See below for accompanying cover notes*

GUFF Election 2014 Candidate Questions

  1. GUFF is very happy that our new Forestry Manager is hired and running his department. But, the department does not have the full complement of staff. Our forest is both growing and aging at a greater pace, placing more demands on the department. Will you support full funding for the Urban Forest Management Plan and the Arborist Crew in the next budget cycle? Why or why not.

I will support full funding in the short term. Guelph has budgeted $400K-$500K for forestry capital needs in 2015-2023 and $148K-$164K for staff during the same period.  No doubt more must be done.  If my plan to move transportation services off the tax-supported budget succeeds over the next four years, more forestry staff would be able to be hired and those working on street trees (see photo) would be able to invoice GT for services rendered. This would bring in more revenue for tree services and personnel.

  1. Shade is important for reducing the heat island effect and for reducing the risk of skin cancer. Will you support and advocate for establishing a shade policy which would set goals for shade coverage along streets/sidewalks, in parking lots and in parks? Why or why not.

I will support a shade policy.  Along with the benefits you mention, shade trees on streets provide a much nicer walking/cycling environment/micro climate.  As part of my transportation policy changes, I am calling for road diets (RDs) instead of road widenings and extensions.  Not only will RDs provide safer trips for road users of all ages, they will ensure that existing trees located in corridors are not cut down and paved over with more asphalt – and  freeing up funds for more tree planting along our roads, too.

  1. There is currently no recognition or protection of trees that are exceptionally large, old or have a significant history in the City. Will you support and advocate designating and protecting Heritage Trees? Why or why not.

I will support Heritage Tree designations with the caveat that we must also plant trees now to replace our older trees.  Criteria would have to be set in order to designate the trees properly and a website would have to be maintained so residents know where the trees are located, their history, value, etc.  I think this would be an excellent project for GUFF to oversee!

  1. The City has begun an inventory of trees in our urban forest (species, size, health, etc.), but trees are not given value as “assets” or “green infrastructure.” Will you support and advocate for a comprehensive inventory of trees in the City that assigns a dollar value to the trees (using currently available computer programs that compute the dollar value of ecological services provided by trees)? This value would then be used in the assessment of the cost of proposed city projects. Why or why not.

It makes good sense to combine the city’s tree inventory work with costing their value — and designating “heritage trees”.  A 2012 AECOM report valued Guelph’s gray infrastructure so there is no reason why we can’t do this with our trees and other green infrastructure. As with the Heritage Tree work, it would be great to have GUFF and other residents involved in this work.

  1. City Council passed a tree by-law in 2010 which requires permits for removing large trees on properties over half an acre in size (.2 ha). This tree by-law only covers about 6% of privately owned properties within the City. It does not cover city trees, institutional trees or the trees on small private properties where the majority of our urban forest exists. Will you support and advocate for expanding the existing tree by-law to cover all private properties in Guelph? Why or why not.

I would work with GUFF, councillors and residents to advocate for a much improved tree by-law – perhaps using Toronto’s by-law as a guide (trees that are greater than 30 cm. in diameter at chest level requires a permit to be cut down).  However, since a by-law may be difficult to enforce, I believe that education may be even more important.  Property owners must be informed that trees add 15-25% value to a home, reduce hydro bills, provide shade and windbreaks.  Backyards are another issue — has GUFF considered programs such as LEAF’s backyard tree planting program?

  1. Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) infestation is now eating its way through our ash trees.  The ash inventory is almost complete and an EAB plan has been adopted by council.   Do you support full flexible funding for this initiative so the amount of money needed for  injecting, removing and replanting is available as needed in a timely manner?  Why or why not.

I am aghast at how fast the EAB is moving across Southern Ontario so would certainly support the funding that is needed to eradicate it.  However, as with other worthwhile tree projects you are suggesting, I don’t think the City on its own can do the job.  We must work with other municipalities, upper levels of governments, business and academia to stop EAB migration.  That being said, according to the city, between $5 and $10 million is required to eradicate EABs.  That is less than the cost of reconstructing 2 km of roads (Stone Road and Speedvale).  If we implement the “bold” transportation policy idea I mentioned in my introduction above, we will easily free up the funds required to stop EAB infestation.

*NOTES

Dear GUFF Steering Committee and Supporters:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to your Election 2014 Candidate Questions – especially during National Forestry Week!  As a transportation planner with an environmental studies degree and long history of NGO experience (including the Nature Conservancy of Canada), I applaud and support the important work that you are doing for Guelph’s trees and quality of life.  As you well know, trees provide numerous benefits that are taken for granted.  I’m not sure that John Galt’s first act of chopping down a maple tree in 1827 put us on the right course in Guelph – but such is the case with all the life-supporting services that Mother Nature provides us for free…

Before I get to your questions (see below my signature), I wanted to mention that, if elected councillor in Ward 2, I will look at all city issues and priorities through a sustainability lens – economically, environmentally and socially.  And this is exactly how I will consider issues relating to the care of our existing trees and growing our canopy – but I must work with other council members who may have different priorities. So, though the city has a policy to “maintain Guelph’s urban forest year-round, including street and park trees, and City-owned wood lots”, council must constantly balance the services that are important to residents and the future of the city against the costs – especially now when tax is considered a 4-letter word.  In the end, a shell game takes place where special interests within city hall and external to it get the most attention.  I believe that our taxes must support services (like trees and city parks) that cannot, for the most part, be paid for through user fees.  User fees should be used to manage demand for infrastructure, especially those that negatively impact our environment, social programs and long term economic and budgetary needs.

With this in mind, transportation services could and should be paid entirely by user fees.  One of the “Four Bold Ideas” I’m proposing as part of my election platform is to move all transportation operating and capital needs off the tax supported budget so responsible staff are relocated to a new Guelph Transport (GT) agency within Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI).  As Guelph Hydro does with hydro metering, GT staff would cover their costs through city wide mobility pricing (tolls, parking fees, transit fares) and other taxes (e.g. vehicle registration and wheelage fees).  Over time, this reorganization could free up almost $50 million annually (20% of budget) for trees and other green infrastructure — as well as important social and economic programs that currently have little or no funding.  Due to lower demand, this governance and payment change will also reduce the need for more gray infrastructure (due to less people driving and more people using transit/active transportation or teleworking) – and more land for trees and parks. It will also allow the city to leverage new found funds by applying for other grants from upper levels of government as well as foundations and corporations. 

I do not think that Guelph council and staff alone can take care of our tree canopy.  Indeed, citizens and stakeholders across the city should literally take ownership of our trees and public spaces!  Another of my “Bold Ideas” is to have regular meetings in Ward 2 so that more residents and businesses can become active in the roll out of great ideas like the ones GUFF is suggesting.  For further information, please visit my website at www.martincollier.ca or contact me at 519-826-0277.