Peterborough Currents

Peterborough Currents

We are Peterborough Currents — an independent news website reporting stories with rigour and empathy. We’re powered by our community, and we’re committed to producing journalism that deepens our understanding of this city and connects us with our neighbours. Led by co-publishers Will Pearson and Ayesha Barmania.

All Episodes

With less than a week to go until the 2021 federal election, housing continues to be one of the most important issues facing Canada. And it’s a key issue in Peterborough, too. According to United Way Peterborough, average rents have risen so much recently that there are no longer any types of apartment in the city which are affordable to someone who makes $30,000 per year. Meanwhile, the local hot housing market is pushing renters out of their homes and the City of Peterborough has measured a 20 percent increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the first six months of 2021. With this in mind, Peterborough Currents co-publisher Will Pearson sat down with the local candidates for the Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic parties to learn how they understand the housing crisis and what new measures they’re proposing to get more affordable housing built in Peterborough.

Sep 15

49 min 38 sec

Election Day is a matter of days away, and to help you make an informed decision about who to vote for, Peterborough Currents has interviewed all six candidates running for Peterborough–Kawartha in the 2021 federal election.We asked each candidate to introduce themselves, why they're running for office and what are the key takeaways from their platform. Take a listen and meet the candidates who want to represent our community at the federal level.Candidate interviews begin at the following timecodes:01:24 Robert Bowers, Independent candidate09:40 Michelle Ferreri, Conservative Party of Canada candidate17:07 Joy Lachica, New Democratic Party candidate26:27 Paul Lawton, People’s Party of Canada candidate35:52 Maryam Monsef, Liberal Party of Canada candidate44:18 Chanté White, Green Party of Canada candidateCreditsInterviews by Ayesha Barmania and Will PearsonEditing and production support by Leina Amatsuji-BerryHosting and audio mixing by Ayesha BarmaniaMusic courtesy of Erika Nininger, find her music on Bandcamp.Support our workThis reporting comes to you from Peterborough Currents, a reader-supported and independent journalism outlet serving the Peterborough community. You can help make more reporting like this happen by becoming a financial backer. Make a donation today.

Sep 9

50 min 58 sec

Peter Williams has a long history doing harm reduction work, though he didn’t necessarily realize it as such at the time, but he notices now looking back on it. “What I know now looking back is that I was doing harm reduction work but that wasn’t necessarily the framework for it,” he says during our conversation for the Neighbours podcast. He started out working with an HIV/AIDS hospice in Toronto during the 1980s, the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and continuing that work as he worked for a number of agencies and then when he came to Peterborough to work at the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN) in 2010 when he was an HIV/AIDS education and harm reduction works coordinator. Right now, Peter is a project lead for the Peterborough Drug Strategy. He coordinates the Housing Unit Takeover project and supports the Mobile Supportive Overdose Resource Team. Before that Peter was the community development and engagement coordinator for the Peterborough Police, and in this role also became the chair of the Peterborough Drug Strategy, which is a collective of community partners focused on addressing the drug crisis. In this position he was one of the early leaders in the push to submit a Consumption and Treatment Site application for Peterborough. In our conversation, Peter talks about this history and how community needs, belonging and connection are at the heart of it all. The Neighbours Podcast is an audio series that introduces you to community members working on the frontline of the opioid crisis here in Peterborough. Episode transcript coming soon.

Apr 9

28 min 57 sec

The Peterborough Drug Strategy was started in 2009 as a way to bring different organizations together to coordinate a joint response to the drug crisis. Today, they’re the name behind the projects making headlines responding to the overdose crisis: from the Consumption and Treatment Services site to the Mobile Supportive Overdose Resource Team and many more. It is an unincorporated collective with four core member organizations that each represent one of the four principles that underlies the group’s approach to drug use: Peterborough Public Health represents prevention; the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN) represents harm reduction; Fourcast represents treatment; and the Peterborough Police represents enforcement. There are also 13 partner organizations that are a range of not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and other bodies that work with or provide services to people who use drugs. The drug strategy coordinator Jessica Penner says that having all of these voices at the table helps to identify the biggest needs in the community and come up with projects to address the gaps between mandates, oftentimes leveraging limited resources in the community to reach ambitious goals. Listen to this edited interview with Penner on what the drug strategy is and how it works. Episode transcript coming soon. (function(d){var s=d.createElement('script');s.type='text/javascript';s.src='';s.async=true;s.dataset.campaign='d34k6edzryd8l8wgvpo9';s.dataset.user='62330';d.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s);})(document);

Mar 24

25 min 38 sec

Patrick Walsh is a local musician and radio show host, making music under the moniker Dirty Pat Walsh. Walsh also experiences chronic pain due to workplace injuries and repetitive stress. It’s a condition he manages with his doctor through prescribed opiates. To kick off season one of the Neighbours podcast, which is looking at the opioid crisis in Peterborough, host Ayesha Barmania interviews Walsh about his story and perspective on the drug crisis. Episode transcript coming soon. (function(d){var s=d.createElement('script');s.type='text/javascript';s.src='';s.async=true;s.dataset.campaign='ndsbpzteh6wnzxpckdza';s.dataset.user='62330';d.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(s);})(document);

