London, Ont. voters will head to the polls on Oct. 24 to decide who the city’s next mayor, and who their next city councillor should be.

Ten candidates are vying for the mayor’s office, while 61 others are running in 14 ward races across the city.

Six council seats are guaranteed to see new occupants in the next term, with London Mayor Ed Holder and five councillors opting not to seek re-election.

Among the departures are Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih, Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy, Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan, and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner. (In the case of Ward 7, Morgan is instead running for mayor.)

A full list of mayoral and ward candidates can be found on the city’s website, along with other election-related information.

To help voters ahead of election day, Global News reached out to those running and asked that they complete a short, five-question survey.

Global News will publish the responses received, ward by ward, over the coming days, with candidates listed in alphabetical order. You can find all of the published ward candidate responses on the Global News website.

Below are the responses received by candidate John Fyfe-Millar, running in Ward 13, which covers Central London, Downtown London, SoHo (South of Horton) and parts of West London, including Blackfriars, Kensington Village and Oxford Park.

Q.1: Over the summer, the group The Forgotten 519 put out a call to action to come up with urgent solutions to address London’s homelessness crisis. If elected, how would you tackle homelessness, addiction and mental health issues in London?

First, I’m happy to see you have addressed these as three individual concerns. We have made the mistake in London of creating a huge umbrella called Homelessness and lumping everyone under that space regardless of need. For those of us who spend a lot of time on the street, we know full well there are several types of individuals who make up our most vulnerable.

We have people on our street that have simply lost their ability to be housed at this time. They could support, maintain and tend to a home should they get one. For these people, we need to find ways to create meaningful housing opportunities now. A couple of suggestions for that…

In Ward 13, there are many secondary dwelling units in existing properties. That said, many are sitting empty at this time. When talking with homeowners, there are reasons that people don’t have them occupied. With the city doing inspections on rental properties instead of simply a check list, many did not meet current building code. The homeowner needs to put in hefty dollars to bring the unit up to code, and with inflation and interest rate hikes, that might not be on the cards. A second issue is bad experiences on the part of the homeowner. They have had previous tenants who did not pay, or who damaged the unit beyond simple repair. What a lot of it comes down to is cost.

I think there is a way to generate dollars to create an investment match program to get these units online quickly. I’d like to see developers supply dollars up front in the form of community benefit agreements. They can supply badly needed dollars now that can be used to fund a dollar-for-dollar match to get the units back on the market. That will help potential tenants and homeowners who are struggling to meet their mortgage payment. A program like this is a win, win.

Secondly, a program to invest in tiny homes, not only on public property but on private property. The province has given homeowners the right to create secondary dwelling units, and we need to catch up to that. We must bring our policies and by-laws up to date to allow people the opportunity to either create a secondary unit or tiny house on their property. As a city, we should look at locations where it might be possible to invest in this type of housing short term, to get us over the issues at hand.

Next, I believe it is time we discussed changes with the Upper Thames regarding secondary units in areas such as Blackfriars. Because we sit on “floodplain”, we cannot have secondary units in basements. With the building of the new dike, Fanshawe Dam, and other water control systems, we are much better served to deal with rising waters. The fear from the last flood has, in many ways, been mitigated by our better controls.

As a regional transit hub, I would also suggest that creating a transit system throughout Southwestern Ontario would benefit those looking for a home to live in. A transit system will allow people to live outside the city, where it may be more affordable, while working within the city without the need of a car. Back in the spring, it was announced by the province that London would be the Regional Transit Hub for Southwestern Ontario. We need to put those words to actions and look to connect our regional neighbours to London in ways that benefit everyone.

Now, let’s talk about mental health, addiction, and a combination of the two. This is a totally different type of homelessness. For many along the river, they choose that lifestyle because it comes with no rules and regulations. Many have said encampments are safe. I say encampments are a breeding ground for criminals, pedophiles and dealers. They take advantage of our most vulnerable in so many unsavory ways. So, how do we stop encampments?

First, let’s assume that those who “choose” the lifestyle will be very hard to change over quickly. That said, I feel we need to consider a space where, given the choice, people can camp. River Road for me may be an excellent opportunity. It’s along the river and set far enough back from the roadway. We can service it with washrooms, showers and, most importantly, security so that people feel safe. Yes, rules to keep people safe. In my opinion, this is a short-term, reactive solution to a healthcare crisis. We must get our encampments under control. They are unsafe, unhealthy and are breeding grounds for predators to feed on.

