London Votes 2010 Part II – Joe Fontana

Interview with Mayoral Candidate Joe Fontana

As promised, I present part two of the City Mom London Votes series. I was given a unique opportunity to sit down with Joe Fontana to discuss his mayoral campaign. I asked Mr. Fontana to summarize his 2010 campaign where he outlined five key components of his platform:

  • Taxes
  • Opportunities for Families
  • Openness & Accountability
  • Recreational Facilities
  • Transportation

 I also questioned Mr. Fontana on issues relevant to City Mom and its readers:

City Mom:  Can you share a summary of what your 2010 campaign platform will include? 

Joe Fontana:  I’ve spoken a lot about taxes:  I think it is essential that the people who want to come to London, stay in London and that it’s affordable for people to stay here.  Tax increases of 40 or 50 percent in the last number of years and projected to do the same, I don’t think is the way to go.  We need to make sure that London is an attractive place in terms of taxes so that seniors, families, and new families starting off can afford to live here.  As someone who has been involved in the federal government or even the private sector, I know there are ways of making sure that we don’t waste money and that we spend on the proper things and that we are focused on getting true value for every tax dollar.  So the primary plank is making sure that we’ve got affordable taxes and I’ve proposed a tax freeze which is doable without giving up the core services that we want in all of our neighbourhoods, including the downtown. 

Secondly, I think it’s important for London to be a future for young families so that children can be here, stay here, and work here, therefore we need to make sure that there are jobs and opportunities and we’re keeping businesses here.  We need to make sure that we’re attracting opportunities to London so that our kids don’t have to move away.  A vibrant community needs to be made up of families, seniors, young people and therefore it’s important for us to make sure the opportunities are here and we are not forcing people to make choices elsewhere.

Thirdly I believe in openness and accountability in municipal government which means that everything we do needs to be open and transparent and we have to be held accountable each and every day.  I intend to open up the system much more than it is. 

The fourth part involves  making sure that we have recreational facilities and activities for families to do and making sure that in every part of the city that we have those kinds of facilities; cultural facilities, recreational facilities and things for young people to do to keep active.

Lastly, it is important to have an efficient transportation system so that people can get around the city in the most efficient way. If that’s by car we need to make sure that our road network works really well but also equally promote public transit so that at least everyone rides the bus, as I have tried to do on an ongoing basis.  Those are essentially the planks in my platform.

CM:  I read today that you stated that if you were to become London’s next mayor you are only going to stay in office for one four-year term.  Why is that?

JF:  It’s funny to be discussing [before I am elected] how long I am going to stay because most politicians who run for office say ‘I’m going to do a job for the term and then I will see a little later how it’s going.’  I am so committed to making sure that the city  moves in the right direction that I want to be totally preoccupied in the four years, day and night, to get the job done and not necessarily think about ‘what if I do this and I’m not going to get the votes’ I want to do what’s necessary, work with the right people to get the work done in four years.  I’ve said that’s my personal goal and I’ve always tried to operate personally business and politics is to say I’ve got some objectives.  I’ve got a target and I’m determined to get it done and then in four years from now, let’s see, but I don’t mind telling people I want to do this and if I can get it all done in one term then I believe in renewal.  I believe in new people coming forward and getting new fresh ideas as to where the city needs to go into the future.

CM:  I often enjoy walks throughout the downtown core with my husband and daughter, but we always stay away from Dundas Street, between Ridout St. and Wellington St.  I have seen plans for revitalization of that area such as the LTC pilot project to reroute bus service, and the attempts to fill retail space with national chains and large independent businesses.  What else are you planning to carry out to bring that section of downtown back to life and make it a family friendly place? 

JF:  The viability of downtown is directly dependant on there being a significant residential component.  That is very important because if you are going to have a vibrant downtown commercially then you must have people living downtown, so I think that is absolutely essential and having families downtown is even that much more important.  We need to make sure our downtown is clean, secure and safe for everyone and we need to make sure that more residential development can occur and that is why I will devote quite a bit of attention to building a viable downtown.

We’ve invested 100 million dollars in public infrastructure; libraries, the JLC and a number of other things.  Now we’ve got to get a lot more of the private sector to come forward to build more residential and to build more convenient commercial so the downtown people can go to a grocery store, can get what they want.  To build those recreational facilities downtown, public/private partnerships can help us achieve that.  I would also like to see a vibrant downtown  and we need to fill those vacant spaces with new businesses; new entrepreneurs. We need to look at the cultural district.  Look at boutique studios for the artists.  I think we can create a people friendly city  and make sure that the entire downtown is open for people where we create a nice promenade where people can enjoy downtown free of cars and that we have bands, music, cafe’s and make them family friendly.  We need to create that sort of dynamic downtown atmosphere, that’s safe, that’s secure and that’s exciting and make it possible for more and more people to come downtown and help us develop downtown.