Mar 17

26 min 46 sec

On Monday, Peterborough’s city council sat for the last meeting of 2020 and voted to approve the budget documents drafted by city staff with amendments. Peterborough Currents has been covering these deliberations for the past month and in this episode, co-publishers Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson go over the highlights of this meeting so you can hear what happened. Episode transcript Ayesha 0:00 Hey – Ayesha here, before we get into the podcast, I wanted to let you know about something that we’re trying at Peterborough Currents. As we look ahead into 2021, things are still uncertain and 2020 has been a heck of a year for Will and I to try and start a business. And the one thing that we’re realizing is that to become a sustainable operation, we need the financial support from our audience. And that’s why we’re asking folks to support our work for 2021 by becoming monthly sustainers. If you head over to you can sign up to support our work. It really means a lot to us if you’d consider contributing. And thank you! Ayesha 0:45 Hello you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. I’m Ayesha Barmania. This is the final episode of our Budget Week Podcast and to help me wrap up our coverage of the 2021 Budget deliberations, I’m here again with Currents’ co-publisher Will Pearson. Will Pearson 0:55 Hello. Ayesha 0:56 And so today, Will and in this episode, we’re going to go over some of the highlights of the City Council meeting on Monday when council voted to approve the budget documents which we’ve been going into over this series. And before we get into some of the clips we want to play, I just want to say that this was the last City Council meeting of the year, and the budget was just one item on a pretty long agenda and pretty much all of the amendments to the document had been proposed, debated and voted on during the Finance Committee meeting at the end of November, which we covered in episode 5. But there was one thing added at this council meeting but there were also 27 citizen delegations that spoke to council about the budget. And to kick us off, Will, there was one in particular you wanted to talk about. Will Pearson 1:36 Yeah, so I want to bring up a delegation that was delivered by Reverend Brad Smith from St. John’s Anglican Church on Hunter Street. St. John’s runs the One Roof Community Center, which is a meal program and a drop in center for people that are marginalized or homeless in Peterborough. And funding for the One Roof Community Center was always kind of baked into the homelessness budget all along. But it only came up at this last city council meeting because throughout November, there were some negotiations going on about what the service agreement would look like in 2021. And basically what was going on in those negotiations was One Roof was trying to secure some extra municipal funding to make up for a drop in the fundraising that it’s been able to do because of the pandemic. Currently, the City funds One Roof, but with $208,000 a year and the expectation is that they’ll deliver one meal per day, One Roof has been able to fundraise and through its own resources deliver two meals a day as well as additional activities, social supports, and like a community center. And so when One Roof was trying to get more funding so that during the pandemic who could continue to offer that enhanced service, it seems like the city wasn’t interested in increasing its support. And so the recommendation was to hold it steady at $208,000. Despite the fact that there is no increased need, especially for food programs, right now, during the pandemic. Rev. Bradley Smith 2:58 The issue of food and security is not going away. In fact, as we’ve already seen, in the last six months, the number of community members accessing the meal program at One Roof is increasing as people’s financial resources are hit hard by the pandemic. If the city is going to issue a request for proposals for a meal program, it must do so seriously, including a credible amount of funding. Will Pearson 3:23 So that was Brad Smith from St. John’s One Roof had asked for $450,000. So more than double the funding of 2020. They kind of lowered their bid to $375,000 when the city balked at that, but then the city kind of held firm at $208,000. So Reverend Smith, on Monday night, told city council that he signed the agreement, even though he didn’t feel like it was the best thing for the community. Rev. Bradley Smith 3:54 When I was informed that our first and revised proposals would not be accepted and that the City would accept a new one year agreement. I felt compelled to accept the terms. With less than two months left in the current agreement, there wasn’t sufficient time to rebuild One Roof Community Centers model without the City as a partner. So this was the only way to keep the program alive. Otherwise, all of the community members who rely on us for meals would be left with nothing from the first January. Will Pearson 4:23 So Smith was there on Monday night to ask council to reconsider, perhaps up to $375,000 for example. But yeah, city council didn’t accept that suggestion from Reverend Smith. So the result is that there’s only going to be there’s going to continue to be just one meal a day – it’s going to be takeout it’s not gonna be a sit down meal (sit down meals aren’t possible due to the pandemic right now anyway, but presumably, hopefully sometime in 2021 they would be). Yeah, and there’s not going to be social activities unless the church can find more fundraising resources. It’s too bad. I think that the community center is a really important hub for some people in the community, for socializing, and for just being included in the community. So I really hope that the church is able to find those fundraising dollars to be able to continue to offer that community space to folks. Ayesha 5:18 Yeah, absolutely. Will Pearson 5:19 So the other thing that I noticed in the delegations on Monday night was that there were a lot of youth speaking. Can you tell me about what the youth were at City Hall to talk about? Ayesha 5:28 Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So a good chunk of the delegations at the meeting were students from local high schools, particularly grade 11 and 12 [students], from Thomas A Stewart Secondary School and Adam Scott. And some of them spoke to housing, but the majority of them spoke to climate change and wanting to see some more of an investment particularly in climate mitigation projects from Council. So I have a little montage of some of what they had to say. Jasmine Barnes 5:55 Imagine a world filled with empty bellies and diseases sweeping everyone on the streets; storms occurring as frequent snow falling on a cold winter’s day;, sea levels rising and rising, flooding cities, like a braking dam on a river slowly but dangerously; boiling hot days, forcing people to evacuate their homes; deadly heat waves occurring without warning, crops will be dwindling, resulting in 100 more million people to be forced into poverty; water is now something that is prized as we are, we have very little. This is where our future is heading. You have the power to make a difference by putting the City’s money into climate change action. Please choose where your money goes wisely. As I know, nobody wants this to be our future. Thank you. Gabriel Trozzi Stamou 6:44 My name is Gabriel Trozzi Stamou, I’m here to speak on the need for new funding towards climate action as COVID-19 has highlighted the importance for building back better. Currently, there is no money allocated for such new climate mitigation efforts, but rather for things that seek to deal with the effects when they happen, such as flood mitigation, water management, during drought and so on, which are no doubt important, but they don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As global temperature averages are set to rise higher than the worst scenario, two degree increase, youth like myself, will be disproportionately affected by this. I am asking that the council show it is serious about reducing emissions in our city before finalizing the budget. Juliette Arbrioux 7:30 Your Worship and councillors, thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight. My name is Juliette Arbrioux. I’m a grade 11 student from Adam Scott. And I’m here today to speak on the lack of money being spent on climate mitigation in Peterborough. I’m not talking about the millions of dollars spent on climate related action that for the better part would have happened anyway. I’m speaking on the lack of new commitments the city has yet to put in place and the mindset there is facing this crisis. Peterborough has a Climate Action Plan that involves projects that focus specifically to help combat the climate crisis. This is where we need to be investing the better part of our money. We need to make it a priority, or at least a bigger importance than a proposed arena that I’ve heard more talk about than climate action. Katryna Jacobs 8:18 My name is Katryna Jacobs, a grade 11 Indigenous student from Thomas A Stewar. In a city that prides itself on its efforts to incorporate indigenous culture on a regular basis. I would have expected more climate funds in the 2021 budget. Reconciliation and climate related issues are often seen as separate and under federal jurisdiction. However, this should not stop Peterborough from making advanced advancements within the community. I hope to see funding towards new climate mitigation efforts within the budget, something that is not currently represented. Thank you for your time. Ayesha 8:55 Those were clips from four of the nine students who spoke on Monday. That was Jasmine Barnes, Gabriel Trozzi Stamou, Juliette Arbrioux and Katryna Jacobs, from TASSS and Adam Scott Secondary. And in a few of the presentations there were specific references to Peterborough’s Climate Change Action Plan and particularly on climate mitigation projects. We did a whole episode on the Climate Change Action Plan and what’s included in there, so if you’d like to know more about that I’d recommend checking out our roundup of climate projects on our website or the podcast episode where I interview Michael Papadacos. But all of these students who spoke to climate change essentially called on council for greater investment in projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions more quickly. Another citizen spoke on climate change later in the evening and that was Trisha Clarkson from the Peterborough Alliance on Climate Action. That group had written a letter with four climate mitigation projects that they wanted to see in 2021 – three of which are referenced in the budget documents and those have to do with traffic signal synchronization, anti-idling bylaws, and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations for City