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Housing, transportation among top issues in Ward 12

In the 2010 municipal election in Ottawa, Mathieu Fleury edged out a win by a mere 88 votes to become city councillor of Rideau-Vanier, the ward that contains the University of Ottawa’s main campus.

Mathieu Fleury, a 28-year-old U of O graduate, is up against a slate of new competitors for the Oct. 27 municipal elections.

Marc Aubin, 34, also a U of O alumnus, is taking time off from his position as president of the Lowertown Community Association to run for office. 

Catherine Fortin LeFaivre, 33, is the director of communications at Skills Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes the development of skill and trades.

George Atanga, 57, has worked in many areas in Ottawa, including with OC Transpo, where he says he gained an in-depth knowledge of the transit system.

David-George Oldham, 23, made the news this summer when he went on paid leave from his job at TD Bank after he refused a request from human resources staff to show his medical marijuana license. He is running for city councillor because he “saw an opportunity to enter and correct these issues” of his dismissal.  

Marc Vinette, 46, is the owner of the Hot Head Tees print screening store and says he didn’t want to run, but chose to out of a lack of a better candidate. He’s advocating for putting $30,000 his salary, if elected, in a contingency fund, installing “compassion club” marijuana dispensaries around the city, and removing fluoride from the city’s water supply.

Housing

Solutions to the ongoing dearth of student housing on and near the U of O campus will be at the forefront of the election as several candidates intend to pursue a housing strategy.

“I don’t think one thing will solve the issue of housing. I think that it’s a more comprehensive approach,” said Fortin LeFaivre.

The main focus has been on Sandy Hill, but a desire to preserve the character of the neighbourhood has complicated the situation. Aubin said city council should be looking into other development areas such as Vanier or Lowertown. Fortin LeFaivre also suggested looking at spaces in ByWard Market.

“Students want to be close to where there’s action and stuff going on,” she said. “I think it makes a lot more sense to have them there than in the middle of Sandy Hill.” She’s also advocating to invest in housing built purposely for students, rather than just converted houses.

The Light Rail Transit (LRT) system will make student housing further from the university a more feasible option.

Atanga advocates for the promotion of affordable and low-income housing. Both Vinette and Oldham said temporary housing could be a potential short-term fix.

As the city completes its review next summer, the next councillor of Rideau-Vanier will also have to consider the possibility of landlord licensing.

Although licensing will raise the standards of student housing, Ottawa landlords oppose the idea, saying it will raise the price of rent.

Vinette said he’s also skeptical. “Show me a municipality where it worked and I’ll consider it. But there isn’t one,” he said.

Councillors in other wards have proposed implementing zone-specific licensing, but Fleury opposes the idea because of the diaspora of students in Ward 12. “In our area, zone-specific would be challenging because students are in Lowertown, they’re in Sandy Hill, and they’re in Vanier,” he said.

Fleury declared a conflict of interest in 2010 regarding Claridge Homes, a developer at which his father works, which has prevented him and his staff from addressing zoning issues that involve the company, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

“If you’re not able to do a large part of your job because of a conflict of interest, that’s a problem if it’s affecting the kind of representation your community needs,” said Aubin.

Transportation

Some have said more accessible public transit could be a solution to the housing crunch.

In addition to the LRT system, which is scheduled for completion in 2018, candidates also support reforms to the U-Pass. Students at the U of O have criticized the transit pass because of the cost, and because it’s not available during the summer.

Aubin said he has discussed the U-Pass with Student Federation of Ottawa (SFUO) president Anne-Marie Roy, and he, along with Fleury and Fortin LeFaivre, support its reform.

Atanga, Oldham, and Vinette brought more attention to Para Transpo, meant to help those whose disabilities prevent them from using other methods of public transit. Atanga said his top concern would be improving those services.

Another transportation talking point is the concept of complete streets, a new city policy that aims to accommodate all modes of transportation. Fleury, Aubin, and Fortin LeFaivre all listed it as a priority.

Candidates also took aim at the downtown truck route, which sees more than 3,000 transport trucks on Rideau, Waller, and King Edward per day. The city has looked at plans for a bypass tunnel, but candidates are looking for a more immediate solution.

Aubin has been a member of the King Edward Avenue Task Force for 15 years. He said short-term safety measures should be a priority. Fortin LeFaivre said she wants to see physical barriers near dangerous intersections and a limit on the hours that trucks are allowed to pass through downtown.

Voter Engagement

In 2010, Rideau-Vanier was the ward with the lowest voter turnout, at 39 per cent—with students being the least likely to cast a ballot.

“Every five years there’s a turnover of about half the population (in Ward 12), which often includes a lot of those students,” said Aubin.

He said integrating different community groups into the decision-making process is a good way to build engagement. Several of the candidates have made or will make the opportunity to engage university students by visiting the campus and knocking on doors in the area.

The next candidate debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Guigues Centre, and Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Sandy Hill Community Centre.