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Building walkable, sustainable neighbourhoods will ensure Cambridge thrives, says regional candidate

'I am very proud to be part of a community where so many people care so much and so deeply for their communities,' says regional council candidate Bobbi Stewart
Bobbi Stewart is a candidate for regional council.

Bobbi Stewart

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired Social Worker


How long have you lived in Cambridge/Waterloo Region?

I have lived in the Preston part of Cambridge for fifteen and a half years. I moved here from Guelph where I had lived since 1972.

Why are you running in this election?

I live in and love the City of Cambridge. I want to serve the people in Cambridge and all of Waterloo region. I want to use my skills and experience to this purpose and regional politics is of great interest to me. I have been following regional council meetings over past months and am very interested and supportive in the recently passed Strategic Plan to 2051 and plan to aid our homeless. I am a fresh face with extensive experience in community and collaboration. I have great energy and am all about health and wellbeing.

What qualifies you to represent the city at regional council?

When I look back at my professional career I see that my experience, both paid and volunteer, fits very well with the kind of team – work needed for municipal politicians. I am all about health and well - being, community and collaboration and I view everything through the lens of social justice and the environment. I am a fresh face in municipal politics, a good listener and I believe strongly in the importance of direct conversations in order to make the best things happen.

Why should people vote for you?

I’d like to think people should vote for me for all of the reasons listed above. I will add that I am an optimistic person. In these very difficult times with the increased polarization we see between people of different experiences and world views, I believe that an open, non-reactive, non-judgmental attitude is very important for all of us, but particularly for those in public office.

I see people’s strengths first, rather than their faults or weaknesses. I love people, to listen to them and to hear their personal stories. As a Regional Councillor representing Cambridge, I will seek input from constituents and do the necessary research to help me make what I believe are wise decisions. I will then network and collaborate with my colleagues at the regional council table.

What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the Region of Waterloo?

I see key issues for the residents of Waterloo Region as the opioid crisis, mental health, homelessness and affordability including the need for affordable housing.
It’s important for people to know and understand that people who use drugs often use them because they have been traumatized at some point in their lives, often in early childhood. They use substances to give themselves respite from the pain. Then, for many, they become addicted and their lives are changed forever. Add job loss, poverty, homelessness and further trauma and loss to the mix and we have people among us who are really struggling.

We need better access to mental health services and we need more services so that people don’t have to wait months for service. If a person is in a mental health crisis, they need help immediately and to start their follow up treatment as soon to as possible. When someone survives a drug overdose, the same applies in terms of follow up and treatment.

Affordability is an issue for many, especially those working in low – wage jobs. The cost of food has risen greatly during COVID. Rents are way up, as is the cost of home ownership.

What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Cambridge/the Region of Waterloo on a broader scale?

On a broader scale, the effects of the both COVID and the climate crisis are monumental. The price of gas has risen significantly. Food is less available and more expensive to transport. We have witnessed bare shelves in the grocery stores and the quality of produce has decreased. Travel costs are up, affecting people’s daily lives in terms of business, family and recreation.

Residents have lost work due to COVID and Federal and Provincial supports have helped, but for many not nearly enough. More people live in poverty and this affects all aspects of their lives, including family relationships. People are divided in terms of their approach to COVID mandates.

Our health care system is in peril with a shortage of healthcare professionals and people are dying.

As more people move into the Region, we need to provide housing, but with minimal disruption to the environment. As outlined in the recently passed Regional Strategic Plan to 2051, we must build walkable sustainable neighbourhoods to minimize gas emissions. We need to make the best use of our revised transit system with ION express buses and LRT. As a society we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, walk and bicycle more.

What is the most important thing you want to see changed at the regional level to have a positive impact on Cambridge?

We need solutions to homelessness, the opioid crisis, and increased affordability for all and to build more affordable housing; however I will speak here about the opioid crisis, increased affordability and affordable housing.

The Aids Committee of Waterloo Region (ACCKWA), and the Sanguen Health Centre offer support services for those addicted to drugs, including providing safe supply. We must continue to invest in the human and financial resources necessary to maintain and grow programs. We must improve access to mental health services so that people don’t have to wait months for service.

Through recent Federal government support, affordable housing is currently under construction at 195 Hespeler Road. Housing Cambridge is working with the New Horizon Development Group on the project, one of two apartment buildings at the site of the former Satelite Motel.

When developers spoke to the Strategic Plan 2015, a shortage of three and four bedroom apartments was lacking in the plan. Although there will be a combination of housing styles, including single – family homes, many families will live in apartments. We need to make sure that there are enough larger apartments to meet the needs of families.

