This week the Grapevine – our local community and arts paper – gave all candidates an opportunity to respond to 4 questions. Respondents were limited to a total of approximately 200 words over four questions – a really tall order for me!. I understand space limitations given the number of possible submissions. On the other hand these are all very good and important questions that really do deserve more fleshing out than can be done within that word limit. So for those who would like more in depth commentary I added this link to my Grapevine submission. The text in bold are the Grapevine’s Questions, the text that follows are my responses – minus any word limit.
- The Valley’s unique and vibrant arts community has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. What concrete steps will you take to support the recovery and growth of the arts economy in your municipality?
The requirements for social distancing under the Provincial State of Emergency will need to be lifted before broad recovery of this segment of our community can occur. While Zoom and Facebook fill a bit of a gap, connecting with people at a very personal level is an integral part of what makes the arts enjoyable, and financially viable. In the meantime, there are initiatives that can be started now that will contribute to the strengthening of this sector.
- Currently, Wolfville’s Strategic Partnership Program provides up to $5,000 annually for four years (before being reviewed). Groups such as Devour, Deep Roots, the Acadia Performing Arts Series, Randall House Museum are among current recipients. I support this program and would review this policy to assess whether the current upset amount is sufficient. Some of these programs have greater opportunity for revenue than do others. Some may realistically need more, or longer support. One size does not fit all. We need to think of these initiatives as providing services that are foundational to our Town. Not that the Town is helping the “arts” but that the arts are integral to making Wolfville the Town it is. I make this, and subsequent statements, fully aware that we have a very small tax base. We need to make funding decisions based on where the community at large wants the Town to head. To do that our residents and businesses need to fully understand the rationale and expectations of funding decisions.
- Secondly, we need to look at access to facilities that are Acadia facilities. Without question Wolfville and area benefit from access to University facilities – whether the ATF or the aquatic centre. Wolfville provide some funding toward their use and upkeep but less than if these were municipal facilities. This is a community discussion as much as it is a council discussion. The current pandemic brought our dependence on facilities that are not the Town’s into clear focus. We need to decide as a Town how important these facilities are to the Town and the region, relative to other things on which we spend tax dollars. As a planning consultant I have worked with most of the regions around Nova Scotia to assess municipal need and support for recreation, arts, and library facilities. Ours is one of the few areas where this assessment was not undertaken, in part due to the availability of Acadia. These facilities are not spaces Wolfville can afford on its own. We need to decide as a community how important it is that we have secure access to these facilities and, if it is important to our future, how and with whom, we will secure that access.
- Thirdly, I would like to see more integration in the arts both across artistic disciplines and with the Town’s leisure services. In my leisure planning practice, I often worked with municipalities that made a point of integrating children’s (municipal) art camps with the local museum, or engaging local musicians with heritage walks. The opportunities are endless to both expose community residents who would not normally choose to be exposed to the arts, and also to strengthen the internal stability of various artistic disciplines. The Town’s existing services can be used as both a catalyst and a support to the arts.
- Lastly, and I recognize this concept goes beyond recreating the strength of the arts pre-Covid, I believe we need to take a hard look at the arts as a true economic driver, not only as entertainment. Wolfville has a traditional commercial sector. That is not to take away anything from our current commercial sector but to recognize that it does not lend itself to attracting and retaining young people who may want to stay in Wolfville but cannot find appropriate work. The nature of work is changing, as is the type of place where work is done. I will admit to not fully knowing what a young (or young at heart) creative person would find most appropriate to support art as a gainful mode of employment. I suspect it is more communal with respect to work/live arrangements. Certainly, it will require access to highly technical spaces and opportunities. I would like to see in the Town, or perhaps shared with the County of Kings, an economic development position that actively seeks out and supports new creative work opportunities. If elected Mayor I would start by meeting with our creative community to better understand needs with respect to space – work and living – as well as other supports that would be needed to support the arts as a more integral part of our economy. Those currently in the creative class are best positioned to identify their needs and places where opportunity exists.
- What is your opinion of the current public consultation process in your municipality? Would you change it if elected? Why?
