The day before the nominations closed for Kingston 2018 municipal election, Rob Matheson filed his papers declaring his candidacy for mayor.
A former city councillor (Loyalist-Cataraqui District, 2006 to 2010), a former mayoral candidate, and a former provincial NDP candidate, Matheson is no stranger to the political world. We caught up with him on the day the nominations closed to ask him some questions while he was on a break from his day job of driving a taxi. While Matheson was very passionate about a number of things throughout the interview (including electoral reform, the current state of Ontario politics, and the need to streamline marijuana legalization in a way that allows the dispensaries to sell directly to their clients), we’ve edited down his responses to the primary responses to our questions
What made you want to run for mayor in this election?
A lot of things, actually. When we were on council, we envisioned Kingston becoming Canada’s most sustainable city. That was, what, back in 2006 when we had that sort of vision and declaration. And you know what? We haven’t really done anything other than support the economy, so to speak. And, obviously, as you know, there are supposed to be four pillars to it: Cultural, economic, environmental and social, right? And we’re falling way behind on the social, very much, and the environmental, hands down.
I mean, we’ve got climate change appearing at an ad nauseam rate and there’s not really any preparedness or forward thinking on infrastructure and renewable ways forward.
To me, every new development should have either a green roof, or a solar roof, or, at the very least, a steel roof. It’s not rocket science. And every home should be being updated and being retrofitted to be energy conservative.
(Matheson went on to talk about the need for electoral reform to ensure a true democracy, and how he feels that issues of importance to the community, or issues of contention, should be put to a referendum to ensure that decisions are made based on a majority rule)
If you want to promote democracy, let’s evolve our democracy, so we can save it. Because right now, we’re repeating history.
Sadly I feel like we’re living next to a dumpster fire right now. Having grown up in Europe and France, and learning the history of the precursors of the Second World War, we’re seeing a lot of stuff repeated right now. And I feel a little bit nervous.
That’s actually what’s got me off my seat and engaged again. I’ve got two kids, I want to have them have a world that’s livable, that’s not become 1984 20 years late.
Tell us a bit about your background and what’s prepared you for being a mayoral candidate?
Well, I was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, way back when, and I was raised in Turkey, France, Belgium and Greece, and lived in Ottawa between postings, so I’ve had a lot of different education backgrounds, from American schools, to British schools, to international schools, to boarding school in Albert College in Belleville.
So I’ve seen a lot of the world and a lot of different things, and I’ve always had a passion for politics having learned about democracy and the roots of it in Athens when I grew up, and we’ve gotten so far away from what the essence of democracy is supposed to be – there was never any political parties in the original democracies, you voted for the best person, you all worked together, regardless of ideology, to make good public decisions for the greater good, you know?
I’ve got three college degrees, one in social science, one in public relations, and one in business and administration, so I’ve got a lot of post-secondary education, and a lot of influences that way. The biggest thing I find that opened my eyes was the public relations degree… it’s sort of like taking the red pill that opens your eyes to the media manipulation that we’re all encountering everywhere we go, the advertising we susceptible too… I mean, they wouldn’t advertise if it didn’t work, right? How many millions are spent every year on advertising… do you think they’d spend that if it didn’t work on people? So yeah, we’re all being manipulated somewhat, somehow, and the more we as citizens become aware of the manipulation and the tactics going on, then the more informed and rational, hopefully, our voters will be, as well.
And, if nothing else, I want to bring an education or a re-education forum to citizens so they recognize what’s going on, because there are different ways of doing things, and having been brought up in Europe where most of them are socially progressive democracies, that have the greater public good at heart – I.E.: universal health care, universal pharmacare, and, you know, an actual living wage! Go figure! Wow! People actually can afford to live! What a thought!
And they actually have post-secondary education because they recognize: you teach a man to fish, he’ll pay taxes the rest of his life! It’s not rocket science.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues in Kingston right now?
Ooo… let’s see. Well, I hear a lot of affordable housing issues. We have one of the lowest vacancy rates there is. Nutritious meals for people, being able to get healthy food is a big one… our road infrastructure…
I mean, when I was on council, I had been working with Simon Hesp of Queen’s University, he’s a professor of road chemistry. And I was working with him… and that’s actually why the Bath Road reconstruction was done free of charge for the City, because that was a tendering program that was done as a test pilot with his tendering guidelines to prevent planned obsolescence from being put in the road. And if you notice that stretch of Bath Road where it was reconstructed, how many years ago was that? Six years ago it was reconstructed? It’s probably the best road we have in Kingston. And it’s because there was no planned obsolescence put in the roads. And that’s one thing that’s always shocked me, because growing up overseas in Europe… the Roman roads that were built thousands of years ago are still in use today.
And you can blame the capitalism love story for that. All the roads are built by private contractors now that a vested interest in getting a contract every so often, and as a result we have roads that degrade and decay faster than anything else.
And I mean those are dollars that we are just continually burning and wasting. How many billions in Kingston, and across Ontario and Canada are we having to reinvest in infrastructure that we shouldn’t have to?
That could be put into a living wage, or affordable housing, bringing water to the reserves finally instead of a $4.5 billion pipeline…
I also think we should be allowing citizens to vote more and more and more on things of importance to them, or things that are worthy of concern or are contentious issues, right?
To my mind, if we could have a litmus test to say ‘10 per cent of the certain electorate want to have a referendum [on an issue], they should put that on the ballot. If enough people have signed a petition saying that want something on as a question, rather than council making an arbitrary decision on it, let’s do it.
