EloraFergusToday asked candidates in the upcoming municipal election to tell us a little bit about themselves and their platform.
Name: Bronwynne Wilton
Occupation: Business Owner and lead consultant of Wilton Consulting Group (WCG). WCG offers research and insights, stakeholder engagement, knowledge mobilization, and facilitation services to a broad range of clients in the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector. In my role of business owner, I manage a small team of highly-skilled professionals as well as all client relationships and business decisions. I plan to bring these entrepreneurial skills (and attitude!) to the Centre Wellington Council table.
How long have you lived in Centre Wellington? 49 years (basically my whole life!)
Do you reside in the ward you are running in? Yes
Why are you running in this election? I am running in this election because I care deeply about this community and I believe I have the right skills, expertise, and collaborative attitude needed to help guide Centre Wellington through a period of growth and change. I would also like to be part of a more progressive and collaborative council that is focused on working towards innovative and cost-effective programs and services for the residents of Centre Wellington. I look forward to bringing a strong voice for agriculture, sustainability, diversity, and active transportation to the table as well.
What qualifies you to represent your ward? I bring a unique combination of education, experience, and a commitment to rural and agricultural issues to represent Ward 5. In terms of education, I have three degrees from the University of Guelph covering subjects such as agriculture, natural resources management, rural planning, environmental and agricultural policies, and sustainable rural communities. I have a strong understanding of provincial and municipal planning policies as well as the importance of working collaboratively with different levels of government.
As principal and lead consultant at my consulting firm, I have conducted multiple studies and provided strategic insight advice to federal, provincial and local agricultural organizations and various levels of government. I have also conducted agriculture and agri-food strategies for municipalities in Ontario. As a lifelong resident of Centre Wellington (the last 12 being in Ward 5), I also bring a deep understanding and commitment to looking at issues from a Township-wide perspective and ensuring that we maintain appropriate levels of services to the more rural parts of the municipality.
Why should people vote for you? People should vote for me because I will bring not only expertise and knowledge to the Council table, but also a creative and collaborative mindset focused on moving Centre Wellington forward towards a vibrant and sustainable future. I am a professional meeting facilitator with experience in guiding groups and committees towards meaningful decision-making.
I have also served on several boards as a volunteer, including Life Sciences Ontario, Centre Wellington Community Foundation, Fergus-Elora District Soccer, Ontario Farmland Trust, and Western Ontario Regional Pony Club. As a result of this experience, I am comfortable with group problem-solving conversations, and I’m willing to ask the difficult questions to ensure we are making the best decisions as possible for residents in Ward 5 and the Township as a whole. I am community-minded and will bring a commitment to work hard for the residents of Ward 5 in an open and transparent manner.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward? I see four main issues facing the residents of Ward 5. The first one is of course infrastructure, namely bridges. Farmers and associated agricultural businesses rely on roads and bridges to move farm equipment from site to site and the long-term closure of bridges in Ward 5 continues to impact farm businesses in our community. The second issue affecting Ward 5 is urban sprawl and the ongoing conversion of prime farmland to urban uses. These new uses will have potential impacts on neighbouring farms, traffic, loss of ecologically-sensitive lands, water quality, and our long-term ability to produce locally-grown food. The third, and equally important, issue for Ward 5 is one I will categorize as ‘green space and connectivity’. Ward 5 has been growing in recent years with new housing north of both Garafraxa and Gordon, and yet, there has been almost no new parkland or trails developed to the east of Gartshore Street. In addition, the lack of safe pedestrian or cycling crossings and routes create a barrier for residents to enjoy accessing the rest of the community. The fourth issue is the ongoing discussion regarding a truck bypass for downtown Fergus and where the eventual route should be located.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Centre Wellington on a broader scale? One of the main issues facing the residents of Centre Wellington is managing the growth that is happening in our community. We know that even with all of the current plans for new housing and employment lands in place that Centre Wellington will continue to grow in the next five to 10 years and beyond. We need to make sure we manage this growth to ensure that we meet the infrastructure and servicing needs of a growing population while also maintaining the unique natural and built heritage that makes CW such a special place to live and work. To accomplish this, I would like to see a greater emphasis on building ‘complete communities’ that reduce the reliance on cars for short trips within town. We should also be focusing as much as possible on developing safe and connected active transportation routes and linear greenspaces throughout CW. Another important issue that we need to keep talking about is diversity, equity, and inclusion. As our community grows, our demographics will change and we need to be proactive about making sure that everyone feels a sense of safety, belonging and well-being here in CW.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Centre Wellington? First of all, Centre Wellington is an amazing place so I wouldn’t want to change the community itself, however, I do see an opportunity to shift our governance approach to one that is more progressive and focused on sustainability and collaboration. The past four years in particular has seen Council struggle within a very divisive and combative approach to decision-making. This needs to change. The Mayor and Councillors all need to come to the table ready to listen, learn, and work together to make thoughtful and well-informed decisions that support timely, efficient, and meaningful services and programs for all the residents of CW. This also includes working with staff in a respectful and professional manner. I think good governance also includes taking a leadership position on critical issues such as sustainability (economic, social, and environmental). We know that climate change is going to have an increasing impact on our built and natural systems, and municipalities have an important role and responsibility, to be proactive in preparing for climate resiliency. I would like to see this issue brought forward as a core component of our community’s governance model.