For those who can transition to housing, we must have full wrap-around services to assist them. Regardless of whether this sounds like passing the buck, healthcare is a provincial responsibility. Simply put, this is a healthcare crisis, and we must demand a strong response from our provincial partners. I continue to say, we need a city-wide response for a city-wide issue. The challenges around these issues have outgrown Ward 13, and it’s time for everyone to step up and pay their fair share.

We can have community homes for people with wrap-around services. No more than four or five people to a house, in my opinion. I have one right across the street from me and the same gents have been there for decades. They have care, are safe and the community accepts them. Isn’t that the goal?

With all the input from organized religion, I’d like to see churches step up and assist in taking on some of our most vulnerable. I believe I heard the other day: this is God’s work. Organized religion can assist with some of our most needy. They have the space and the ability to make real change in how we deal with our most vulnerable. Actions, not words are key, and I look for them to step up to the head of the line and take on some responsibility.

I do think it is important to point out that some of the people on our streets do not have the ability to live alone or make the decision to get off the streets. A caring community will care for those who cannot care for themselves. I said in 2014 and 2018, we needed a facility for our most vulnerable who are dealing with mental health and addiction issues. Today, you see the result of our inaction. We need a facility with crash beds and long-term stabilization. Indwell just put a facility in St. Thomas which myself, Councillor’s Lehman and Peloza, and Deputy Mayor Morgan toured in September. A facility that houses 15 people within the scope of a four-year program to assist people in transitioning into the next phase of housing. We would need around 10 of those here in London, but that is doable and cost effective.

Success will come by ensuring that safety and security are key pillars. If our shelters are unsafe, it is paramount that we change that. The mere name implies safety, and from talking to people on the street, they simply are not. We must partner with those who ensure that those who take refuge are secure, safe and cared for.

One last item on serviceability. For me, a key factor moving forward is working with partners who see this as a 24/7 issue. We have some wonderful partners here in London. That said, we need a more integrated approach to service and how it is being offered. We have seen at times that agencies are not aligned, let alone our other partners. My support goes to people who see this as a community issue and can look at the challenges from all sides. We can and must do better, and that will happen when we choose to work together.

So, I think we need many different types of housing to support many different needs. To simply say a roof over someone’s head is the solution to their challenges sometimes creates more harm than good.

Q.2: London business owners have recently highlighted some of the economic challenges they’re facing particularly in the downtown core. What strategies do you propose to revitalize London’s downtown core to help businesses thrive?

As a small business owner, I can tell you that the last three years has been very difficult. The shut down for almost thirty weeks through 2020 and 2021 has hindered many small businesses. These businesses will see those financial challenges hold them back for the next decade. In the core, construction for the past six years has given Londoners from every corner the ability to conclude that the downtown is neither worth their time nor money.

I think one of the other challenges we’re seeing coming out of the pandemic is a reluctance to come back to the core. Two years has allowed people the opportunity to create new habits. Less people are downtown on a Friday, so the bars are not as busy at 5pm, come the end of the week. The Grand Theatre is not sold out of all their season ticket vouchers. On top of all that, inflation, interest rates and supply chain issues has made it difficult to do business – period.

So, the question comes about, what can we do as a city to instill change? First, I think the issue is messaging. As an example, what did we close first when we shut down for COVID? Restaurants. Regardless of intent, our message implied that restaurants aren’t safe, so we’re closing them down. Restaurants had spent so much on PPE (personal protective equipment), infrastructure and safety precautions, but they got called out. Our small businesses have taken on the cost to ensure their locations provide a safe and healthy environment. Let’s applaud the work they have put in at personal expense and acknowledge they have exceeded the requirements to regain trust in the marketplace.

Yet, this year, we saw our festivals be more successful than ever before. What that tells me is that where there is a will, there is a way. We must instill in people the importance of shopping local. Enough already about people just posting how important it is; let’s start doing, and physically show what it means to be supportive of our retailers and small businesses.

Specifically, we must make the core welcoming to everyone. That means at least one, if not two state-of-the-art parking facilities. These were supposed to be done in the Millennium Plan that was passed by Council, and still nothing. We can install electric charging stations, secure bike storage, car washes, etc. We need to be welcoming to everyone, recognizing we are not only the downtown to London, but to the surrounding area. If I come from Arva to a hockey game, I’m going to drive, so let’s welcome those people. I can guarantee you that if people were riding horses into our downtown, merchants would be asking for hitching posts.