It’s been shown that last year over the year before that, there’s a 53 per cent increase in violent crime in Kingston alone. What are the causes of that? Obviously poverty, obviously a lack of housing, obviously some of it is drug addiction… all of these things, they have root causes, so to put Band-Aid solutions on root causes just ad nauseam is just a waste of tax dollars.
In my mind, we should be looking at a guaranteed income. Get rid of bureaucrats, you know? Get rid of all the administrative levels of EI and ODSP and welfare, and give people a living income that they can actually live off of and aspire to greater things as a result. It’s not rocket science. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know? How long ago was that theory instituted? People need shelter, they need food, they need, some supports in order to aspire to greater things… And, as a community, we need to allow for that, support that, rather than growing these inequalities.
And so do you think those issues – affordable housing, the lack of houing, and road infrastructure – do you think those are some of the most important issues for the voters as well?
I think they are… it all depends. What I found in the last election is that my biggest disappointment wasn’t coming in second to Mark Gerretsen, it was that only 30 per cent of people even bothered to vote. So, to the voters that are voting, probably not.
What I’m finding more and more so is that it’s the rich people voting. I’m not sure if that’s because only rich people are running… so at least in that perspective, I’m the working poor so to speak… My grandfather told me ‘You always vote for the person that best represents your economic interests,’ and continually voting for business people and lawyers and rich people that just don’t get what people are going through on the ground, in terms of what they’re having to live and experience, to me is the definition of insanity, because you’re repeating the same thing over and over again and again.
But regardless of party, vote for someone that best represents your interests. And policies that represent your interests. Not necessarily whistle-blower politics about whether or not we need a bridge or whether or not we need more development or sky scrapers in Kingston. Vote for the overall platform.
I really get tired of these red herring whistle-blower politics. In my mind, we’ve got to, as citizens, wake up and smell the roses or the manure, whichever way you look at it, and realize, you know, we’ve got to get better informed.
My biggest frustration is hearing ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter who I vote for’ [or] ‘I’m not informed enough to vote.’ Well, it doesn’t take much to get informed. People do more research on their smartphone purchase to next make than they do on the person that they’ll vote for [who will] determine if they can afford that smartphone purchase in the first place.
You’re running against the incumbent, Bryan Paterson, and Eric Lee (Note: Vicki Schmolka was filing her nomination papers during the interview). What do you think will be most challenging about that race?
That’s a good question.
Well, Bryan Paterson, he’s certainly got a lot of money behind him, that’s for sure, so that’ll be my biggest challenge. As has been demonstrated in a lot of municipal races, unfortunately, it seems to be ‘He who has the most money wins.’
So that’ll be the biggest challenge, is trying to… not necessarily fight against that, but counter that somehow, with more of a social media presence, because I’m not going to be raising money from all the big wigs in town, that’s for sure, I can guarantee that. Because my concerns aren’t necessarily the same as theirs.
I’m all for a lot of things that have happened in Kingston. I’ve been pro-development, and I’m all for the right development but, to my mind, if we’re going to be putting skyscrapers in Kingston that don’t meet the official plan requirements of the Official Plan that we put in place and spent a lot of time on during my four-year term on council, we should be demanding things from them, like a green roof, like something that’s renewable energy [wise] or co-operative housing as part of that building, or whatever the case is, to alleviate the extra cost to the entire community for that project.
Because let’s face it: we have an official plan for a reason, and it was put in place for a reason, and to circumvent it arbitrarily at every developers ask just because they say so does nobody any service, and it does the entire community a dis-service. So to my mind, again, if we’re actively engaging the community on the official plan, and on how we should be developing our city, then let’s listen to that and let’s demand more from the people that are building our city.
You know, it’s a crown jewel that not even a lot of Kingstonians appreciate, and having lived in a lot big cities, Kingston has it all, it’s a Goldilocks city, it’s in the centre of the universe – right between Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, south of the border if you want to dare go there, and you know, you’ve got a lot of natural space, thankfully, you’ve got Lake Ontario there, a UNESCO heritage site, we’ve got to be actively promoting those things.
And not leaving anybody behind in the process. Because a lot of Kingstonians here, I mean, it was shown recently that 1 in 6 Canadians are struggling financially right now. One in six! And that’s not including the people that are living in abject poverty.
That’s another thing I didn’t really like about this council was closing down shelters. Like, come on. Unfortunately, they’re a tragic necessity right now. Until we no longer need them, we need that support in this community.
What makes you a candidate that people should consider?
Well, because I represent them… On any given issue, I’m going to try my best to represent the majority, unless the majority turns neo-Nazis. Then, you know, I might have an issue philosophically… if we want to start taking away rights from individuals or groups of people, then I’ll have an issue where I’ll have to morally make a stand against that, but, you know, in the end, when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to everyday things that citizens want… really democracy shouldn’t be rocket science. It’s 50 per cent plus one. Let’s just listen to it. I’d like to see a little bit of a buffer – say 55 per cent to make sure it’s a clear majority, especially if it was a referendum question on separation from Ontario (laughs).
I’d like to see the Australian model where it’s mandatory to vote, that would be great in my opinion, but until we get that, we certainly have to try to adhere as best we can to the majority on everything, regardless of who turns out.
And that’s why it’s so important that people turn out, and get informed, and get to vote.