CM:  There are many wonderful parks in the downtown area.  A new recreational swimming pool was opened in Gibbons Park this summer and the revitalization of Piccadilly Park is taking place.  What other Parks & Recreation enhancements will you schedule for the downtown core for 2011 and on? 

JF:  I think we’ve got to build on the existing foundation.  Good parks and facilities that will accommodate a young family. In terms of pools and recreation, I think we can do a lot more.  I think that because in the past the downtown has not had an awful lot of residential they haven’t had the opportunity to bring additional services downtown.  I think we ought to take a look at the assets we have in terms of the schools that are available with their gymnasiums and other assets to see how we can work with the Board of Education to use all of those great assets with the purpose of helping young kids, teenagers and families,  I am determined to continue to enhance the availability of those kinds of recreational, family friendly services in the downtown core.

CM:  When you speak about freezing taxes; those are the funds that pay for a lot of the programs you just mentioned, so in terms of the Parks & Recreation budget, would we see it remain the same as we have seen it in the past?

JF:  Yes…what I’ve talked about is not cutting services.  Keeping the same level of services but within every part of the budget one has to look for opportunities.  In fact I would be in favour of more Parks & Recreation expenditures and cultural things that we can do downtown.  When you structure a budget you need to make choices about what you can afford and can’t afford; what’s important and what’s not important.  Essentially it’s a billion dollar budget.  A lot of it is capital that we spend on facilities and the other part is operational and within those operating cost I want to get the most bang for the buck.  That means not having a lot of administration and not paying for a lot of City Hall managers and making sure that we are getting the services to the people.  For example:  in terms of neighbourhoods and families, there’s an organizational chart that has twenty-nine managers.  I have talked to a lot of not-for-profit groups and they say they spend most of their time answering questions to twenty-nine different people and if they could just be allowed to do their work [serving children] like the Boys & Girls Club as opposed to having to fill out paper work and that sort of thing.  I think we have become so bureaucratic, so administrative that we’ve lost sight of what the purpose is.  We need to make sure that we get every dollar in the budget to go to the purpose that it was meant for.  I want to eliminate a lot of those administrative costs and give more of that money to the city. 

CM:  Citi Plaza (formerly Galleria) has seemed to struggle for years now.  Do you have any long-term plans for Citi Plaza?

JF:  We need to get back to the notion that downtown can be vibrant if in fact you look at ways of providing incentives to new, independent businesses to start-up.  It’s not only about Citi Plaza but how we can look at all of our commercial and institutional spaces; because let’s face it, we’ve get fifteen to twenty thousand people who work downtown but a lot of them leave after that and never come back to downtown unless there is an attraction like we had in the summer.  I think we have to make sure it [downtown] has a lot of activities permanently and commercially too.  We have to look at second and third story buildings in our core and provide incentives to turn them into residential spaces or boutique studios etc.  It’s about the whole of downtown and Citi Plaza is just one component.  Of course it has gone through a big change as it started off as a big mall and sucked all the independent businesses off Dundas Street and then all of a sudden it was not viable for all of those independent businesses.  I am happy to see that there’s been some movement on Dundas Street in terms of businesses.  What is unique about downtown is that you don’t find the kinds of shops that you would find in Masonville, Westmount and Whiteoaks. That is the beauty of a downtown; it usually brings independent entrepreneurs that are a bit different from the national stores that you would see in a mall. 

CM:  Is there a possibility that we will see a big chain grocery store moving in to make it more convenient for families and individuals living in the downtown core?

 JF:  I hope so.  People in the downtown have been waiting a long time for a grocery store.  That is why I believe in Public/Private partnerships.  The city should  encourage and incentivize the private sector to build that grocery store so the people will have the services that they want.  I think that we can do that with Public/Private partnerships.  Obviously the city can’t build a grocery store but we can make it attractive enough for a chain to come downtown and help service the increasing number of people who are living there. 

CM:  I recently created a post on City Mom called A Tale of Two Cities where I made a comparison between London and Toronto.  I received feedback from my London readers that they felt there was a lack of Mom & Tot programs available in the city.  Do you have plans to increase city funding for such programs or offer incentives to private businesses wishing to open such programs in the downtown core?  

JF:  Absolutely; and throughout the entire city.  Again if we want to attract families and people downtown we need to make sure there are daycare facilities, recreational facilities and cultural facilities that are family friendly and therefore will be an attraction.  Again with encouragements, incentives and the city taking leadership by saying these are the kinds of things that we need downtown, so how can we make that happen?  Bring the people together, let’s decide what it is we want to create downtown and let’s set down that path of an incredible exciting, creative, safe and secure downtown.

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So there you have it London.  Stay tuned for the third part of London Votes 2010 where I will share my interview with London’s Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best.

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