I will take your inquiries about any municipal question you have. Elections bring out more questions from interest groups and the media like to dig deeper on issues they deem important to the public. I'll post my answers to their questions here.
Q&A: Patrick Merlihan
If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.
1: Engage with the local Developmental Services Ontario office to educate yourself on the housing and support needs of persons with developmental disabilities in our community?
I would be happy to engage and commit to learn more about the needs of people with developmental disabilities. I am familiar with the Elmira Association for Community Living and the work they do for this community. My wife is a teacher of special needs students in Guelph. Through her, I am aware of the needs associated with persons with a developmental disability.
2: Ensure that all demographic and population assessments of our municipality include a category that captures persons with developmental disabilities?
That is a really good idea. I’m unaware if Woolwich presently captures this information as part of our commitment to be compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
3: Ensure that 'persons with developmental disabilities' are specifically identified as a sub-category when determining the needs of 'persons with disabilities' in our community?
I can support this as well and recognize that more concrete data leads to more support for the needs of this community.
4: Ensure that 10% of all Planning Act benefits secured from developers is targeted to persons with disabilities?
Developers should be listening to their market which is growing older. Everyone can and will benefit by providing accessible housing. Woolwich is looking at strengthening the environmental commitments of developers in new planning, I can support committing to more accessible housing.
5: Ensure that housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities will be a priority should you get elected?
6: Work with council to waive fees and development charges for zoning and building application for all housing projects that include people with developmental disabilities? This will reduce cost and provide a vital partnership that CMHC will look favourably upon, if applying for their funds.
Elmira Association for Community Living builds homes for developmentally disabled people to live independently. I supported waiving municipal development charges on these homes to encourage more of these awesome opportunities. Unfortunately, Council chose to provide interest-free repayment on development charges. I would again support waiving local development charges.
7: Ensure that your municipality hires people with developmental disabilities?
I 100% support hiring people with developmental disabilities and will encourage staff to consider opportunities within the municipality that would be an appropriate fit.
8: Advocate for an Inclusion Facilitator for 1:1 camp support for camp programs within your municipality? Note: This currently exists in Cambridge and Kitchener.
Having supports for township programs so that all can be included is the foundation for a caring community. I will advocate to start the conversation with the municipality.
9: Ensure that children with learning disabilities are not excluded from access to the services they need? Note: There is a recognized need for children and adults not deemed “complex enough” to meet various criteria (someone with a learning disability is ineligible for developmental services).
As far as municipal services, Woolwich Township makes every effort to accommodate people of all abilities to access services, information, voting and accessible facilities. I strongly encourage staff to improve upon our on-going efforts.
10: Ensure access to subsidized public transit for recipients of ODSP? Note: Subsidized bus passes will no longer be available to those with developmental disabilities once the Easy GO cards are implemented.
Transit is a Regional matter. I would support subsidized Easy Go cards for those with a developmental disability once implemented. I will encourage Mayor Shantz, Woolwich’s representative on Regional Council, to support subsidization.
1. Have you signed the #CycleWR "I Bike I Vote" pledge?
No I haven’t. It would be impossible to commit Woolwich Township to the funding commitment of $181,720 which would alone represent a 1.8% tax levy increase on taxpayers. Woolwich Township funding from the Province will be experiencing a serious shortage in the coming years as they have reassessed some of our communities as urban because of their proximity to cities – even though these cities do not contribute to infrastructure or operational costs. Woolwich Township will lose close to $800,000 in Provincial funding as they annually decrease assistance. I would support the Region adding cycle lanes where appropriate when they reconstruct Woolwich roadways.
2. What will you do to ensure sidewalks are accessible and consistently cleared of snow in winter?
Sidewalks in Elmira are cleared by the municipality and funded through an area-rated tax. Our bylaws are structured so that residents in other parts of the township are required to clear sidewalks within a 24 hour period.
3. Few gaps in the sidewalk network were closed between 2014-18. What will you do to expedite sidewalk infill on streets that lack sidewalks on both sides?
Woolwich Township budgets annually to fill-in sidewalk gaps. This past year I advocated for 2 lengthy sidewalk connections to be constructed on Bluejay St. to create safe passage for students of St. Teresa Catholic School. Previously children had to walk on the street. All new subdivision plans must include sidewalks on both sides of the street. I support at least one sidewalk for reconstruction of older neighbourhoods.
4. What will you do to ensure new development helps to build walkable communities, encouraging walking, cycling, and taking transit to schools, jobs, and amenities?
New development must have sidewalks on both sides of the street. Many of our developments are strongly encouraged to tap into existing trail network around Elmira which they do. I supported a pilot project with Kiwanis-Transit for an Elmira Bus shuttle service that links new developments and neighbourhoods to our existing GRT 21. This free shuttle is to encourage riders that are too far from the bus route to take public transit. I look forward to the initial results of this pilot project in March 2019.
5. Will you reduce or eliminate parking minimums from zoning bylaws and Official Plans?
Elmira is a destination centre for communities and settlements to the north that must travel by vehicle. We have a large commuter community and distances are in many cases too far to cycle for the average cyclist. When it comes to large consumer parking lots I would support reducing parking spaces to include islands for trees.
6. Will you change street and intersection design to prioritize a reduction in the number of traffic deaths? If so, how will you accomplish this?