vehicles. Here’s a bit of what she had to say. Trisha Clarkson 10:11 These initiatives are a great start on reducing some of the carbon fuel emissions in Peterborough. So on behalf of PACA, we thank you very much for these. However, these initiatives alone will not reduce emissions by 5% annually to meet the IPCC target of 45% by 2030. In order to reach this recommended target, the city has to transition from gas fueled and diesel fuel vehicles to electric city vehicles and e-buses in 2021. E-buses should be purchased in 2021, because it will take one year from the date of purchase to the date of delivery due to the high demand and not enough battery suppliers. So even if the city purchased two e-buses in 2021, they won’t be delivered until 2022. That’s why they need to be purchased as soon as possible. Ayesha 10:56 So that electric bus proposal was the fourth thing that PACA was looking for. And Clarkson spent much of her time making the case for making that purchase in 2021. But ultimately, council didn’t debate the idea and nothing new was added to the budget with regards to climate change. Will Pearson 11:12 But there is the alternative fuel study. Ayesha 11:13 Yeah, the alternative fuel study is being funded for 2021. And there’s a couple other projects, like the electric vehicle charging stations for the city fleet that are happening in 2021. So we’ll see. So there is some investment being made on that front. Will Pearson 11:31 Yeah, I guess what Clarkson is just getting at though is we kind of know what the alternative fuels study will say. It’ll say yes, it’s a good thing to transition to electric buses here, so people can do it. And I guess, gonna say we might as well start the investment now. Ayesha 11:44 Yeah, absolutely. Um, and so yeah, like I said, council didn’t debate this at all. But there was one thing that they debated and added – what was that, Will? Will Pearson 11:53 Yeah, so really, the big story from the city council meeting is that the budget was basically accepted by city council, in the same form that they approved it when they were sitting as the Finance Committee a few weeks earlier. There was one thing that came up in the discussions though, where a change was made. And that is regarding a capital project on Lansdowne Street, which is kind of like rebuilding Lansdowne Street between Spillsbury and Clonsilla. And this was not funded in 2021. It was something that was approved to be funded and built years ago, I think, like, maybe even five years ago. And it’s just been delayed and delayed, and it hasn’t received the funds that it needs to get done. And a couple of weeks ago, some members of the public address city council saying they really wanted to see this project get done, because that stretch of Lansdowne is quite dangerous, because cars go quite fast. And I think that by changing the built environment, we might be able to make that stretch of the street a little bit safer. And so and that was brought up again, in delegations from the public on Monday night. And so Councillor Parnell moved for a pre-commitment of money in 2022. So not this budget, but the next budget to start funding this project. Lesley Parnell 13:02 So it’s a project that definitely needs to be done, staff have acknowledged that it is a high priority capital project. And we need to just solidify it and give our word to these people that we will have shovels in the ground in 2022, completed at least by 2023. And so that is what I am asking for, please. Will Pearson 13:22 And Councillor Zippel, who is Councillor Parnell’s ward mate down in Otonabee Ward agreed, pointing out that this kind of the one of the reasons why this hasn’t been built is just the lack of funding in the budget for capital projects. Kim Zippel 13:38 Councillor Parnell mentioned that this has been delayed for many reasons. And one of those reasons is, as Councillor Reil has said, infrastructure funding, and we have had a challenge getting capital dollars into our budget and making that commitment and we continue to see the impacts on our community. Will Pearson 13:59 And so listeners to previous episodes of the Budget Week Podcast know that Councillor Zippel had already moved that the increase in the tax rate be increased by a little bit to fund more capital projects in 2021. So that’s something that Zippel is concerned about. And she did something interesting with this motion to pre-commit funds for this project, which is request a recorded vote, which means that there’s a record of who votes what, which is not always the case. And she said that the reason she did that is so that when budget week comes next year, she knows who voted in favor of this project, and so she knows what councillor she can go to, again to say presumably we need to raise taxes to build this project because pre-committing the funds, doesn’t find the money in 2022. It just commits to spending the money. And so a year from now, city council will need to find how it’s going to fund this project. So I thought that was an interesting sort of illustration of Councillor Zippel’s priority to build infrastructure and to find funding in the tax base to do that. Not every councillor was on board with pre-committing the money for 2022. Councillor Beamer, for example, said that as a Northcrest councillor, he was more concerned about getting Chemong Road rebuilt than than this stretch of Lansdowne Andrew Beamer 15:20 And so tonight I’m going to be a Northcrest Ward Councillor over the city councilor. And you know, I do have my eye on Chemong Road. Now I know northebd roads tend to be expensive and controversial. So I’m well aware Chemong Road is a big one. And there was another one we won’t mention that was also expensive. But Chemong Road does need to get done. And I’ll be honest, Councillor Parnell, Councillor Zippel, Councillor Riel and Councillor Vassiliadis, I am just concerned that this will take funds from Chemong Road, because, you know, the north end has been patiently waiting for Chemong Road and there has been some significant road work done in the southend over the past eight years, so. Will Pearson 16:02 And that was something that Councillor Pappas agreed with saying that, considering that the Parkway is looking very unlikely that that will be built anytime soon. Councillor Pappas is also concerned about getting Chemong Road reconstruction built as a sort of North-South corridor. Dean Pappas 16:19 If we’re not building the Parkway, we are getting a transportation master plan come in at the end of this year, and dollars to donuts Chemong Road is our north south corridor, it’s got to get done. We all know that if you don’t vote for the parkway, you’ve got to vote for Chemong Road. Will Pearson 16:36 And so those two councillors as well as three other councillors voted against this plan, but it did pass six to five. And so that money is pre committed for 2022. And so that project should be able to get underway. But yeah, other than that there weren’t any other changes to the budget. So if you have been listening to the budget podcast, you are all caught up. That’s not to say that we covered everything that’s in the budget. It’s a big document, we kind of picked out what we thought was the most important to discuss on this podcast. If there’s anything that you’re curious to learn more about, reach out to us, we can probably help you to find the answers. Ayesha 17:10 Mm hmm. And the budget is something that cross cuts so much of city life, and it has impacts on all sorts of different things, we’re gonna still be referencing this document in our future coverage, even though we’re kind of wrapping up our budget week series. So yeah, please reach out. Will Pearson 17:27 This was a fun podcast to make. Ayesha 17:29 Yeah, I learned a lot. Will Pearson 17:31 I feel like I have been following the budget deliberations each year for a couple of years now. I’ve never covered them as a journalist. And I feel like, man, that document is hard to parse, it’s hard to understand. And I feel like every year I get a little bit better at it. I feel like this year, I’ve learned a lot more about how the city works, how the budget works. I hope that I’ve translated some of that for our listeners. Yeah, but I think it was a good exercise in civic literacy. Ayesha 18:02 Yeah, I totally agree. It’s been really nice to interview a lot of the city officials who don’t get into the spotlight very often and just learn about the work that they do, how they do it, and what’s kind of motivating them and what’s important to them with regards to this one document, and so we’re gonna keep up these relationships and keep doing this kind of civic reporting, Will Pearson 18:24 What are you keeping an eye on for next year, Ayesha? Ayesha 18:26 Yeah, I’m really excited to learn more about the climate change action plan, we’ve got a report coming in 2021, about how we’re doing towards reaching the goal of reduced emissions by 2030. So I’m really looking forward to reading that. As well as – so one thing I learned in my conversation with Michael Papadacos about climate change was that the kind of spending for climate change action in 2020, was deferred back in March. And so that never actually got really resolved this year. So there’s going to be a report coming in the second quarter of next year about how that money is going to be spent. So I’m looking forward to seeing how that money gets meted out next year. How about you, Will? Will Pearson 19:11 Well, something that I think we should update listeners on is the rapid housing initiative. And that doesn’t really affect the municipal budget too much because it’s federal money. But there has been an application – or city council approved putting in an application for that project on Monaghan Rd for 10 modular housing units for people in families experiencing homelessness. Ayesha 19:29 Yeah, that also happened at the City Council meeting on Monday, right? Will Pearson 19:32 Yes. Yeah. So I’m keen to see whether that application gets approved. I think that would be a great step forward in providing affordable housing to folks. And yeah, I’m also I’m just very interested in watching how this issue of funding the infrastructure projects that the backlog of infrastructure projects that the city has gets resolved. Ayesha 19:56 Yeah. And I think that’s all I think we’re going to talk about in this podcast. Maybe we’ll do another budget week podcast next year looking at the 2022 budget. Will Pearson 20:04 The next budget will be the last one that this council. Ayesha 20:07 Yes. Yeah, so maybe we’ll be back again next year. But thanks so much for listening this year. Music In this episode comes courtesy of the Mayhemingways. Thanks for being with me, Will, on this journey into the budget. Will Pearson 20:18 Thank you as well and have a good holiday to you and all of our listeners. Ayesha 20:22 Thanks. See ya.