What services need to be improved at the region?

People are at great risk currently with the shortage of health care services and professionals. There are insufficient ambulance and paramedic services available and people are at risk of dying. Nurses and other front – line workers are feeling burned out, especially as a direct result of COVID. We need to find ways to recruit, support and maintain our health care workers. One such solution is advocacy to the federal government regarding professionals from other countries who have not been authorized to practice in Canada.

We need convenient, accessible transit to help people move around the Region and to reduce the negative climate effects of urban sprawl. Residents of Cambridge can travel via ION buses and it expected this will move to Light Rail Transit (LRT) by 2032. The use of Ainslie Street in downtown Galt by the ION is not only problematic, but downright dangerous. We must ensure an appropriate bypass for the trucks on Ainslie as soon as possible.

We do have regular GO buses from Cambridge to Toronto, but this is also needed between Cambridge and Hamilton. People have been complaining about the lack of quick and convenient travel to Hamilton for decades and it’s clearly time to act.

Is Cambridge/the Region of Waterloo growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough?

I believe the speed and amount of growth is about right. I have observed closely over the past few months as The Region of Waterloo staff and councillors worked on The Region’s Strategic Plan to 2051. The goal was to build enough housing for the expected influx of new population over the next 30 years, but to do this with minimal use of agricultural land. Many individuals and groups presented their detailed, informed perspective and all are to be commended for their

I am very proud to be part of a community where so many people care so much and so deeply for their communities. The end result is a vibrant, balanced Strategic Plan which offers a mixture of housing, walkable communities and where a minimal amount of farmland will be lost to development.

Elected or not, I will watch closely as housing is built and will raise my concerns when I see something that is not in keeping with this plan. I will watch to see that the environment is protected and that everyone, regardless of their income, ethnicity or sexual identity has the opportunity to success and to thrive.

What can be done about the rising cost of housing?

We need to advocate to the federal and provincial governments for assistance as municipal governments cannot provide this on their own.

As part of an Affordability Plan, the federal government will offer eligible low-income renters a one-time payment of $500 in 2022. As many as one million Canadians who are "struggling with the cost of housing" are expected to receive the money. This is, of course, a good start, but more must be done to assist renters. This includes the challenge of building a variety of affordable housing and could include cooperative and geared-to-income rent.

Housing prices have been increasing for many years; however wages have not. The banks have allowed people to take out mortgages for more than they can afford. People from large cities such as Toronto choose to live in Waterloo Region and because they can afford to pay higher mortgages than those of us who live here, they do, and the overall prices have continued to rise.

The Central Bank has recently raised the interest rate to help lower inflation The housing bubble is starting to settle and the price of buying a home has declined approximately $200,000, but the prospect of purchasing a home is still a pipe dream for many.

What can be done locally about the homelessness issue?

I observed on August 11 as regional council approved as a series of measures to help ease the growing homelessness crisis. This included a first-ever decision to permit an encampment.

The new plan has four major components: expanding the transitional housing program, expanding home-based supports to help people find and pay for affordable housing, creating an additional emergency shelter space and the first ever decision to permit an encampment.

I was pleased to see this plan evolve and am fully supportive. Elected or not, I will keep my eye on what happens to make sure that it does.

Having said that, the biggest challenge will be the need for funding and to support the plan without raising taxes, or at least without raising them more than the rate of inflation. We will need to reach out to the provincial and federal governments and to push until we get what we need. I will take leadership in this advocacy and also to ensure that the good work of community groups such as The House of Friendship, ACCKWA, Sanguen Healthier Centre and The Bridges receive the resources they need to provide these services to those at greatest need in our communities.

How do we make the Region of Waterloo/Cambridge an even better place to live in?

I view this as more than what we can ask our politicians to do in terms of organized programs and policy. I view it as more grassroots, where everything good begins. It’s about our world view, communication and how we treat each other.

We can start by being kind to each other. We can enjoy communication with others through social media, but pause and reflect before responding reactively or judging. We can do the same when communicating through the telephone or face to face.

In some neighbourhoods, it’s common for people to speak to their neighbours. In others, not as much. The more we give in our relationships with others, as with life overall, the more get. Communicate with your neighbours and if you think they need a helping hand, I say go for it. Join interest, advocacy or political groups. It’s a great way to make new friends, learn new skills and find a real sense of community.

If you haven’t tried this already, delegate at city and regional council meetings to have your say regarding important policies that affect you, your family and the wellbeing of all.

To learn more about Bobbi, visit the following links: