Our municipal election for Mayor and Council gives us another opportunity to help shape Innisfil’s future. The fact that most positions are being contested is a good indication of a healthy democratic process. I only hope that all candidates want to campaign “for”, not “against”. That is, I expect them to articulate a vision for improving the quality of life in Innisfil and their plan to achieve it. Their challenge will be to look beyond everyday problems and tackle some larger issues:
Population Growth & Sprawl
“By 2031, the population is expected to grow by 70% (56,000 residents)” – Town of Innisfil web site. Innisfil has a provincially-mandated obligation to plan for population growth and at the same time an obligation to work within the Smart Growth limitations of the province’s Places to Grow framework. How committed are candidates to the objectives of the Places to Grow strategy? How well do candidates understand the principles of Smart Growth? How can we best manage growth and urban intensification?
Does Agriculture Have a Future Here?
Large parts of Innisfil were rezoned long ago for future development, so on paper, there appears to be no loss of agricultural land. But in reality, new development will continue to eat up existing open space and remaining agricultural spaces will be increasingly fragmented. Do we want to preserve agricultural uses close to our urbanized areas, and if so, how? Simcoe County is promoting the concept of a Food Charter but what measures are needed to give it real impact? Where will the next generation of food producers come from?
More Greenbelt or Not?
A group of Ontario Mayors is actively promoting the idea of substantially expanding Ontario’s greenbelt to include designated “Food Lands” ahead of a provincial review of the Greenbelt legislation required next year. Where do our candidates stand? Will they commit to preserving more regional green space?
The aim of smart growth is to create ‘complete’ neighbourhoods where we “live, work, and play”. In a national economy focused on resource extraction, most local jobs being created lately are part-time. How can Innisfil cope with chronic youth unemployment and an aging population? What employment opportunities can we create for ourselves, by ourselves?
Real wages have been stagnant for decades. All across Canada, the divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s is wider than ever. At the municipal level, the province’s ‘Sunshine List’ of those receiving $100,000 or more in compensation rankles many people every year. In Innisfil, there were 14 senior administrative employees receiving a total of $1.6 million in 2010 – excluding taxable benefits. In 2013, this had grown to 22 people receiving just under $2.7 million, or an average of $122,276 each. The Town reports average “total per capita income” here at $36,311 and average household income at $75,799. Half of all Innifil households earn less than $66,132. What’s fair? How do we get off the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ payroll treadmill?
Property Tax Base
Related to the previous issue is the antiquated property tax system. Conservatives like to point out that there is only one taxpayer. Combining all the taxes we pay (income, sales, gasoline, etc.) the federal government scoops up more than half while municipalities are left with just 8% to provide most of the essential services we rely on. Municipal Development Charges are a key revenue source in this environment. How do we build a modern, dynamic, livable community on a shoe-string? What alternative can we find to property-based taxation?
According to one writer, the key to municipal success is to think big – innovate, don’t follow. What big ideas can our candidates bring to the table? What original, ground-breaking ideas can improve the quality of life in Innisfil and inspire others to look up and take notice?