Dec 2020

20 min 41 sec

In our sixth episode of the Budget Week podcast, co-publishers Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson go over how the draft 2021 municipal budget addresses the issue of affordable housing and homelessness. In particular, we look at funding for the city’s shelters, rent supplements, incentives for affordable housing, and changes to funding from higher levels of government. Episode transcript Ayesha Barmania 0:02 Hello, you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. I’m Ayesha Barmania. In this episode of the Budget Week podcast, we’re going to talk about the thing that came at the top of the list of the survey of citizens’ priorities for the 2021 budget. And that’s housing and accommodation. So my colleague and co-publisher Will Pearson has been following the developments on affordable housing and homelessness. And he’s with me now to tell us about it. Hi, Will. Will Pearson 0:24 Hello. Ayesha Barmania 0:26 Um, so take us through the broad strokes of what we’re going to talk about today. Will Pearson 0:29 Sure, so there’s a couple things in the 2021 budget that jumped out at me when I first looked at it. The first is a pretty significant increase to the amount of money this city is spending on homelessness services. I also noticed an increase to the rent supplement program, which is great to see. But not everything that the City does around housing and affordable housing does get reflected in the 2021 budget. Either because it gets funded by other levels of government or because some of the ways that the City, you know, encourages affordable housing development, for example, is not really through funding, but more through softer measures like incentives to encourage development. So I think we’ll maybe in this conversation stray from the budget itself a little bit to talk about those areas. But those first, the two things I mentioned are what jumped out at me and the budget document itself. Ayesha Barmania 1:23 Yeah, absolutely. And so we talked a little bit during our last episode about the funding increase that’s drafted in the budget for the shelter system. So for folks who missed that episode, what’s that going to pay for? Will Pearson 1:40 Sure, yeah. So the first thing to say is just that the shelter system continues to be experiencing a lot of pressures, there’s just a high level of need in the community for the shelter services. So during budget week, Council approved a plan to increase the base funding for the Youth Emergency Shelter by about $60,000 as well as increase the starting wage for shelter workers to bring it up to a living wage. So that’s kind of two of the ways that homelessness money is being increased and how that money has been spent. Most of the money increased in the homelessness program this year is going to the shelter system itself. Ayesha Barmania 2:16 Okay, gotcha. There was a little bit of conversation about this during the finance committee meetings, right? Will Pearson 2:21 Yeah, there wasn’t really a lot of debate about whether this budget line should increase. I think the councillors are pretty well on board with the idea of increasing the funding. But instead, they really used the budget meeting as an opportunity to – some councillors at least – to voice their support for the shelter system. And I think this comes– I think there’s a little bit of frustration on council for some of the ways that the media have been covering homelessness in the city. I think that they sense that maybe the media is focusing on negative stories and bad news stories and ignoring the good news. Keith Riel spoke about his wish that the media covered some of the successes of the city a little bit more, for example. Keith Riel 3:02 Get your story straight. This council is committed to helping the less fortunate. This council has put money where their mouth is. And we continue to do the job and to help the people that are marginalized who need the help. So why don’t we have a good news story about what we’re doing. Will Pearson 3:23 And then Diane Therrien spoke, you know, again, just to support the shelters, and in particular, the shelter workers. Diane Therrien 3:31 Of course, there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot, you know, a lot of work still to be done. Our shelter system, our housing and homelessness system is not perfect. You know, we do hear a lot of concerns about the Brock Mission and why the Brock Mission are doing, you know, running this service. And that it’s also important to note that there aren’t a lot of organizations that are wanting to do this work. It’s, you know, these frontline workers are not paid a living wage, they’re not paid nearly enough for the amount of time and energy that they put into trying to help people. So it’s really easy to criticize. It’s, you know, but there are people that are working in the Brock Mission, at YES, at all of our frontline shelter services that put in everything that they have for minimum wage, really, and it and so, you know, it’s easy to say, ‘do this, do that’ but folks don’t realize how much is happening behind the scenes. Will Pearson 4:37 So that took up most of the conversation around the budget at the budget meetings. You know, it must be frustrating because this is not the first year in recent memory that the city has increased its funding of the shelter system, right. And this comes as you know, every city official and every community partner will tell you that homeless shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness. Housing is the solution to homelessness. And, yeah, it just must be frustrating every year to see the level of need in the community for these emergency responses and the need to continue to increase funding for them when that funding could be used to fund more long term solutions, if we could just pivot to pursue some of those longer term solutions a little bit more easily. When I spoke to Dorothy Olver who’s the program manager for homelessness in the city, she said that– Dorothy Olver 5:30 We would eventually love to see that, you know, all the funding that we have going into emergency shelters could be used very, very differently in our system if we didn’t need emergency shelters. But I think we need to acknowledge that we’re going to need to have some level of response. Our shelters will openly say to anybody, they’d gladly work themselves out of business and not need to have homeless shelters. But we’re going to be a while before we get there. Will Pearson 5:52 So you know, there’s a desire to get out of the shelter business, as Keith Riel has said a couple of times, but we’re not there yet. It would seem– And so yeah, the city is continuing to increase the amount of money that it puts into the shelter system. Ayesha Barmania 6:06 Mm hmm. Yeah, for sure. And so getting out of the kind of emergency shelter system, there’s that other level of helping folks stay in housing, what are some programs that we can see the city contributing to now that do that? Will Pearson 6:20 So it seems that every year during budget week, rent supplements come up. It’s usually a topic of conversation. And I think in the past three or four years, at least, council has made it the practice to boost the level of support for rent supplements each year. And that’s happening again this year. Ayesha Barmania 6:36 Yeah, so what is a rent supplement? What are we talking about there? Will Pearson 6:39 Right, a rent supplement is a payment that the city makes to help bridge the gap between what an apartment costs for a tenant and what they can afford. And they’re usually made directly to landlords. And so the money goes to the landlord from the city, and then the tenant is able to pay that much less rent, and there’s a few different kinds, some of them are rent-geared-to-income rent supplements, some are like a flat fee. So I think the Housing Choice rent supplement average is around $250 a month. Ayesha Barmania 7:11 And is that tied to the apartment unit? Or is that tied to the family that’s moving in? Will Pearson 7:15 There’s a couple of different programs, some of the rent supplements are portable, so you can move with them and they aren’t tied to particular units. And some are tied to particular units. And yeah, and so this year, we’re seeing a $50,000 increase for the Housing Choice rent supplement, and that’s a rent supplement that is worth – that’s the one I just mentioned – that’s worth about $250 a month. That’s the average anyway, and it’s portable. And I spoke to Rebecca Morgan Quin about it, she’s the manager of housing at the City. She expects that about 10 new households will be able to access that rent supplement in 2021, because of the increase. So that’s good news. One of the drawbacks of supplements is that often the ones that are funded by other levels of government anyway, usually have expiry dates. And so we’ve seen in the past actually situations where the City had to increase its own spending on rent supplements, not to increase how many supplements that are, but actually just to cover expiring programs, which is too bad. And the draft budget does point out that there were a few rent supplement funding programs from the provincial and federal government that are set to expire over the next five years. And that’s putting about 100 households at risk of losing the rent supplement. Councillor Kemi Akapo noticed that and asked about it during deliberations. Here’s what Commissioner of Community Services Sheldon Laidman responded. Sheldon Laidman 8:37 So that is a very important risk I think to the long term future of the rent supplement program and the social housing program in general, is that, as Coun. Akapo mentioned, a number of these programs are about to sunset, and they expire. And they’re leaving a large number of units in a precarious situation. So housing managers across Ontario, I know have been lobbying the government, the provincial government for many years to give some certainty to that going forward, because it is a risk. Will Pearson 9:11 So that’s, that’s something to keep an eye on in the coming years. I think it’s not until 2023 that the first batch of these supplements expire. So there’s a little bit of time for senior levels of government to develop programs, hopefully to replace them, but we’ll see what happens. Ayesha Barmania 9:27 Right. But until then, in this budget, the $50,000 that you mentioned, that’s just increased service money. Will Pearson 9:33 That’s new municipal money for new supplements. Yeah. Ayesha Barmania 9:37 Right. So these rent supplements are kind of about getting people into and keeping their housing. What about getting more affordable housing built, like just getting more units on the market? What’s the city’s role in that? And is there any investment on that front? Will Pearson 9:50 Yeah. So, you know, that’s not actually something that we see reflected in the budget document a whole lot. And I think that’s just a reflection of the fact that the City of Peterborough is not really in the business of building affordable housing and doesn’t really have the resources to do that. And it’s not traditionally something that’s within the scope of municipalities, that’s more something that gets funded by senior levels of government. That’s not to say that the city doesn’t do anything. Our listeners might remember that this year, the City took a couple of properties that it owns that are in the Parkway corridor. So they’re not going to be used for the Parkway anytime soon. And so the City kind of renovated them to create some affordable housing. So there’s a couple of examples where the city has taken properties that it owned, and turned them into affordable housing. But it’s not very significant or large projects, it’s usually pretty small ones. But one thing that the city does do to encourage the development of affordable housing is offer incentives to developers. So if someone wants to build an affordable housing project, they can apply to, for example, have the development charge that would usually be charged waived, or maybe the city can offer them reduced parking, minimum parking requirements, things like that. So just little things that the city can do to make it easier and more cost effective to build affordable housing. And that you do see that reflected in the budget. It’s a program that’s set to continue in 2021, to the tune of about $1.1 million. Ayesha Barmania 11:16 Okay, so that’s money that the city is foregoing. Right? They would have received it if they’d not been