What services need to be improved in Centre Wellington?
With our growing population, I see a need for parks and recreation services to be enhanced across the Township. Our two community centres are both in need of upgrades and compared to municipalities of similar populations, are below standard in terms of offering sport, recreation, and lifestyle opportunities for residents of all ages and abilities (e.g. we do not have an indoor walking/running track or outdoor basketball courts). While there have been some new parks built within new subdivisions, there is still a need for more public greenspace in a variety of forms including linear parkways and trails to create more connected and active communities. In addition to trails for cycling and pedestrians, we need to focus more on safe and active transportation options on our streets and bridges as well. Protected bike lanes, paved shoulders, properly designed intersections, and safe crosswalks should all be considered during any infrastructure projects. I am also interested in exploring transit options within Centre Wellington. A public transit system could have multiple benefits in terms of transportation for youth, providing people with an alternative to relying on vehicles, and reducing the amount of cars on our local streets (with the associated climate change and infrastructure cost savings benefits).
Is Centre Wellington growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough? This may be an unpopular opinion but I think Centre Wellington is growing at just about the right amount, not only to meet provincial growth targets, but also to meet local housing demand. That being said, I am concerned that we are not being innovative enough in terms of our approach to growth. What we’ve seen over the past few years is a continuous pattern of low-density, car-dependent subdivisions which are placing increased pressure on our urban boundaries and neighbouring farmland. This type of growth pattern is not sustainable. We need to look at creative and progressive planning policies which could include a ‘countryside line’ such as the one in the Region of Waterloo which limits growth to within current urban boundaries. This would shift our approach to new housing to higher densities with an emphasis on building complete communities with mixed uses (e.g. employment, commercial, and housing) and less dependence on single-vehicle trips for basic needs. We should also be looking at opportunities for infill projects and brownfield redevelopment sites. As CW continues to grow, we need to continuously balance growth with heritage, greenspace, and community inclusion and well-being. This will be a key responsibility of the incoming council this fall.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing? We need to ensure we have a mix of housing options through new development, for example, not all single detached housing. Often referred to as the ‘missing middle’, we need to encourage builders to include a variety of housing types, including midrise apartments, stacked townhouses, etc into their plans. We also need to look at any restrictive zoning policies which may be preventing creative infill projects in existing neighbourhoods. We also need to monitor issues related to short-term vacation rental companies (e.g. Air BnB) to ensure that we do not lose long-term rental options for local residents. Centre Wellington can also explore options to offer more incentives to develop new attainable ownership and rental housing such as deferred development charges, reduced application fees, expedited approval processes, community improvement grants, etc. This process has been started through the Healthy Growth Committee and this work should continue with the new Council.
Do you support building a new $27 million operations centre? There has already been a considerable investment of staff time and Township resources to get to this point and I recognize that there are likely efficiencies to be gained through a consolidated operations centre. Moving forward, we need to ensure that the development of the centre meets the expanding needs of the community as efficiently, safely, and effectively as possible. As I followed the discussions regarding the centre, I was disappointed about the site selection process and the associated loss of agricultural land, especially given the land was outside the urban boundary. I also have concerns regarding the impact of the centre on groundwater given the proximity to sensitive Wellhead Protection Areas (WHPA) for two of our Township’s wells. Based on my understanding, the WHPA designation is in place to protect our valuable drinking water sources from contamination, and as a result, there may be limitations on what uses would be allowed on the site (e.g. road salt storage). The site is also within a sourcewater protection zone for both wells so investing in rainwater capture technologies during the design and construction would be important to explore.
How do we make Centre Wellington an even better place to live? We can make CW an even better place to live by embracing our unique assets which include our agricultural lands, our small-town feel, and our built and natural heritage features, including the Grand River of course. For example, there is an incredible opportunity for downtown Fergus to become a pedestrian-friendly community hub where people could enjoy the riverside parks and trails. But first we need to take meaningful action on a long-term solution to a functional truck bypass to get the heavy trucks out of our downtown core. Another example is our Elora-Cataract trail system which is a very important community asset and should be maintained, enhanced, and wherever possible added to in order to increase opportunities for linear parkways and active transportation routes throughout Centre Wellington. We also need to continuously work on ensuring our medical and healthcare system meets the needs of our residents. This includes supporting the development of a hospice within our community. With a focus on a forward-thinking, inclusive, and progressive approach to growth and services, we can continue to make this community a wonderful place to live, work, and play.
Any link to an election website or social media account?