Better cycling infrastructure is needed. While that can come with the long-term vision of a parking structure, we need a solution for secure bike storage. While the lockers are good short term, I see them as a benefit where storage is not available. With all the vacant space in the core, converting a storefront to secure bike storage would be cost effective and, more importantly, a key factor in deciding to cycle to the core for a meal, an event, or to visit the market.

While I’m open to updating some of our policies to reflect development in other places, as our residential units grow in the core, we must bring back vibrancy. The ability to play, live and work in the downtown is key to its success. It must be attractive to all ages and benefit a growing residential component in our downtown.

We need to work with our educational institutions to expand or engage in a downtown campus. Success of the core is based in part on students who represent a large portion of residents with a disposable income. Reassert that there is more to the city beyond Dufferin Avenue – you can go south young man!

We need to take a close look at our by-laws around maintenance of properties. While we want the downtown to be beautiful, we are asking property owners to pick up the cost of our inaction. The city allows people to camp on their property, leave garbage, needles, feces, and then look to fine the landowner if they don’t clean it up. I believe we need to lead by example. If we want to be proactive in dealing with issues, then we must work with property owners in the same way. By working together as a group, we can come up with solutions that will benefit all parties.

Safety, security and perception of those two items will be crucial to moving forward. Businesses are struggling to get insurance, especially for items such as glass and exterior infrastructure. They are being forced to pick up the cost to upgrade security to keep their insurance even remotely affordable. All the while, having to lock their doors during the day, allowing only customers to enter. We must instill safety back into the core. I believe the addition of the LPS office on Dundas will be a benefit to that strip. Visibility is key and can be extremely calming.

I also support the ask for more officers with a caveat. We need the expand the COAST (Community Outreach and Support Team) program within policing. I will go a step further than the Deputy Mayor and state that we need it 24/7. This sort of service is not a 9-5 job. We need to bring back the COR (Community Oriented Response) program, which defines proactive policing, which will address many of the street concerns businesses are having. To be successful, we need to get our house in order.

For the core specifically, we need people living here. Commercial tenants aren’t coming back. We’ve slipped from 55,000 people coming into the core to work in 2014 to 39,000 in 2019, to under half that post-pandemic. It’s not coming back. A rethink of our downtown, followed by ways to get people here faster will be key to its survival. At the same point, it’s up to organizations such as the city to lead by example and bring our staff home to City Hall.

Lastly, we could introduce a small business property tax sub class structure. They have done this in Toronto, and I feel that this is easy for us to adopt. It may well mean that larger corporations pick up some of the dollars involved in the tax structure, but I feel that a sub class for a period (10 years) post COVID would be beneficial. With the pandemic, inflation, interest rates and supply chain issues hampering small business right now, it’s imperative that we focus successful outcomes.

Q.3: Affordability in the housing and rental markets is the most pressing issue for many Londoners. If elected, what changes would you push for to ease the burden on Londoners when it comes to the cost of living?

As in the question above, building new affordable housing is difficult without substantial financial support from the federal government. We have been extremely lucky in the fact that the feds have supported two buildings here in London – one on Baseline Road and one on Thompson Road. So, we must continue to build on that model.

We also have great partners in both Co-operative and RGI private social housing. The trick here is keeping units functional and operative. Many units deal with extensive damage and must be repaired before they can go on the market. That directly hurts our ability to house people who need that service. Because of that, I feel that we need to ensure our contracts are written in such a way that, should you damage property through your tenancy, you will be evicted immediately. In meetings with our private housing supports, we are hearing that it is taking months, if not years, to get people out of these units for damage or not paying. That simply makes it harder for them to support programs for people to find housing.

I feel we need to look at our senior housing. Many of these properties have been opened to individuals who do not meet the criteria of senior living. I hear stories from tenants of people banging on their doors at 3am looking for people, dogs patrolling the hallways at night, and people moving numbers of friends into a single unit. Our seniors must feel safe and secure, and it is up to us as a city to ensure that happens. There are enough seniors in need out there that we can continue to fill these spaces safely and reliably, ensuring that those in need find the safe spaces they deserve.

