Elizabeth Clarke is a Region of Waterloo Councillor Candidate. Elizabeth is the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo YWCA and a current Kitchener Councillor for the Region of Waterloo. She has worked for 30 years as a social worker and social work manager and administrator and has spent her career in the not-for-profit sector.
Why did you decide to run?
When I first ran for election in 2014, it was with four goals: relieving and reducing poverty, creating a livable and sustainable community, and strengthening the local economy, while using tax dollars effectively. I believe that the Region of Waterloo has made progress on all those goals during my term, and I’m proud of the role I’ve played. However, we still have much to accomplish. I believe my track record demonstrates that I have the experience, the qualifications and the commitment to help guide the Region through these challenges.
What is your favourite thing to do in your community?
I’m the CEO of the Kitchener-Waterloo YWCA and a current Kitchener Councillor for the Region of Waterloo. I’ve served on many volunteer committees and boards in our region. In addition to various standing and ad hoc committees of Council, I chair the Region of Waterloo's Heritage Planning Advisory Committee and am a member of the Grand River Conservation Authority Board of Directors. I’m serving a third term on the City of Kitchener's Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee. I’m a member of Zonta Kitchener-Waterloo, an organization of professional women, supporting women locally and internationally through service and advocacy.
Tell us about the greatest challenges your community faces?
The Region of Waterloo is facing an opioid crisis which took 85 lives in 2017. Occupancy in our homeless shelters exploded over the fall and winter of 2017 and 2018, and the number of households on our affordable housing waitlist has continued to climb. More people rely on Ontario Works, and almost 35,000 families had to access food banks last year. The recent change in the Ontario government may put some of our previous funding agreements and future plans – for more affordable housing, childcare expansion and fee reductions, public transit and cycling infrastructure, among other things – in jeopardy.
What would you do to improve women's health in your community?
Like other large communities across Canada, our region is in the grip of an opioid epidemic. Opioid deaths have tripled in the past three years, with 85 lives lost to overdose in 2017 alone. Offering supervised consumption sites and other harm reduction services to save the lives of women who use opioids and other dangerous substances must be a priority of Council in the coming term and in the future.
Supervised consumption services (SCS) provide safe places for people who use dangerous drugs to do so under medical supervision, and they also provide primary health care and referral to addiction treatment, among other supports. In early 2018, following the completion and recommendations of a feasibility study, Council made the decision to open sites in the two areas of the region with the highest numbers of overdoses – south Cambridge and central Kitchener. At the time of Council’s decision, Provincial funding for SCSs had been committed, however, the new Provincial government has now indicated that it may not support them. Strong political opposition to the establishment of a south Cambridge site may also prove a barrier. Council will need to be resolute and prepared to fund the SCS sites with no Provincial support if it is to overcome these barriers and proceed with this controversial but critically important program.
What would you do to improve women's economic security in your community?
The average woman working full time in Waterloo Region earns 74% of the average man’s income. One of the factors limiting women’s ability to participate fully in the workforce, and to pursue opportunities for advancement, is their greater responsibility for child care. During my term on Council, Waterloo Region has increased the number of licensed child care spaces by 8.4%, and has made childcare more affordable by reducing fees, however, many women continue to face challenges finding available, affordable, quality care for their children.
The new Ontario government has already announced its intention to offer tax rebates to parents, instead of providing capital grants to build new child care spaces. And it is opening up the sector to for-profit child care providers, which typically pay staff lower wages and charge higher fees. These policies threaten the availability, the affordability and the quality of childcare in the province and in the Region of Waterloo. In its coming term, Council must make it a priority to preserve our licensed, not-for-profit child care system, and to build upon the gains we have made.
What would you do to improve women's safety in your community?
Women’s housing instability and lack of safety are inextricably linked. In 2017, our Region's homeless shelters served 845 women, with 130 of those women being mothers with dependent children. Police and municipal bylaw officials report that there are more women sleeping rough in our community in the summer of 2018 than in previous years. During the past term of Council, I served on the Waterloo Region Housing Master Plan Steering Committee, and pending approval by Council later this fall, the committee’s plan to redevelop under-utilized Region-owned properties to add new housing units will begin in 2019.
In addition to increasing the amount of affordable housing in the Region’s own portfolio, Council must continue to financially incent and support the creation of new affordable housing by not-for-profit and for-profit housing providers, using tools that include development charge grants and forgivable loans. However, the cost of constructing affordable housing averages roughly $200,000 per unit, not including the price of land. It would require in the area of a billion dollars to build enough housing just to clear the current waitlist and would take many years. But the need is urgent, so the Region must also adopt innovative and more immediate means to secure affordable and supportive housing for our most vulnerable residents.
Early in 2018, Council endorsed a plan to end ‘functional homelessness’ by July 2020 and approved more than $3 million in annual spending in order to achieve that goal. This plan provides households who have been chronically homeless with assistance in finding and maintaining housing in the private rental market, using portable rent supplements and home-based supports. It’s an extremely ambitious plan, and concerted effort and continued funding over the next term of Council will be essential to its success.