Life after Gerretsen

Six mayoral candidates talk student issues

Rick Downes voted against By-Law 2013-83.
Image by: Chloe Sobel
Rick Downes voted against By-Law 2013-83.

With the nomination period for the Oct. 27 municipal election closed, six Kingstonians have put their names in the hat for the mayoral race.

After Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu said he wouldn’t seek reelection in the 2015 federal election, Mayor Mark Gerretsen announced on Aug. 15 that he wouldn’t seek mayoral reelection and would instead put his name forward for the federal Liberal nomination to replace Hsu.

Scott Foster was the first to declare his mayoral candidacy, on July 30. On Aug. 15, Brenda Slomka announced her candidacy. She was followed by Councillor Rick Downes on Aug. 18, Councillor Dorothy Hector on Aug. 20 and Councillor Bryan Paterson on Sept. 3.

The nomination period officially closes on Sept. 12, and the candidates list will be finalized by 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 15.

The election comes a year after the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) struck down an attempt by City Council to dissolve Sydenham District, redraw electoral boundaries and remove students from city population counts. Because of the OMB’s decision, students will be able to vote in the coming municipal election in person, over the phone or through the Internet.

The Journal spoke with the five declared candidates about student issues and how they would improve town-gown relations should they win the race.

Rick Downes

Rick Downes is asking Queen’s students to show up for the upcoming municipal election.

Downes was first elected to Kingston City Council at amalgamation in 1998 and has served King’s Town District for three terms. He’s currently the Cataraqui District City Councillor.

Downes said one of his campaign objectives will be making sure Queen’s students know they count as a part of the City of Kingston, in light of By-Law 2013-83 passed last April, which proposed the dissolution of the Sydenham District.

“You have the democratic franchise to vote, and somebody has tried to take it away from you — get out and vote,” Downes said.

Downes said that while two of his opponents, Dorothy Hector and Bryan Paterson, were on the side that attempted to discount students and dissolve Sydenham district, he voted against doing so.

“What I heard about Queen’s students from some people was that ‘they don’t care, they’re not interested, all they do is party’ — that kind of stuff is unacceptable,” Downes said.

Downes said he’s aware that Queen’s students care about where they live and the city they’re a part of.

“In terms of outreach I think the first thing that I want to do is make sure that Queens students know that they do count, and that the mayor is very much in favour of them being full and equal citizens of the city,” Downes said.

“That means the right to be counted, but that also means the responsibility to be a full and equal citizen to everybody else.”

In terms of improving the relationship between the City and Queen’s, Downes said it’ll start with a shift in attitude, starting with a foundation built on respect.

“I may be the mayor if I’m elected ­—­ but when I look at Queen’s students I look at them as my equals and as my fellow citizens, and I think that’s where we start,” Downes said.

Downes acknowledged the significant impact that Queen’s students have had on the thriving of Kingston’s downtown area, especially its economic development, and said that he wants to return the favor.

By putting up the new University District street signs, and installing amenities such as bike lanes around campus, Downes said he wishes to shed a positive light on the image of the “student ghetto” and give students something they feel they own and should care for.

Downes said he hopes that when Queen’s students see that the city is making a concerted effort to their quality of life, they’ll respond with a feeling of citizenship.

“I want to see Queen’s as a healthy active vibrant community within the City of Kingston — and that’s what I’ll work for,” Downes said. “I mean it.”

He added that in his campaign office window he’ll be putting up the story of what happened last year in regards to By-Law 2013-83.

“What I’m going to say to Queen’s students is that there’s a very clear choice,” Downes said.

“There’s someone who stood up for you and got kicked around because of it.” Scott Foster

A graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, Scott Foster has been living in the Kingston area for around 40 years.

He said there isn’t as much critical thinking taking place as there should be in City Council.

“There are many issues that need to be addressed today and I really don’t see the City Council that we presently have doing that. Too often it’s the status quo, the old boys’ club,” he said.

In light of recent talk of redrawing voting lines in the city, Foster said students should be able to take part in the election.

“It’s a matter of democracy, that if you’re of age, you’re a citizen, you can vote in the elections, so you need to be counted,” he said.

Foster doesn’t like the way bike lanes have been introduced to the city. While he prefers the way bike lanes are set up south of Division St. — with two lanes of traffic, one shared with a bike lane as well as one lane for parking — he doesn’t think the City handled move-in day traffic adequately last month.