As in point one, we talk about bringing secondary dwelling units online, which would benefit both the owner of the property and a tenant. As interest rates climb, many owners could benefit from the additional income generated by a secondary unit.

Specifically in Ward 13, I see there to be a benefit with converted dwellings. Much of the housing in this Ward has been set up for student housing: five-bedroom, five-bathroom units owned by a corporation out of Toronto. I’d like to see some of these properties be converted to senior living spaces. Bringing four seniors together, each with their own bedroom and washroom with a connected living space. Use the fifth bedroom for a student who can be supportive with things such as snow removal, groceries, and getting to appointments. Many of these cannot be properly converted back to a single-family home, so let’s put them to a different use.

We need to increase our inventory. Right now, we are well under 1% vacancy and that will not change any time soon. We must increase our inventory here in the city to meet the growing needs of the largest urban center in Southwestern Ontario. Lack of available inventory is the number one reason that rental units are getting multiple offers. Lack of inventory is one of the top five reasons students leave London following post-secondary education. And yet, we can’t agree on whether we have a housing crisis.

In this economy, it will be extremely difficult to build affordable housing in new builds. Some is a decade away, and others will never be built. We must also agree that a decade from now, housing may well not be our biggest issue. The Council voted in back in October of 2018 never predicted a pandemic in this term. We need to make changes today; right now.

Q.4: London is in the process of building three legs of bus rapid transit, but challenges remain for the north and west end of the city. What is your vision for the next phase of public transit in the city?

Finally, a bit of a shorter answer! I feel the west leg of the BRT should move forward in some capacity as we are building a transit village at the corner of Wonderland and Oxford. So, we will need to look at how we connect to that over the next term of Council. The larger one for me is the north south corridor. I have strongly believed that the north corridor should have run along Wharncliffe Road. Not that I’m an engineer, but Wharncliffe made good sense to me. I also don’t believe it’s the city’s responsibility to move buses through Western Campus. I believe that falls to Western to come up with some form of transit option that moves students through its campus.

As for the future of transit, I’m looking to connect communities. We are a regional transit hub, and we need to define what that means and how we can benefit. Connecting our regional neighbours through a transit system only makes sense. It can get Londoners to jobs in Strathroy, St. Thomas and Woodstock. It can expand our housing opportunities, allowing people the opportunity to live close by without the need for a vehicle. Most importantly it creates better community in Southwestern Ontario. We can and should lead the way, with all roads leading to London, Ontario.

Q.5: What is your vision for London in the next 10 years and how do we get there?

I see London asserting itself as the regional leader in Southwestern Ontario. In ten years, we will be a city of half a million people. For me, I see us taking our place as the largest urban center in Southwestern Ontario and flexing that muscle when necessary to get what we want.

I see us with a thriving downtown, housing over 20,000 residents screaming for unique retail options. I see those residents revitalizing a new type of commercial district with smaller footprints and flex hours. I see a Western and Fanshawe presence in our core that rivals Kingston in terms of creating a vital lifestyle for students to play, live and work in our downtown. I see the addition of an amphitheater and thriving Music District. I see a grocery store in our Downtown. If our core is successful, our city is successful.

Ward 13 will become the quintessential walkable community. Everything within your fingertips, and no more than a 15-minute walk. As we all know, the least expensive mode of transport is your own two feet. It also is the healthiest and best from a carbon neutral perspective. We need to build our future on creating spaces where people can play, live and work within their community. That will be key on the revitalization of our downtown.

Within our surrounding neighbourhoods, I see a mixture of old and new. A connective cycling infrastructure that meanders off the TVP into surrounding communities. I see community hubs, both indoor and outdoor that embrace community, building on a strong need to work together to form solutions. When you wander into areas such as Piccadilly, we see thriving coffee shops that represent community hubs where neighbours engage. We need these in all communities.

I see regional transit thriving to connect the corridors that strengthen communities. I see us focusing on a north south corridor that runs from Arva south, possibly light rail along Wharncliffe road that will connect us in ways that can change the view of what London can really become.

We can and must stop looking at ourselves as a town and start seeing ourselves as a city. We are London, Ontario: unapologetic, proud, vibrant – no excuses.

John Fyfe-Millar

About

Candidate for London City Councillor Ward 13, Community Champion, Entrepreneur, Listener, Family Man, Believer, Londoner to the Core – Let's talk about tomorrow