offering this program, but they’re choosing to not receive this money. So that affordable housing gets built. Will Pearson 11:26 Yeah, that’s right. It’s foregone revenue. So other developers would be expected to pay those fees, but a few, including affordable units, then you can have them waived. Ayesha Barmania 11:36 Okay, but aren’t there – so this isn’t necessarily about the budget, but aren’t they’re like – can’t the City, you know, talk to all the developers that are working in the city and force them to make a certain percentage affordable? Will Pearson 11:49 No, I think there’s a lot of people in Peterborough that wish that city council could force developers to include affordable units and the developments. So the sort of planning speak for that is called inclusionary zoning, so you zone a part of the city and say that any development in this part of the city needs to have, you know, this proportion of affordable units. And under the current provincial regulations, that’s only possible in major transit areas, which is kind of a planning designation that Peterborough doesn’t have any of those, it’s more like Toronto would be allowed to do it around a subway station, for example. Yeah, but that’s new regulations that were brought in by the provincial government a couple of years ago that really do curtail municipalities ability to pursue inclusionary zoning. And I know that even though it is possible in Toronto, I know that advocates for affordable housing are really pushing the government to reconsider this rule around transit areas, because it really just limits where you can pursue inclusionary zoning. And in a city like Peterborough, where these transit areas don’t exist, it’s not possible. Ayesha Barmania 13:04 Yeah. And I think that really echoes a lot of what I’ve been hearing in these interviews I’m doing for this podcast about the different constraints on the city budget based on these higher levels of government. So there’s these regulations that you’re talking about. But there’s also just different types of funding available. So what funding is the city counting on to pay for the initiatives that we’ve just talked about? Will Pearson 13:25 Yeah, funding from other levels of government is definitely a big part of how housing works at the municipal level, and during budget deliberations Mayor Therrien brought this up and really called on the provincial government in particular to come to the table with more funding for housing and homelessness. Diane Therrien 13:43 These services, it is also important to note, have been downloaded from senior levels of government over the years. There’s three levels of government that we deal with, when we’re dealing with housing as a municipality, that’s the federal government, ourselves, and the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. And so I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it that we do need to be putting pressure on them to come to the table to help with these projects. Will Pearson 14:11 So there is a little bit of extra operating money coming from the province. And I thought that I noticed it in the budget. When I asked Olver about that, well, first she literally started to laugh. And then she said yes, there is a little bit more money, but she called it quite modest. Dorothy Olver 14:28 There is a little little little bit of additional funding. That’s part of the kind of our ongoing consistent funding that we get from the province. So we generally have a couple of pots. The community homelessness prevention initiative is probably our largest. And then we have the Home For Good funding. There’s not been any change in the Home For Good funding since we started it a couple years ago, and we don’t anticipate anything so it never changes year to year. And that’s basically for some of our supportive housing programs. The community homeless prevention initiative is like the funding we use for shelter funding housing, some rent supplements, and we had a very, very modest increase for this year. Will Pearson 15:06 And so I think that the City would, you know, could really benefit from what was funding. Ayesha Barmania 15:12 But I think if I’m following the news correctly, and there have been a number of provincial and federal announcements at a couple different moments this past year about funding, what’s up with that? Are we getting any of that money? Will Pearson 15:23 Right. So you’re right, that there has been so there have been some provincial announcements about funding, and that’s mainly through the Social Services Relief Fund. And, yeah, you’re right to bring that up and Olver did bring that up too and said, where the province has really come through in 2020, is with one time funding in response to COVID-19. And so the city did get, I’m not sure exactly what the number is, but it’s in the millions of dollars through the Social Services Relief Fund. And what that has been used for is really expenses related to COVID-19, like securing motel rooms, so that people in the shelter system can isolate if they might have COVID, moving the shelters to the Wellness Center, and then moving them back, paying for PPE, things like that. Also, expenses associated with the new 24-7 overflow shelter. So you’re right, that there is new provincial money. It’s more like a one time funding for COVID-19. And I think that Yeah, what, perhaps Mayor Therrien and Olver were speaking about is the need for or how the city could really benefit from more long term operating funding. Ayesha Barmania 16:34 Sure, yeah. And so things like that one time COVID funding we might start seeing in the 2020 budget actuals? Will Pearson 16:42 I don’t know I’m not an accountant. So I can’t answer that question. Ayesha Barmania 16:45 That’s okay. But I think what I’m trying to say here is that it’s not in the 2021 draft budget. Will Pearson 16:53 Yeah. And I think that there are a lot there are other opportunities right now for capital funding for housing projects. So the federal government’s National Housing strategy, which was announced a couple of years ago, and has been used so far in Peterborough anyway to fund the Brock Mission development and the Habitat for Humanity development at Leahy’s Lane, that’s still in existence. So there’s still opportunities to apply for that, too, to get funding for affordable housing. And then there’s a couple of new opportunities too, I think that that is a capital component of the provinces Social Services Relief Fund, so that might be accessible to the City, or organizations in the city to build housing. And then there’s the federal government’s new rapid housing initiative, which is probably the biggest opportunity right now. That’s I think it is $500 million available to cities like Peterborough. So I know that the city is working with community partners to apply for that funding. Dorothy Olver 17:45 We’re trying really hard to do what we can to build our housing stock that we can actually dedicate to homelessness, that’s part of our challenges is, we have a binding priority list. And we need more resources actually dedicated specifically to that work to try to house people. So I think what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to expand any housing opportunities we have, where we have the opportunity to apply for any provincial or federal funding, we’re doing that with all of our community partners, or developers or folks who are able to work with us. And we’re able to meet the eligibility criteria for those programs. So there’s a heavy focus on capital funding opportunities, and we get to really have to be ready to jump on those when we can. We’re trying really hard to work with folks in the community to make sure that we jump on those opportunities. Will Pearson 18:34 So we’ll see if the City or some organization in the city is able to access funding through the Rapid Housing Initiative. I was interested when I was speaking with Olver about that – she brought up an interesting, not criticism, but there is a barrier with that program. And it’s that it doesn’t come with any additional money for support services. When you think of someone that might be moving from homelessness into housing, what do they need to get into housing? I think they really need three things. The first is housing, there needs to be a place for them to move into. And that’s what initiatives like this respond to. There also needs to be rent supplements to help them pay the rent at this housing, because as we have spoken about before, even the most affordable housing developments these days are not really affordable for someone that for example, only has their Ontario Works cheque to pay rent. So secondly, someone would need a rent supplement to help them pay the rent. And then, in many cases, someone that’s exiting homelessness likely needs a little extra support when they’re in their housing to to live successfully in that housing, if it’s either because they have mental health challenges, or they have addictions, or maybe they’ve just been homeless for a long time and need some supports settling into and learning how to live successfully in housing. That can be a challenge if you’ve been homeless for a long time. And that kind of support costs money. And so the Rapid Housing initiative doesn’t come with that kind of money. Olver says that that’s something that the federal government is aware of and working on. Dorothy Olver 20:08 Yeah. And in particular, like I think one of the biggest – hero might be a lofty term, but it’s probably not the right word I’m looking for right now but – the best spokesperson that we have around homelessness right now is Adam Vaughn, [Member of Parliament for Spadina—Fort York]. And he pursues every opportunity he has in the federal government. He is pushing for this funding in terms of capital. But he’s also really always pushing for the provincial levels of government to kick in the support dollars to make these units. He’s hearing loud and clear from everyone that we really appreciate the capital dollars, that you’re asking us to, to help with our high security level people that need support to help them to stay where they are. So he’s really pushing the federal government to push other levels of government to make sure that the support dollars are coming. So we’ll see if that happened, hopefully, guys, because we need to support dollars for many of the programs that we would like to continue to do as we go along. Will Pearson 21:06 So I thought that was really interesting to hear that the federal government is currently pushing the provincial governments in Canada to step up and provide funding for support services to help make the Rapid Housing Initiative more successful, because without that funding, it might not help the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Peterborough. It might not be just simply because yeah, those individuals need extra support and just giving them a house but not giving them access to put isn’t setting them up for success. Ayesha Barmania 21:39 Sure. And this is a program that the city does run called Home for Good if I’m not mistaken. Will Pearson 21:44 Right. One of the ways that the city funds supportive housing is a provincial program called Home for Good. And that that funding has flatlined, I think since 2017, it hasn’t been increased. Ayesha Barmania 21:53 Right, yeah. So we might be developing this capacity on all these other fronts but there’s still one area that’s not getting a boost. Will Pearson 22:01 Yeah, you know, it’s a puzzle. There’s a lot of pieces that go towards solving homelessness. And yeah, it’s a matter of funding them all sufficiently at the same time, and then delivering them all sufficiently. Ayesha Barmania 22:17 Yeah, absolutely. So I think that’s all we really wanted to talk about today. Will, is there anything else you wanted to add? Will Pearson 22:22 No, I think that’s all the most important things. And that’s sort of what I’m keeping an eye on for 2021. Ayesha Barmania 22:28 And not to spoil it, but we’re gonna have some coverage tracking all of these different developments on the Peterborough Currents website. So thanks for joining me today, Will. That’s all for today’s episode of Peterborough Currents. You can find more of our city budget coverage at Peterborough Currents dot CA. We’ve also got episode transcripts of all the episodes up there. Music in this episode comes courtesy of Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania. And thanks so much for taking the time to listen. Bye for now.