All intersections should be designed to avoid traffic deaths. I would expect that engineers and planners would use best practices and standards developed through years of experience to construct safe intersections. In Woolwich Township our worst intersections are on Regional roads. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to be heard by our regional partners. The recent regional traffic master plan suggests timelines of 10-25 years to deal with roads and intersections that our problem areas now.
1. Support of Heritage Committees.
a. Yes, I supported the creation of a new Heritage Committee for Woolwich Township in 2015. I continue to support the working budget and work that the committee has been doing in designating qualifying buildings and heritage landscapes.
b. Would you encourage Council to support your Municipal Heritage Committee’s requests for Listing non-designated properties on the Municipal Heritage Register?
b. Yes I would.
2. Financial Incentives for Heritage Conservation
a. I don't believe Woolwich Township is in a position to offer grant money for heritage property grants. Unless funding came from alternative sources, it would be difficult to justify grants with a $40 million deficit in infrastructure repairs and reconstruction and another $7 million to fix bridges in the township.
b. Would you encourage Council to ensure your municipality has a heritage property tax refund program and that the funding levels are adequate?
b. I would be willing to have the conversation but see answer above.
3. Modern Tools to Conserving our Built Heritage
Yes, I would. The Township has been actively working on heritage landscape designations in West Montrose to protect the area from future inappropriate development.
4. Heritage as an Environmental Priority for Municipally-Owned Buildings
Adapting existing public buildings for modern use is my preferred option — is often the more expensive option. Every building has its own story to tell and unfolds through the heritage features. The answer really depends on what story the building is telling. Woolwich Township does look for public re-use prior to deeming property surplus and I do support that initiative.
As an elected official I supported the creation of the Woolwich Township Heritage Committee. I participated in a number of heritage designations plaque presentations at the old former Woolwich Township Administration building and the bandstand in Gore Park. As a Council we had two private heritage projects address Council. The Playford home in Elmira is an absolutely stunning restoration job that sought Council approvals.
Q1: Will you defend the countryside line against amendments and updates to the Official Plan that threaten to weaken its protections?
Yes! The countryside line is worth protecting. Woolwich Township is home to a significant percentage of prime agricultural lands in the Region. Our smaller communities and rural lifestyles give Woolwich Township an appeal not found in many other communities. That alone is worth fighting to hold the line on mass-scale developments.
Q2: How will you work to protect prime agricultural areas, the Waterloo moraine, and drinking water?
I support maintaining prime agricultural lands as workable farmlands. Rural communities are great locations for aggregate operations — where our prime agricultural land is. Aggregate is important, but our cities and region should be supporting efforts of small municipalities trying to protect these lands that will essentially become wastelands in the future. The need for increased scrutiny and local decision-making of aggregate operations that are located close to waterways, plan on below water table extraction, or large in size is essential to protecting land and drinking water. The province has not shown to be a protector as many operations are approved despite local concerns.
Q3: As our population grows, how should Waterloo Region plan for new development?
I support slow-growth policies, in-filling and revitalizing brownfield developments. I can support increased intensification in newly developed areas, but take issue with destroying the character of neighbourhoods with inappropriate housing choices. I’d like to see developers contribute to providing affordable housing or cash-in-lieu with every new development.
Q1. Immigrants and refugees account for 22.6% of Waterloo Region’s population, and the community attracts a growing number of temporary migrants (international students, temporary foreign workers, refugee claimants) each year. If elected, how will you work with the Immigration Partnership and other stakeholders to ensure the community has the supports and conditions it needs for newcomers to successfully settle, work and belong?
Woolwich Township is set for unprecedented growth for the next two decades. The municipality has taken a slow-growth approach to development making it easier to plan and pay for infrastructure to support this growth. Elmira, Breslau and St. Jacobs will see major increases in density which will account for more people and a greater variety of housing types and affordability. Traditionally, Woolwich has been a welcoming community to refugees through various church groups and faith-based organizations. While inviting newcomers to the municipality hasn’t been a formal service, I would like to see that change. As part of my re-election platform, I will advocate to explore ways to become more inclusive, welcoming and helpful to all new residents. I would certainly seek out stakeholder groups to gather information to insure we could meet the needs of new immigrants to our communities.
Q2. Access to public transportation is essential for recent immigrants, refugees and other people living on low income to be able to get to work or school and fully engage in community life, yet many can’t afford it. If elected, how will you address the affordability of public transit for newcomers and other people living on low income in Waterloo Region?
Woolwich Township has a bus route which serves as a connection point to the GRT and eventual LRT. Through partnership with Kiwanis Transit a free Elmira shuttle bus service recently started shuttling residents within town to current GRT bus stops. A future Go-Train stop in Breslau might be possible to support a bus route connecting Kitchener to Breslau. I would much rather see all of our transit options in use by residents then seeing empty buses circling routes. I would support providing essential transit for low-income riders at a rate based on their use and income. Woolwich Township is a lower-tier government, so that is a decision for Waterloo Region Council.
Q3. Each year, new immigrants move to Waterloo Region and pay municipal taxes, but they cannot vote in municipal elections. Do you support permanent residents voting in municipal elections and what steps would you take to address this locally if elected?
I would support allowing permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections. Voting is a symbolic gesture of belonging and inclusion. If you live here, you should have a say in how your municipality is governed. I would also support lowering the voting age to 16 including young people in more decision-making. This makes for a more engaged citizenry in our community. I would be happy to start the conversation in Woolwich Township while working within the framework of the Municipal Act. I would also want to consult the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), a policy and advocacy group, to explore this issue further.