Community Soapbox: When candidates come knocking, here’s what to ask them
Written by Brandon Tozzo
Kingston’s municipal election is in October, and most campaigns are just getting off the ground. Thus far, unlike the casino in the last election, there doesn’t seem to be a major city-wide issue for voters.
Prospective councillors and mayors will come knocking at your door in the coming weeks, asking for your vote (and if they don’t come to your door, perhaps you shouldn’t vote for them). Rather than letting the candidates drive the conversation, here are a few key issues you should ask them that are very important for the long-term prosperity of Kingston, beyond the usual concerns for road repairs and taxes.
What do you plan to do about affordable housing in Kingston?
While it may be a perennial issue, affordable rentals and homes are a problem for many lower and middle income people.
Kingston has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the province and this drives up the rental price. The average price of a one bedroom apartment is just over $1000 a month – a significant issue for lower-income people. The low vacancy rate affects the housing market as well. The median price for a home in Kingston is $349,900, with prices increasing seven percent from last year. This may be beneficial to those who already own their homes; it’s a significant impediment to young people entering the market, and those interested in moving to Kingston.
Often the solution proposed is to build more expensive condos, but while this may enrich developers, it does little to ease the burden for most people looking for a home.
There’s no simple solution to the lack of supply of affordable housing, but the City could invest more in social housing, increase its commitment to the Affordable Housing Capital Investment Program and provide more incentives for mixed housing. Municipal politicians often acknowledge the importance of affordable housing, but lack a comprehensive long-term financial commitment to it.
If there are cost overruns on the third crossing, do you support increasing taxes and/or cutting services?
Whether people support the project or not, the Third Crossing will be built. However, the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation estimated that there could be a cost overrun of around 30% of the total cost, in line with similar infrastructure projects.
A prudent voter should ask how the city should manage these costs: should programs be cut, or will increased taxes make up the difference? Our city council has made a commitment to the project; now we have to pay for it.
Do you support a ranked ballot for Kingston elections?
There’s a referendum question on the ballot this year for a ranked ballot. London, Ontario is using a ranked ballot for its current municipal election. There are pros and cons to changing our voting system, but it’s absolutely worthwhile to ask a candidate’s position on the issues.
How do plan to reduce poverty in Kingston?
We tend to think of Kingston as a pretty progressive prosperous city, with one of the highest numbers of PhDs and a numerous public sector organizations, yet not everyone is doing well. In 2015, Kingston had a poverty rate of 15.4% with 36% of non-student residents earning less than $20,000 a year. While a comprehensive strategy on poverty reduction requires all levels of government, there’s much that can be done at a municipal level, such as providing child care (women make up a disproportionate number of people in poverty), community support for education and skills development. One only has to walk down Princess Street to recognize the city must do more to alleviate poverty.
What will you do to keep in touch with your community if you are elected?
Too often politicians only seem to care about their constituents every four years when they need our votes. Certainly the lives of any politician are quite busy, but Kingston’s districts are small enough that a city councillor should be no stranger. They should hold regular town halls and meet-and-greets and do their best to respond to the calls and emails of their constituents. Your city councillor should be a familiar presence in your community. If your city councillor disappears after Election Day, then they don’t deserve your vote.
Brandon Tozzo is a lecturer of political science. He has written for the Toronto Star and worked for Global Television and CTV. He is currently a resident of Kingston and involved in progressive campaigns throughout the city