Dec 2020

23 min 11 sec

Last week, Peterborough city councillors sat as the finance committee to review each page of the 2021 draft municipal budget highlights book. This year, it was three evenings of deliberations and discussion, which gave councillors an opportunity to ask questions about city operations and propose amendments to the draft budget put forward by staff. Co-publishers Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson have collected the highlights from each meeting so you can hear what happened. To hear the highlights from Monday’s meeting about the City’s corporate and legislative department, skip to minute 2:15; for the highlights of the infrastructure and planning department from Tuesday’s meeting, skip to minute 9:30; and for the highlights on the community services department from Wednesday, skip to minute 19:05. The 2021 budget will be voted to be approved on December 14 at a city council meeting, and things in the draft documents may change between now and then. Citizens can review the documents, communicate with their city councillors and register to speak at the city council meeting. To learn more click here. And if you have any questions about the municipal budget, you can also ask us! Episode transcript coming soon.

Nov 2020

34 min 49 sec

For our fourth episode of the Budget Week podcast, Peterborough Currents called up Michael Papadacos, head of the City’s infrastructure management division to talk about how the City approaches climate change action. The interview in this episode is an edited version of our conversation; to listen to the unedited version click here. Read an article rounding up climate change projects in the budget by clicking here. Episode transcript 0:06 Ayesha Hello you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. I’m Ayesha Barmania. This is episode four of our series on the 2021 municipal budget. And in this episode, I’m diving into how climate change gets addressed in City operations. In December 2016, City Council voted to adopt the Greater Peterborough Climate Change Action Plan. It’s a plan that sets out the path towards achieving 2 overarching goals: The first is called climate change mitigation. And this means reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30%. That’s for both the community living and working here as well as for the Corporation of the City of Peterborough’s operations. The second goal is called climate change adaptation, and that’s preparing the city for the impacts of climate change – like extreme weather events Much of the responsibility for implementing this plan falls to the infrastructure management division, since adaptation and mitigation to climate change often means rethinking what our infrastructure is capable of handling. From moving car traffic through the city more quickly to reduce idling emissions … to preparing our stormwater system for more significant rainfall, that all falls under infrastructure. So to learn more, I spoke with Michael Papadacos. He is the head of infrastructure management at the City. And he began by telling me about how the plan came out of a partnership program with other municipalities across the country. Michael Papadacos 1:19 So the climate change action plan is, you know, an overarching document that pulls together the first three milestones of the Partners for Climate Protection. So this is a program that’s managed and delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI Canada. The intention is to help Canadian municipalities take climate action. So it’s a five milestone process. And the first three milestones are what are contained within that climate change action plan. So it’s sort of a first creation of a baseline of the emissions inventory. Second, setting a mission reduction target. And then third, developing a local action plan to achieve that target. 2:07 Ayesha What are the fourth and fifth milestones that are missing there? 2:10 Michael Papadacos Yeah, the fourth or fifth milestones are monitoring progress, and implementation and ongoing implementation. 2:20 Ayesha How come? How come those aren’t included in the plan? 2:23 Michael Papadacos Because the plan was developed in 2016. And so those milestones four and five are the kind of ongoing work. And we actually have a draft report that we’re in the final stages of updating, so we’re going to submit that report to FCM, and close out completion of that sort of program. 2:43 Ayesha And okay, so can you make it a bit concrete? Like how do these goals and targets and the principles laid out in the plan? How do those get utilized in your division? 2:55 Michael Papadacos Well, so the plan lays out a series of strategies for climate action. And it’s grouped into six themes, you know, homes, workplaces and schools, on the move, food, land and people. And then it also is broken down into sort of two sector views, right. So there’s the corporate sector. So that applies to the emissions that are created from the city of Peterborough and municipal operations and any properties that are owned by the city to deliver services for the community, and then the other part of it is the community sector. So that’s the emissions created by the residents and businesses of the city. And so those strategies have a series of sort of actions or recommendations that are, you know, incorporated into not just my division, but you know, divisions across the corporation, because really, it has to be, you know, embedded across the corporation. And, and I guess it’s the document that kind of, confirms and demonstrates the city and the community’s commitment to climate action in those different sort of thematic areas. And so the plan kind of lays out different suggestions and actions. And then, you know, a portion of those are directed at the corporate reduction. So those are the 5% of the total emissions in the city of Peterborough are from the City of Peterborough, the municipalities actions, and then the 95% come from the community at large. So there’s, they’re broken down into targeting, you know, things that are more operational for city staff to implement them. The other ones are more, you know, areas that the community would need to lead or the city could potentially influence or maybe facilitate community action in that regard. 4:48 Ayesha Okay, and what monitoring do we do – like how do we know if we’re on track? 4:52 Michael Papadacos We do a review of the inventory, more or less and reproduce the greenhouse gas inventory that was developed as part of that plan. So that plan, when it was first completed, did a set of baseline of the year 2011. And through, you know, some assumptions and modeling and calculations and data analysis, kind of put together a greenhouse gas emission total in 2011. And then, what we’ve done now in this draft report that we’re working on getting completed is the update, right? So we kind of have done a check against that and looked at how things are going. 5:38 Ayesha So once that report is done we’ll know for like the past 10 years, I guess, how we’ve been doing? 5:43 Michael Papadacos Yes, yeah, that’s right. 5:44 Ayesha Okay. So and correct me if I’m wrong here. But as I understand it, there’s another part of the plan that’s about adapting. I think there’s also an element of adapting our infrastructure and being ready for climate change events. I wondered if you could speak to what sort of events Peterborough is vulnerable to? And can you give me an example of what climate change adaptation looks like? 6:06 Michael Papadacos Yeah, sure. So the two biggest ones are in terms of climate impacts, and the things that we’re at risk for here in Peterborough, and it’s common for many municipalities, but it’s flooding and the impact of significant weather events; and then the other one is increased number of extreme heat days would be the would be the other sort of main impact that we are looking to kind of adapt to. So in terms of like, what adaptation looks like, you know, this is actually something where, you know, the city of Peterborough is maybe a little bit ahead of the curve, because of our experience with the flood in 2004. Right. So that flood, while it wasn’t centered at a time where a lot of people were thinking about climate change and adapting to climate change, it did illustrate for the residents of the city that we’re vulnerable to this type of an event and in a significant way. So the the city kind of over the, you know, 5-10 years that followed, put a lot of effort into developing flood reduction master plans, that took a look at sort of the overall city and suggested a series of programs to, you know, improve the state of the existing infrastructure, as well as looking how to study and recommend further improvements into the future. You know, one of the biggest ones and sort of the centerpiece of that flood reduction masterplan is the central area flood reduction project, right. So that’s the Jackson Creek diversion channel, right, that’s going to protect a large portion of the downtown core from the impacts of the 100 year flood event. So that’s an example of climate change action, adaptation and action. You know, actually, we had a really good example, earlier this year. Back in January, we had a significant rain event that actually caused a little bit of localized flooding in East city right along Curtis Creek, I think there were about three or four properties that were impacted where the creek spilled. And it’s at that time, we were in the process of finishing a project there, where we were expanding the size of the culverts that go under all the roads there in East City to increase the hydraulic capacity of that Creek during a significant rainfall event. And, you know, we were literally a few months away from finishing the outlet. And if we’d have had that outlet finished, there’s a good chance that there would have been no properties impacted. If we hadn’t done the culvert work and made those adaptive projects and implemented them, we probably would have actually dozens and another significant flood event on our hands. So I guess that’s a great example of adaptation and action is understanding that, you know, regardless of what happens the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years, we’re going to see more of these events of higher duration, frequency and intensity. And so, you know, we need to do our part to identify where those risks are, and make, you know, the strategic investments to reduce the risks to the residents of the city. 9:33 Ayesha Hmm, it’s an interesting thing to invest in, because if the investments are happening, and the work is going ahead properly, we’re not going to have these extreme problems where everyone calls for action. So it has to kind of happen in the background. 9:48 Michael Papadacos Well, it’s you know, there’s an adage in the infrastructure world, right, which is: if you’re not boring, you’re not doing your job. Right. And I think there was a great John Oliver sketch of all things where he tried to make infrastructure exciting. But if infrastructure is being planned, built and managed properly, then, you know, the hope is that most people don’t know that’s going on, and they can go on with the other elements of their life. 10:16 Ayesha Sure. And I think we can see in a lot of the infrastructure capital projects in this year’s budget, most of them have a yes or no, or just a yes (I don’t think the noes are included) for climate mitigation or climate adaptation or both. Can you just walk me through a little bit of what makes the criteria for both climate mitigation and climate adaptation? 