July-August 2020

What did City Council do?

Transportation Master Plan Update

The City of Waterloo is developing a new Transportation Master Plan (TMP), which is focused on 3 main areas; Complete Streets, Vision Zero and Emerging Technology.  We are in the final stages of this plan and it was brought to Council for discussion in July.  A few of the emerging concerns brought to staff by Council were; committing to reduced speed limits City wide, making a firmer commitment to Vision Zero principles and ensuring that the plan references objectives pertaining to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  If you would like to learn more about the TMP check out this website – https://www.engagewr.ca/transportation-master-plan-looking-ahead.

Automated Speed Enforcement, School Zone Changes, Active Transportation Initiatives Update

Council also approved additional work around making our streets safer for all modes of transportation.  Automated speed enforcement (photo radar) was approved at Keats Way Public School, while school zones across the City were changed in order to standardize them with the Highway Traffic Act.  In Ward 2, Vista Hills, Edna Staebler and Laurelwood school zones were revised.  School zones were extended, new streets were added in the surrounding area and changes to parking/stopping were approved.  These changes will officially lower the speed limit in these areas, heighten awareness for drivers in the area and ensure that they are photo radar ready when funds become available at the Region to increase the program.  Additionally, some changes to the ‘COVID Safe Streets’ active transportation initiatives were added, including reducing the speed limit on Sun Dew Drive (between Twin Leaf and May Apple).  Council is committed to doing everything we can to ensure safe, sustainable transportation is a priority in the City of Waterloo and each of these initiatives are part of a bigger picture to help get us there.

2019 Financial Statements

Council approved receipt of the 2019 financial statements for the City of Waterloo.  As with any individual or business, COVID is taking a toll on our budgets, our 2019 statements provide a few key takeaways that show we are well positioned to handle the financial impacts:

  • Debt per capita in the City of Waterloo is approximately $24 per person. This is less than last year and below levels from a decade ago.
  • Our financial reserves increased by $200,000. Increased reserves offer us more flexibility to handle unforeseen events and plan for future projects.
  • Capital investment in 2019 was above amortization. This shows that Council is committed to addressing our infrastructure deficit.

Council will receive more financial updates as we head into the fall, with our continued goal to address any COVID related challenges without property tax increases.

2019-20 Grant Updates

One of the ways that the City of Waterloo works to improve our financial situation is by applying for Federal and Provincial grants whenever possible.  In 2019 we applied for 24 grants, obtaining approval for 13 (3 pending) for a total of $914,000.  Thus far, in 2020 we have four successful grants (1 pending) for $71,000.  These grants help us achieve various goals for Capital Projects and help us reduce our tax burden while providing much needed service improvements to residents.  COVID has afforded us the opportunity to receive Federal Gas Tax funding ($3.184 million) earlier, which has been applied to a number of road reconstruction projects.  It has also opened up new funding ($2.879 million) to help with operating shortfalls.  Additionally, the government has opened up new infrastructure grants for projects that upgrade, repair or retrofit buildings, new active transportation initiatives, new parks and disaster mitigation projects.  These projects must be under $10M, be shovel ready and completed by end of 2021.  Once the final details of this program are announced, staff are well positioned to apply to these grants for a number of projects throughout the City.

Albert McCormick Plaza and Silver Lake Tenders

Council approved 2 significant tenders for capital projects at Albert McCormick and Silver Lake in Waterloo Park.  These projects include a new splash pad at Albert McCormick and significant improvements to Silver Lake including a promenade around the lake.  Both projects have begun this summer and are both anticipated to be done by Spring of 2021.

Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan

Council approved the City of Waterloo’s role in a broader region-wide Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan (IRAP).  The IRAP will hire a consultant to review policies for public spaces and create a paid Indigenous Advisory Committee to help with reconciliation efforts across the Region.  Additionally the City of Waterloo has agreed to waive all rental fees for all members of the Indigenous community for use of public spaces for ceremonial or cultural events.  The City of Waterloo has embedded responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions municipal calls to action into our strategic plan and this is a natural extension of that work.

In reviewing the above plan, Council listened to a number of delegations, many of whom are from the Land Back camp in Victoria Park.  As I stated during the meeting, I appreciate and thank the group for continuing to push us as elected officials to do better on these issues.  I appreciate them challenging us to have difficult conversations.  I also know that there are many excellent Indigenous led organizations that do great work across the Region.  The existence of the camp suggests that in spite of that work, there are still members of the Indigenous community whose needs are not being met.  We need to continue to engage with as many members of the various Indigenous communities as we walk this path of reconciliation.

Additionally, Council approved funding for a Brownfield Tax Increment Grant on Lexington, amended our community grant program to align with COVID issues and made some adjustments to our outdoor sports field improvement strategy to reduce down time impacts for projects that were planned in 2021.  If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.

Outside of the Council Chambers

This month I (virtually) attended the Waterloo Region Anti-Racism Town Hall as well as the ACB Network town hall on defunding the police.  The Region town hall took place over two days and had two dozen speakers sharing, heartbreaking stories, troubling statistics and disturbing trends.  I had numerous takeaways from this town hall and I am encouraged that we are eager to act as a Region.  Two of the main takeaways I had were; stop asking racialized folks to justify that racism exists and in order for real change to occur, we need to be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations.  On the first point, asking community members to share their personal stories of racism is asking folks to relive their trauma.  We have to ask ourselves to whose benefit is that.  As I heard during this town hall, the only point in talking about trauma is if the point is to heal.  Often folks feel as though they are being asked to share these stories and relive their trauma, simply to justify that racism exists.  We know that racism exists in our community and we need to be focusing our efforts on calling it out and stamping it out.  On the second point, change is not comfortable, we must emphasize and amplify marginalized voices and we need to choose to listen to people who are unrelenting and make us feel uncomfortable.  I agree whole-heartedly and will continue to encourage Council to have these challenging conversations.

I held my own town hall on the Region’s Official Plan (ROP) update.  As I noted previously, this document guides all municipalities on topics ranging from density to intensification to environmental rights, the economy, transportation, transit and more.  It looks at population growth out until 2051 and guides where and how that growth will occur.  During this town hall I shared that the City of Waterloo’s OP is legally obligated to comply with the ROP and that our zoning framework must comply with both.  In addition to our legal obligations, it also provides strategic guidelines for staff on a number of the topics noted above.  I also shared what our current zoning permissions look like in the City and talked about how the new ROP may impact areas of the City and the Ward, including in Major Transit Station Areas.  If you were unable to attend the meeting and have questions on this topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Lastly, on the Climate front I attended the Climate Caucus Summit.  This was a virtual event with speakers talking about a number of Climate related issues, through a Canadian municipal lens.  Some of the topics that were addressed include Zero Waste, Nature Based Solutions, Building/Energy Retrofits, Climate Justice, Transportation, Food Security, Carbon Accounting and more.  I learned a lot and members of the Caucus received a Councillor’s Handbook with a wide range of initiatives that have taken place in municipalities across the country.  I am in the process of reviewing each of these in detail, with a hope to bring some of these ideas forward in the near future.  Additionally, I am pleased to announce that I was accepted into FCM’s (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) first ever Climate Leadership Course for Elected Officials!  The course takes place this fall, I am looking forward to doing the hard work and continuing to add to my knowledge on this topic and bring ideas that can help us reduce our GHG emissions at the City of Waterloo.

Take care and stay safe!