“You had traffic backed up, you had chaos, people parking illegally … But there was no reason for that amount of chaos to have happened, if someone simply said, ‘let’s pass a motion at the table at City Council — we’ll close off the bike lanes for a week’,” he said.

He believes in the “equal application of the law” on campus and in the community, he said, adding that he’s not in support of the extra policing charges paid to the City by the University after last year’s Homecoming celebrations.

“I don’t see that distinction of a bubble — that what happens in Queen’s is Queen’s business, what happens in the community is not Queen’s business,” he said.

Foster said the community is currently not looking at Queen’s as a centre of innovation.

“People turn around when they take a look at Queen’s students and, oh, those drunken, rowdy Queen’s students again. They don’t turn around and think: here’s the guy who might be providing the next stop in robotics and medicine,” he said.

Though he isn’t a current member of Kingston’s City Council, Foster is nonetheless confident that he can enact change in the city.

“You don’t have to take a course of Mayor 101, you don’t have to sit on Council for two or three sessions, to get the know-how of how City Council works,” he said.

Dorothy Hector

Dorothy Hector thinks that students have the same concerns as any other resident of Kingston.

Hector, a graduate of the first class with women at the Royal Military College of Canada, currently serves as City Councillor for the Lakeside District and worked in the Canadian Forces for 13 years.

Hector seeks to identify core areas of business for the City to become involved in, including frontline services and support.

“That’s got to make our citizens have a little bit more pride and comfort and trust in their local government, because we’re investing in them and the things they need in order to live, work and play in Kingston,” she said.

She said she decided to run for mayor because of how much she loves Kingston. With a background in military service, humanitarian aid, engineering and experience in the Queen’s community as an outreach minister and theology student, Hector said she has an understanding of some of the challenges ahead.

“I know I have the experience, the leadership and the decision-making skills that Kingstonians expect in a mayor,” Hector said, adding she wants the opportunity to serve Kingston as the third female mayor.

The last female mayor, Isabel Turner, ended her term in 2003.

Hector aims to improve town-gown relations between the City and Queen’s by encouraging more overall discussion.

“It starts with coming together and having those conversations that are not easy and working together to solve the problems,” she said.

She said town-gown relations have improved dramatically since she joined Council eight years ago.

“We’re doing the right things, we’re going in the right direction, but we can do more. And that’s what I will foster, is more discussion, and I would really love to see the students get out on Oct. 27 and exercise their right to vote. We really need to have their voice heard in our community.”

Hector said she wants to encourage students to get involved and registered to vote.

“I welcome students to get involved and be participative in the election process, not only just for the mayor but for the district councillors, wherever it is they may live in the community,” she said.

Michael J.M. Owen

Michael J. M. Owen didn’t intend to run for mayor.

Owen, who works at Terra Foods, declared his candidacy on Sept. 12, the last day before nominations closed. He had originally wanted to run for councillor of Collins-Bayridge District, but decided not to run against the incumbent, Lisa Osanic, saying that she’s been a good councillor and he doesn’t want to see her displaced.

He declared for mayor instead, he said, because he wanted to get involved.

“I don’t have a budget,” he said. “I’m aware of my chances, they’re not great, but what I wanted to be able to do was to get involved.”

Concerns like a potential casino in Kingston, a possible Third Crossing over the Cataraqui River and taxes are “a given” because they’re the issues most commonly covered by the media, he said. Owen said he’s looking to bring less-discussed issues to the forefront.

“I have a perspective that I think sort of straddles the best and maybe some of the not-so-great parts of the city. I just wanted my input to be heard,” he said.

He also wants student input to be heard, especially when it comes to dealing with employment. He said a lot of students come out of post-secondary education with debt, but can’t go right from school into their chosen field.

He suggested a more comprehensive internship program or having the City put money aside to assist recent graduates trying to enter their fields.

“There’s dozens of issues, I think, that nobody talks about with Queen’s,” he said.

One of these is the difficulty of finding work in certain fields.

“You often hear of academic experience, but if you don’t have the experience, it’s hard to get in.”

As an example, he spoke of his wife, who was in school for nine years studying art conservation.

“Debt is a big part of her life still,” he said. “It’s been tough to find work in that field.”

He said he thinks solutions should come from the students, who are the ones dealing with these issues, adding that he thinks student input doesn’t get considered.

“I think less than trying to fudge solutions, I think it would be ideal to meet with groups, have people that are involved in the ideas and what could change, and I think that input really should come from the young people themselves,” he said.

“There are many ideas, but not many chances to be heard.”

He added that he wants to listen to students about what their needs and concerns are.