10:42 Michael Papadacos Sure. So climate mitigation, I think you’d mentioned it earlier, that’s any kind of action that reduces a contributing factor to climate change. So that would be reducing primarily anything that creates greenhouse gases, right. So if it’s the heating of buildings, or the powering of, of buildings, or the fuel used in our fleet, things of that nature, right. So any type of a project where completion of the project will result in a, you know, quantifiable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, that would qualify it as a climate mitigation type project. A climate adaptation project, on the other hand, would be something that helps to build some resilience into the city with respect to, you know, some climate change impacts. So primarily, Is it some kind of a flood reduction measure or improvement? Or is it some kind of a project that might help in the event of more extreme heat days? 11:46 Ayesha I see, so it’s about meeting these specific targets of reducing emissions fossil fuel use, and I think the other one was energy consumption? It doesn’t include things like environmental stewardship, that’s just a totally different portfolio. Is that right? 12:01 Michael Papadacos Well, I guess you know, environmental stewardship, depending on what element you’re looking at, will have components of one or the other or possibly both. Right? So, for instance, you know, investments that we make in our emerald ash borer program, right. So the emerald ash borer is an invasive species that is killing all ash trees in the city, we’ve invested money to strategically save as many of the ash trees that we can, that are in primarily, you know, street tree scenarios. And so that would be an example of a stewardship type of an initiative, right, trying to protect and save these trees that are at risk. You know, they’re at risk, partially because of, it’s an adaptation, it’s a response, right? We’re having to respond in this way. Because, you know, the ash borer is an invasive species and its growth, in some respects and spread has is accelerated by climate change. And so that would be an example of where, you know, preserving, preserving those would be some, both an adaptation action, because we’re adapting to this impact, but then also, because trees, store carbon, they help, you know, reduce, reduce, you know, air pollution, local air pollution, and some of the impacts of that would be a mitigation impact as well. And then also the shade, right, trees provide shade, so that helps reduce heat island effects. So it’s also that adaptation on the extreme heat side of things as well. 13:36 Ayesha Sure, it seems like an interesting lens to analyze these different projects as well, I guess on the other hand, and one project that kind of caught my eye in the budget was, and it’s not seeing any money till 2023. But that’s the development of the Parkway into a high use road serving the north end of the city. That is labeled in the budget as a climate mitigation project. So I guess that’s just the kind of flipside reverse example of not necessarily being environmental stewardship. 14:06 Michael Papadacos Yeah, you know, a project that is underway right now is a pilot to improve the optimization and synchronization of our traffic signals, right. So, traffic congestion is a contributor to mitigation, or is a contributor to climate change in greenhouse gas emissions. So that’s, yeah, that’s, that’s a possibly an example of where, you know, a mitigation. It would reduce traffic. But again, you know, to your point, there’s probably some, you know, the devils in the details. 14:44 Ayesha Sure. Um, one thing I noticed in the capital budget, there’s a line item for sustainability projects. And you can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t is that new to the budget this year? And could you speak to what those are? 14:59 Michael Papadacos Not the sustainability projects, that has been in the budget for a few years, it predates my time at the city. So I can’t speak to exactly when it would have come into the budget. But the intention for that, for that bucket of money is for getting city funds in place primarily so we can access funding opportunities, you know, when there’s funding opportunities, most of the time, it’s not just free money, right, it’s usually say 50%, or up to some percentage. So we do have to have some skin in the game as a municipality. So what that budget provides is for us to be able to undertake those types of projects. That line item in the budget is primarily for things that are hard built assets. So an example of what we’ve earmarked some of that money for, you know, we’ve made an application to the Natural Resources Canada, who’s will fund up to 50% of electric vehicle charging infrastructure for employers, right, to allow for them to consider electric vehicles as part of their fleet. So we have an application into NRCan to get 50% of the funding, so we can install dual charging stations at various city facilities. So that way, you know, that takes takes away sort of that chicken and egg conundrum sometimes where, you know, a manager may want to consider when we’re looking at replacing a vehicle in the fleet, you know, it might be a light duty vehicle, or there might be a suitable electric vehicle that we could consider, you know, without the charging infrastructure, right, that’s a harder choice to make. So by doing this, right, we can leverage some municipal money into funding from another level of government. We are looking to build that infrastructure, it will be city owned infrastructure on city properties around the city. So that way, we could look at, at fleet considerations or electric vehicle considerations. facility. So we looked at, you know, I think we proposed some additional – because you know, there’s some charger chargers that the King Street parking garage, we’ve proposed some additional charges, but those would be dedicated then for parking vehicles, parking enforcement vehicles, or parking division vehicles. We’ve looked at public works yard, having a couple installed there. Same with the wastewater treatment plant, and then another one, I think, at the, at the transit yard. So those are so the idea is to have those they’d be owned by the city, we would then have them at our facilities, and then we can use them for charging and electric vehicles that we procure in the coming years. 17:37 Ayesha I see. So this comes first, and then it opens up the possibility of moving to electric or partially electric fleet for various departments. 17:45 Michael Papadacos Right, yeah, exactly. 17:47 Ayesha Um, great. Well, okay, so I just want to – we’re running out of time and I have two questions left, if you have another couple minutes? So late last year, Mayor and Council voted to declare a climate change emergency. I wondered if you could just speak to how that impacted progress on the climate change action plan and your work, if at all? 18:08 Michael Papadacos Sure, so. So I guess the emergency climate change emergency declaration provided additional sort of priority, part of a priority and focus, as seen in the budgeting, and you know, it’s integrated across all city departments and divisions. You know, I think the one probably one of the biggest things that it did is it prompted council to make additional dedicated funding commitments through last year’s budget where they created a climate change reserve. That has been continued in this year’s draft budget, or recommended in this year’s draft budget, and then those funds are helping to kind of fund some of these other some of these projects as well. So I think that, you know, I think that it provided an opportunity to focus counsel in providing some resources to be able to advance that. 18:59 Ayesha Okay, I think, yeah, sorry. I think I confused sustainability projects and the new climate change fund as the new thing in this budget. I don’t think I saw any, I guess with withdrawals or any projects being financed through the reserve fund, is that right? 19:17 Michael Papadacos So yeah, when the reserve was established as part of the 2020 budget process. We brought a report forward in March of this year, I made some recommendations on how to suggest spending that or to bring forward a report to how we would spend some of that as well as making a couple recommendations. That was literally right when the onset of the pandemic happened and so council just said pause on allocating those monies until we have a better sense on where things stand. Okay, so the money is there. It’s earmarked for this. They just asked us not to spend much of it. So what we did over the course of this year was we, you know, we we found other ways that we could advance projects, you know, with existing funding or, you know, again looking towards, you know, where is it that we can leverage outside outside monies or funding to be able to advance some of the objectives that are contained within there. And then if you look in this year’s budget, some of these projects are being funded through the climate change reserve. 20:28 Ayesha Okay, gotcha. Well, thanks so much for taking us through this today. I really appreciate your time, Michael. 20:34 Michael Papadacos No problem, Ayesha, thank you for the questions. 20:42 Ayesha That was Michael Papadacos, head of the infrastructure management division at the City of Peterborough. We ran out of time towards the end before we could get to specific budget lines that are drafted to receive funding from the Climate Change Action Plan Reserve Fund, so I followed up by email and here’s what I found out. In the draft 2021 budget there is a specific line item for implementing the Climate Change Action Plan which has a total of $1.5 million over the next 10 years and $150,000 for spending in 2021. This budget item is for seed funding climate change projects in the community. In a separate budget line, there’s also half a million dollars over the next 10 years set towards Sustainability Projects for the city’s corporate services – which includes the electric vehicle charging stations that Michael spoke about. In 2021 that spending is drafted at $65,000. Also the operating budget proposes to convert the Climate Change coordinator position from a contract to a full-time job. And the last budget line drawing funds from the climate change action reserve is the $250,000 drafted to be spent in 2021 on the alternative fuel study for Peterborough Transit, which would look at the implications of transitioning the bus fleet off of fossil fuels. That’s all the spending that draws specifically from the climate change reserve fund that Michael was speaking about towards the end of our interview. But there’s also other investments being made towards the Climate Action Plan’s goals. Michael wrote that, “You can think of the Climate Change Reserve as bonus funding on top of a host of investments in climate action that are already being made. “ He notes that other initiatives like the Source Separated Organics Program, the conversion of decorative streetlights to LED, the watershed plan and many others contribute towards the climate action plan and are spread out across the budget. I know that’s a lot of information – I’ve also prepared a write-up of this info on our website with some additional details, since it might be easier to digest by reading about it. That’s all for Peterborough Currents today, thanks so much for listening. Music in this episode comes courtesy of the Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania. City council is deliberating on the budget this week, and our next episode will bring you some of the highlights of those meetings. Talk to you soon. Bye for now.

