No stranger to sitting around the horseshoe in Kingston City Hall, Vicki Schmolka walked into the building she’s been in many times just a couple of hours before nominations closed for the 2018 municipal election – and filed her nomination for the role of mayor.
Schmolka sat on City Council from 2006 to 2010, representing the Trillium District, and sat on a number of boards and committees during that term. She is also president the board for Land Conservancy for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington – a non-profit that works to acquire land in order to preserve natural spaces and encourage species survival – and a member of a variety of different community groups in and around Kingston. Schmolka also has a degree in civil law, a diploma in mediation and conflict resolution, and is a certified teacher of adults.
We caught up with Schmolka a few days after she filed her nomination for a chat and a cup of tea along the banks of the St. Lawrence River.
1. What made you want to run for mayor in this election?
I’ve been watching what’s going on at City Hall all along, and participating in community meetings and doing my own community activities, and I’m more and more troubled by the lack of transparency, the lack of real respect for citizens, and, a little bit, the lack of respect for citizens’ money.
So, I feel I bring something different to the table, and I want people to have the choice to vote for someone who is thrifty, is interested in people, believes in people, and looks for solutions that really work for everybody in the city, and not just some people in the city.
2. Tell us a bit about your background and what prepares you to be a candidate for mayor?
I sat on council from 2006 to 2010, so I have experience on council. I’ve of gone to a lot of Planning Committee meetings, and I was chair of Planning Committee when I was on Council. I’ve participated in City meetings. I’ve gone there to speak, and I’ve gone there to listen to people, so I’m not out of touch with what the City is doing right now. And I’m president of a not-for-profit board, I’m active in a number of community organizations… I feel connected to the community in many ways, and I think that’s what you need to be a good leader in the community.
3. In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues right now in Kingston?
I think that it’s been disappointing to see the lack of action on affordable housing. This council has really not delivered on affordable housing, so that’s an important issue that I think we all understand. I know people who’ve worked their whole lives who are looking for a place to live, where they can live when they are retired, because their retirement income won’t be that much less than their working income, and it really is difficult.
And, of course, there are young people who can’t find somewhere to live… there’s a whole range of people who are having trouble finding affordable housing in this city.
I [also] think we’re letting the infrastructure that is the reason that we live in a city together fail. I think everybody who drives on our roads or rides a bicycle on our rounds or walks on the sidewalks here knows that there are places that need fixing that haven’t been fixed in a very long time. And that’s not good. If you don’t fix the leak in your roof, you get more and more water, and you deal with water damage. And if you don‘t fix a big pothole, you get further and further deterioration of that roadway until it becomes a big job to fix.
So, we’ve not done enough to take care of some of the basics for the last little while.
For me, at this point, I think those are the things that have caught my attention particularly. I think it will be interesting to hear from citizens what they’re worried about. Usually, when I’ve gone door-to-door, and I’ve done that for several elections, I find out that people are very worried about their money and their taxes – both how much they’re paying in taxes, and what their taxes are going for. And I think this last budget… you know, if we believe that growth is going to reduce our taxes, this last budget was a real lesson in how that’s not true. Because we had a 2.5 per cent increase in the money the City is taking in based on growth, and we still had a big tax increase.
So where is that money going and why did the city need to increase its spending by over five per cent? It will be interesting to see how people see that, and if they feel happy – I know there are a lot of people who live in a city who believe that taxes are appropriate, like, I don’t mind paying taxes, because we get services for taxes. And that’s good. But are people feeling they’re getting good value for their taxes? I’ll be interested to hear from people on that.
4. So, right now, you haven’t had a lot of time for door-to-door campaigning, but do you feel like those are the same issues that are top of mind for voters?
I’ve heard from people on council that that’s what they’re hearing. But you know what I’ve heard is a lot of people have had car damage in this city – front end repairs, broken tires, broken axels, [broken] tire rods – and I don’t think because they’re driving recklessly in the woods. (laughs)
They’re driving on our streets, so… it shouldn’t be. We live together to work together to be a community together, and certain things need to be done so that works well.
5. You’re up against incumbent Bryan Paterson, as well as Eric Lee and Rob Matheson. What do you think will be most challenging about that race?
Well, I think we all have to show voters who we are and what we believe in, and what our vision for the city is. So I think we each have to meet that challenge. We’ll see as the election campaign unfolds.
5b. Are you excited to go door-to-door again?
I love going door to door. And I’m laughing because a lot of people think that it would be awful, but, you know, some people… I couldn’t coach five-year-olds in soccer. I just could not do that. But I like meeting people and hearing what they’re thinking. And people of all walks of life, of all ages, have ideas. You find out when you go to their door what they’re thinking about, and I enjoy that a lot, and it’s very useful in preparing for policy making to know what’s on people’s minds.
6. What makes you a mayoral candidate that voters should consider?
I believe in people’s capacity to do good, and people’s ability to work together for good. And I think we often see that when there’s a disaster: during the Ice Storm, neighbours helped each other; the forest fires out in Parry Sound, people are taking care of other people’s horses and helping each other. And I hope that part of my campaign will help people come together to realize we can work together in the city and be respectful and caring of each other. Because that’s good for the city. We can shop in our local stores, we can support local businesspeople, [and] we can be generous in the community…
So, that’s part of my philosophy, but it’s going to be up to people to look at each candidate and decides who speaks a language that they understand, and that they feel comfortable with, and [who] talks about a city that they want to live in.