Monday, October 24, is election day. With election day fast approaching, on Monday afternoon before writing this editorial, I brewed some coffee, and spent two hours re-watching the video archive of the candidate meeting held on October 3, at Meaford United Church.
For this latest viewing, I focused less on what the candidates said, and more on what residents were saying in their questions to the candidates.
Clearly, coming development and how it will impact this community is top of mind for many during this election campaign. If you were to boil this election down to one overriding issue of concern to Meaford voters, it would be the management of the change that is coming.
With so many development proposals being brought forward by developers who don’t necessarily have the best interests of this community topping their list of priorities, Meaford voters are wanting a council that will ensure that new development happens, but happens responsibly, and they want new development to be sensible, and for it to enhance, not detract from this municipality.
Running a close second on the list of ratepayer concerns is affordable housing, and particularly rental housing. Over the past few years Meaford residents have seen the cost of housing both for buyers and for renters skyrocket. For renters the issue is compounded by a lack of availability with many properties that could be used for rental housing instead being used for short term rentals with companies like Airbnb.
Residents of this municipality have seen their community become too expensive for many, and it has happened before their eyes with no refuge to be found. With little to no rental availability, and with the rentals that are available costing much more than the low rural wages that are found in an agricultural community with no industry to speak of, many are scared. Scared about where they will be able to live should their current landlord sell their property to someone who wants to go the short term rental route. Scared that their children will have no choice but to move away to a larger community with a larger pool of jobs, and a larger inventory of rental options.
People are genuinely hurting. Costs have skyrocketed for virtually everything over the past two years, and the spike in housing prices and the all but vanishing of rental availability has hit some particularly hard.
So voters are desperate for council candidates that they feel they can entrust with the important job of helping to manage new growth, and to ensure that the many things to love about this community are protected.
Along with the many concerns expressed about new development and the affordability of housing, another topic that we hear frequently from voters, both during the recent candidate debates and with some regularity at council meetings, is the protection of greenspaces.
We have seen the issue raised recently with the school board about to declare the former high school property and its beloved running track as surplus, offering an opportunity for the municipality to be first in line to purchase the property that is home to the local running track, and preserve it as a greenspace for the years to come, and ensuring it won’t become yet another residential development.
Though the same residents fighting against higher density developments, which require building up rather than out, are many of the same residents demanding more greenspaces. The irony of course is that the movement toward higher density and taller buildings is in part aimed at protecting greenspaces, and ensuring that as little land as possible is used to house many as possible, leaving no need to destroy valuable greenspace.
Newer residents of this municipality might not understand or appreciate the importance of agriculture to Meaford’s economy. We are an agricultural community, and that fact must not be forgotten or dismissed when new residents, many moving here from large urban centres, begin demanding city-level services in a small agricultural town. Meaford residents need a council that can stand up to not only developers, but to the unrealistic expectations of residents who can at times demand facilities and services which simply cannot be financially supported by a municipality of just 11,000 residents.
As we prepared this week’s newspaper on Tuesday, one final candidate meeting was being hosted by Meaford’s 55+ Club. The Tuesday afternoon meeting offered candidates one final chance to pitch their vision to a large group of Meaford voters, and for those who will elect our next council it was one last chance to meet the candidates and ask some questions.
The candidates have worked hard to reach Meaford’s voters, and on Monday we will elect our next council, a council to guide us through the next four years that are looking to be ‘boom’ years, in which we will see many new residential developments, new businesses, and possibly a major multi-billion dollar project undertaken on the Tank Range. Voters are counting on those who are elected on Monday to help guide this municipality through the most significant changes and influx of new residents this community has perhaps ever seen.
Best of luck to all of the candidates, and win or lose, thank you for stepping up and offering your services to this municipality. It is no easy task to step into any election as a candidate, and whether I agree with a candidate or not, I always respect them for their desire to serve their community.