office. “From this I will forge the creation of a dedicated economic development corporation created with existing resources which will bring together entrepreneurs and business leaders to help achieve more of both growth and traditional sectors.”
Breen also suggests lessening the burden on all taxpayers, revitalizing the downtown through a new development strategy that focuses on minimum property standards and livability to make it more attractive to all stakeholders and residents, and streamlining the city’s planning and development department to better support business and economic development.
Key to promotion, he believes, is youth retention and attraction, respectful and productive co-operation with arts, culture and heritage communities, and a switch from municipal planning to sustainable planning. “We need to move from a single-source resource-based economy to a diversified one, and one that has cultural sustainability, including heritage built right in. One that recognizes the demographic challenges that we have before us and the plan to deal with those challenges in the future.”
The city’s role, Breen says, is to be a leader in all of the aforementioned initiatives and to develop mutually beneficial relationships with neighbouring municipalities and other levels of government.
Mayoral candidate Renee Sharpe said all the tools to make St. John’s a world-class city already exist and, if elected, she would lead an effort to work collaboratively to make the most of those tools.
“We have all the expertise. We have the communities working towards making the place safer, more vibrant, focusing on arts and community. We have the urban planners that are smart and ready to be used.” Sharpe says she has visited world-class cities that have focused on liveable and green spaces, affordable housing, food sustainability, and “a downtown core that’s exciting and vibrant and brings all walks of life together.”
“Let’s move forward from just overpriced restaurants and tourist boutiques that are not actually for us,” Sharpe says. “Let’s create a space that is vibrant for youth, for seniors, for newcomers, for indigenous people.”
Sharpe also advocates for more spending on the arts, a solid poverty-reduction plan, and a safer city for all through harm-reduction strategies for people with mental-health and addiction issues, including safe boxes for the disposal of used needles and the establishment of a safe-injection site.
“Let’s move towards all people’s voices being included because we can be the best city in the world if we make sure everyone’s safe and people have a dignity to life,” Sharpe said.
Andy Wells, a former St. John’s mayor, says throughout the campaign he has found that citizens want a better deal from their city council, and that starts with the fundamentals of governance. “Reasonable taxation, reasonable regulations and an opportunity for people to develop their own capacities to build their own lives and make a contribution,” Wells said.
He says the current council and that of the last eight years has been “bankrupt” of these fundamentals and points to the recent east end vs. west end debate playing out in the media between large-scale developers as a prime example of how the economic development system is flawed.
“It’s counterproductive, it’s zero-sum economics and it adds nothing to the value of the economy. We should be stating clearly what the rules of development are so the game is understood.”
Along the same lines, Wells believes the current council has failed to institute easierto-navigate regulatory processes for developments. “There will be a shakeup at city hall,” he vows. “The process will be reformed so people can get on with improving their lot and improving their lives.”
Low levels of taxation, however, are key to his platform and his commitment to the citizens.
“The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose to get the most feathers with the least amount of squawking,” Well says.
“But going around this city during this campaign, I’ve heard a lot of citizens squawking that the city is taking too many feathers from them and we’ve got to get taxation back to where it is reasonable.”
Deputy mayoral candidates
Sheilagh O’leary, currently the councillor for Ward 4, identifies planning, business growth, built heritage, environmental stewardship, transportation and multi-level government co-operation as keys to making St. John’s a world-class city.
In terms of the business community, O’leary says more needs to happen to establish clear regulations for business, a better relationship with the city, and how more can be generated from cultural assets. “To the thousands of visitors who flock to our city every year, arts and culture are a major attraction. While non-renewable resources such as the oil industry are no doubt a huge economic benefit to St. John’s in the short term, we need to set sights on renewable resources for the future and for the long term.
“I believe that we need to turn our focus to supporting sustainable industries such as the local food and agriculture industry, cultural production and experiential eco-tourism.
O’leary supports affordable housing initiatives such as creating new models of smaller projects and co-housing concepts to address the city’s growing senior demographic.
Competitor Michelle Worthman also has some ideas around addressing the needs of the city’s aging baby boomer population.
“When it comes to the baby boomers, we can be the first to make sure that their services are in place and making sure those seniors are going to reconnect with our youth,” she says.
Worthman believes the city can be made world-class by focusing issues on the individual person.
“Making sure we can reach each individual and that we are keeping them engaged and we’re addressing what their needs are, and that’s going to happen through the municipalities.
“It’s not difficult dealing with the individual. It’s not difficult at all. We’ve been living in repeated messages and mantras for so long that we’ve lost our fighting Newfoundlander mentality, and that mentality is the way we’re going to get back to a first class society.”
The Telegram, Board of Trade and the Home Builders Association will convene another municipal election forum on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., at the Comfort Inn Airport, where the ward and councillor-at-large candidates will present their platforms.
Former St. John’s mayor Andy Wells speaks Friday at the mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates’ open mic session at the Easter Seals House on Mount Scio Road. Seated (from left) are mayoral candidate Danny Breen, deputy mayoral candidates Michelle Worthman and Sheilagh O’leary, and mayoral candidate Renee Sharpe.