“I would like to see more involvement from the students, particularly since they do live here for a good chunk of the year, and this is their town. They’re not transient necessarily,” he said.

“The city could take the lead if we know what the needs are, but I think that has to come from the students and Queen’s itself.”

Bryan Paterson

Bryan Paterson says the key to improving town-gown relations is communication.

Paterson is currently the councillor representing Trillium District. He’s also an assistant professor of economics at RMC. He came to Kingston in 2000 as a graduate student at Queen’s.

“My entire life in Kingston has been either as a student or interacting with students, so I like to think that I’m very interested and connected with student issues,” he said.

He said he didn’t want to presume what student issues are before speaking with students during the course of the campaign, but added that student housing and the recent noise bylaw exemption for West Campus fields came to mind.

“We’ve made a lot of efforts over the last few years to try and to facilitate more apartment-style student housing that’s new, higher-quality, conveniently located, try to steer away from some of the lower-quality student housing that might be available,” he said.

“I also think it’s good for the community as a whole if we can push that development forward.”

He added that he supports the AMS’s proposal for the ReUnion Street Festival, to take place the night of Oct. 18.

“It would be great to see us close the book on the issues and difficulties connected with the Aberdeen St. party in order to create a more controlled event for students and alumni that wouldn’t have the same negative issues attached to them,” he said.

As for improving town-gown relations, he wants the AMS, the SGPS and other key student bodies to have access to him.

“In the mayor’s office I would always want those key student bodies … to be able to call me up at any point and discuss an issue. Not only leaving it for them to contact me, but there would be times I’d want to contact them to get their input, to get their perspective,” he said.

“The student body is an important and integral part of Kingston’s identity, and so we want to make sure that student voices are heard around the table.”

In 2013, Paterson voted in favor of realigning electoral districts through By-Law 2013-83, which would also have stopped including students in population counts. The bylaw was struck down by the Ontario Municipal Board.

“I’d like to say that I deeply regret some of the negative things that were said during that debate inferring about the value of students to our community, and to reaffirm that students are an essential part of Kingston’s identity,” he said.

“I hope that students will vote on this, in this election, and make their voice heard.”

Brenda Slomka

Brenda Slomka says one of the most important things she could do as a mayor “is just to show up.”

Slomka served as campaign manager for Green Party candidate Robert Kiley’s MPP bid earlier this year and currently works as manager of residence life at St. Lawrence College, though she says that if she’s elected, she’ll commit to office as a full-time job.

“I know Mark [Gerretsen] owns properties and would talk of his other job as a landlord or property owner. I think making and committing to the mayor’s job being full-time is a priority that would then allow some of [my] concrete examples to be seen to fruition,” she said.

She added that she thinks one of the most important student issues is simply letting students know they’re welcome in Kingston, regardless of how long they’re here.

“You’re welcome here and your contribution to this community for four years or longer, if you stay to do grad work or you choose to put down roots here, is valuable and needed and … part of the vitality, part of the ebb and flow of our city,” she said.

“It’s what makes us who we are.”

She criticized last year’s district realignment vote, noting that opponents Dorothy Hector and Bryan Paterson both voted in favor of leaving students out of population counts.

“For me, that wasn’t just a student issue,” she said, adding that the vote would have also prohibited people in the military, people working on contract and immigrants looking to attain citizenship and make Kingston their home.

If elected, she hopes to reframe town-gown relations, looking not only at mitigating tension but also at keeping students in Kingston.

“The [town-gown] mandate, while I understand, is about relationship, I think there are some creative ways that we could say, ‘let’s be mindful of what else we can be doing’,” she said.

“It’s just that human capital and the idea that this is really a place where we get to redesign how we want students to feel welcome in our city, in their city.”

Part of that is showing up, she said, specifically to things that students are interested in that the mayor might not traditionally have an interest in.

She said that while attending the Tricolour Open House she started talking to a club, Not For Sale, who told her this was their second year of operation and they were looking to increase their membership.

“What would it mean for me to, if I see an event that they have, without making it a fanfare, show up because that’s something that is meaningful to me, to also invest in young people?

“That’s not burdensome for me. That’s actually exciting, and so for me I think it’s just saying, ‘Hey, where can I show up?’”

Slomka said this was an area Mayor Gerretsen failed to build.

“He just didn’t show up and he didn’t build those relationships, so then when you get to those adversarial issues, there’s not really an established relationship.”

This story was updated on Sept. 15.


Municipal, Politics

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