One of my commitments if elected Mayor is for enhanced listening processes. It is time for the Town to update its Communication Plan, last updated in 2010. That plan focused on how Council agenda and minutes were circulated, how the public could provide input to Council for largely regulatory situations such as public hearings. It does not identify strategies to listen to and communicate with under-represented populations. It does not provide direction to councillors when undertaking what I refer to as constituency issues. As a councillor I spent a great deal of time addressing neighbourhood issues, meeting with residents in my home or in theirs. There is nothing in council’s orientation or our governing act that suggests, supports, or guides this activity, (nor does anything say not to do this). Too often when big emotional issues hit the council table (which thankfully do not happen that often) Council is left with limited tools to truly listen and respond to issues that for those affected are tremendously concerning. I acknowledge that being a councillor is not intended to be a full-time job and many councillors have full time work and home responsibilities, which make it difficult to do the time-consuming work of community engagement. If elected Mayor I will strongly advocate for greater training and support for councillors to fill this listening role, and for a guided community engagement process to create a new and responsive communication plan. When I think back over situations and decisions that were the most stressful, they are invariably situations where better, and more consultation would have reduced tensions and created better outcomes. In the long run better communication and more productive engagement will reduce problems.
Secondly, I support a complete revision of the Town’s website. This is something that the current Council had approved in the 2020-21 budget but due to revenue losses from the impact of the pandemic has been put on hold.
Finally, and also something that was planned in the current year budget, the Town needs to update and upgrade its technical communication system. Again, the pandemic has taught us the importance and the opportunity of remote communication. Our systems need to be up to the tasks that confront us.
- Although sometimes perceived as the responsibility of other levels of government, childcare is a sector that municipalities already participate in (for example through afterschool programs and day camps). What steps will you take, if elected, to improve childcare availability and affordability in your municipality?
Licensed childcare is the responsibility of the Provincial government and only at licensed childcare centres will families receive direct provincial financial support. However, long before there were formal licensed childcare providers municipalities, through their municipal recreation departments, provided important parts of parent’s childcare requirements through school holiday and summer day camps, after and before school programs. In fact it was leaders in municipal recreation in Canada who developed the now internationally used High Five© Program to ensure that health, social, and developmental needs of school age children were central to municipal recreation programs. Those same municipal leaders developed the also internationally renowned Everybody Gets to Play© initiative, notably supported by Canadian Tire Jumpstart. In other words, the care and development of children has been central to municipal recreation services across Canada.
The Town of Wolfville’s fundraising initiative The Mudley Fund seeks donations through fundraising events to support children who would otherwise not be able to afford these child-care programs, as well as sport and art programs and equipment. We are fortunate in Wolfville to have many partners in these initiatives – Mud Creek Rotary has for the past two summers provided a grant to support children’s environmental adventure day camps, community churches offer free day programs for children during teacher’s professional development days e.g., Messy Science Days. As a professional recreation planner I am deeply committed to these programs and their intent. They are the result of strong commitment on the part of many partners throughout the community. We need to enhance the promotion of both the Mudley Fund and the Town’s Charitable Donations Policy to address the needs of more children.
Finally, one of the things our Municipality can do is ensure when plans are being made for new facilities e.g., if we build a new library, that there are suitable spaces to support these activities.
- What initiatives has your municipality undertaken to mitigate the effects of climate change? What strategies to combat climate change will you support if elected?
In 2019 the Town hired a Climate Change & Energy Coordinator. The focus of this position is mitigation such as emission testing and transitioning to alternative energy, important for a coastal community and one heavily dependent on fossil fuel for heating.
There are adaptation initiatives that we could implement, which together with mitigation strategies would carry a bigger punch.
- Early in my first term Council responded to an incident of tree removal on the steep bank behind Woodman by recommending development of a tree bylaw, which remains a recommendation in the new Municipal Planning Strategy. Such a bylaw could require a homeowner to replace a tree removed due to disease or damage, not allow trees to be cut to create views, require homeowners and developers to plant trees and certain types and size of trees on new developments.
- We could support a more robust focus on local food security. A few weeks ago I was approached by a group of residents asking about options for community gardens on either vacant or town-owned land. The closure of Acadia facilities due to the pandemic also closed the Acadia community garden plots. I followed that conversation with a meeting with the Town’s Directors of Planning and Recreation and Parks to discuss options for development of community gardens throughout the Town.
- We could support through recognition and perhaps policy development of eco-friendly lawns and gardens. Always this is a tug of war between individual and community rights. As an individual and an individual member of council I support these initiatives.
- We need a community wide commitment to active transportation through creation of safer bike lanes, support through bicycle rental programs, promotion and support for non-cycling active transportation etc. While one would be hard pressed not to support these initiatives, a robust active transportation system has implications for parking placement and car use, countering the environmental and health benefits of an active transportation focus. I do not underestimate that there will be at least two well supported sides to such an initiative, which makes it so important to have broad informed consultation.
As Mayor and leader of council and the community I will accept the role of ensuring that we engage deliberately on these issues.