Nov 2020

23 min 10 sec

For our third episode of the Budget Week podcast, Peterborough Currents co-publishers Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson dive into the proposed changes to the budget for the City’s Social Services Division. Read an article write-up of the changes to the division by clicking here. Episode transcript 0:01 Ayesha Hello, you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. I’m Ayesha Barmania. This is episode three of the Budget Week podcast, and today we’re going to dive into what’s been proposed for the 2021 Social Services Division budget. And to tell us about it, I’m bringing in my colleague and co-publisher, Will Pearson. Hi Will. 0:20 Will Hello. 0:21 Ayesha So Will, can you just walk me through — why are we taking a look at the Social Services Division in particular? Like, why does this interest you? 0:28 Will Pearson There’s a few reasons. I think that followers of Peterborough Currents know that both you and I have a particular interest in tracing how government decisions impact people who have the least resources and have the least opportunity. And I think that the social services division does that in particular. I think that people who live on a low income have perhaps the most to gain from decisions that get made during budget week, and also the most to lose. So I think it’s important to keep an eye on it for that reason. It’s also just a very big division within the City. With projected expenditures of $85 million next year, that’s the biggest division that is in the city. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the city it’s the biggest sort of drain on the city’s own finances, because a lot of the money for social services does come from the province. But still, it’s certainly by far the biggest division. And, you know, when the city did its budget consultations this year, they did a survey and asked folks what their top priorities were, and social services was the number two priority after housing. So citizens care about this as well. 1:29 Ayesha Yeah, absolutely. You talk a bit about how big it is. What falls within the scope of social services? 1:37 Will Pearson Yeah, there’s three main sort of sub-programs. The first one is social assistance, so administering Ontario Works. Children’s services. And then housing and homelessness is also within the Social Services Division. 1:51 Ayesha So when you’re looking at the, when you’re looking at the division’s budget, what are you seeing changing this year? What are the most important things that stand out? 2:00 Will Pearson There’s a few. So this is coming from my own read on the budget. But also I called Ellen Armstrong, who’s the division manager of social services to get her take on it as well. And she highlighted a couple different things. The first one is revenue reductions from the province. So there’s a couple key areas where the province is reducing funding, and that’s putting pressure on the budget in this division this year. Continued pressure on the homelessness system, there’s a lot of need for shelter in Peterborough. And I think that the people that are accessing shelter are showing more complex needs, especially during the pandemic, and that’s driving expenses up. And then yeah, and as a result of that, there’s a couple of places where cuts are being proposed by city staff in the draft budget this year, which we can talk about a little later. 2:45 Ayesha Yeah, absolutely. And so you mentioned the kind of revenue reductions from the province. In the midst of all this COVID stuff, there have been some major transformations announced for the Peterborough area in particular. I wonder if you could get into how the province funding is changing on things like employment services? 3:02 Will Pearson Sure, yeah. So this actually dates back to before COVID-19. But the province is trying to do a pretty big overhaul of how it delivers employment services to people who are on social assistance. And they are kind of piloting that in the Peterborough region before they roll it out across the rest of the province. And so what that involves is– Under the old model, which is still in operation in most of the province, municipalities deliver employment services to people on social assistance. So that’s things like– 3:27 Ayesha That’s Ontario Works, right? 3:30 Will Pearson Yeah. So things like I guess, you know, help with your resume help getting connected to appropriate jobs help, you know, finding the training that you might need to access the labor market so that you can get off social assistance and get into employment. So municipalities used to deliver that, and under the new model, that will be open to a competitive process, and any organization can bid to deliver those services. And while the city of Peterborough and a couple of neighboring municipalities did apply to continue delivering those services, Fleming College was chosen as the operator so we’re kind of in the midst right now of making that transition. And the city has received a pretty significant budget cut, because they’ll no longer be delivering that service. The province is cutting $1.6 million from the city’s budget. Most of that gets recouped by layoffs, because the city will be laying off people that used to deliver those services. But that doesn’t quite cover it; there’s still about $100,000 left over that the city will be on the hook for. 4:33 Ayesha Right so the city is no longer providing the employment services that are part of the Ontario Works program, but there’s — what are they continuing to operate? 4:42 Will Pearson So they would still, you know, administer the benefits that people receive through social assistance. And then they also will continue to provide life — what’s called life stabilization supports. And so, as you can imagine, not everyone who’s on social assistance is ready to go get a job and is ready to access the labor market. Either because they have mental health challenges or addictions or maybe they don’t have housing. And for those individuals, it doesn’t, you know, they need to, they need help with those kinds of challenges before they can access the labor market, and so municipalities will continue to deliver addiction services, homelessness services, mental health referrals, but they’ll no longer be involved in really connecting people to the labor market once they’re ready. 5:30 Ayesha Okay. And that’ll be that’s an interesting conversation to dig into more at a later time. But how we can kind of see this in the budget is we can see the Ontario Works Administration and Employment Services line. It’s being reduced by about 13%. If I’m reading this, right, and 5:50 Will Pearson The expenditures are being reduced by about 13%. Yeah, if you look at the provincial revenues are decreasing by 22%. And that’s the $1.6 million cut. But what you referred to is the expenditures, which is only decreasing by $1.5 million, and that’s so 6:08 Ayesha The city’s making that up? 6:09 Will Pearson Yeah, so the city’s getting $1.6 million dollars less from the province, they’re only spending $1.5 million less. And so there’s $100,000, that is contributing to these budget pressures that Armstrong was discussing with me. 6:22 Ayesha Gotcha. So to kind of move out of social assistance for a second, there’s also been some changes to Children’s Services Administration. Do you wanna talk about that a little bit? 6:32 Will Pearson Yeah. So there’s a couple changes coming down the line from the province in how particularly the administration of Children’s Services gets funded. Previously, the province funded 100% of administration costs for delivering children’s services. And starting in 2021, the province will only fund 50% of those costs. And so the city has to come up with that 50%, the County contributes a little bit to this as well. So the County is going to be upping its contribution to these expenses. But at the end of the day, this is actually another example of– it works out to about $100,000, again, that the city is going to have to find additional dollars to cover those expenses. 7:11 Ayesha Mm hmm. Yeah. And you’d mentioned that Ellen Armstrong said that this was a tough budget year, in particular, because of these provincial funding changes. What are some of the service cuts that have been proposed for 2021? 7:22 Will Pearson There’s two main service cuts that are being proposed in social services. The first one is a change to discretionary benefits. So there’s a proposed cut to the recreation benefit that people on social assistance receive. And then the other cut is to a program called poverty reduction initiatives. And that is proposed to be cut by 50%. 7:43 Ayesha So just to talk about the first one first: discretionary benefits, what are those? 7:52 Will Pearson So there’s two kinds of benefits that people on social assistance receive mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory benefits are just what they sound like: the municipality has to provide them. And those are you know what people usually associate with social assistance, which is a shelter allowance, so money to help you pay for your housing, and basic living allowance, so money for food. Mandatory benefits also include some prescription drugs, eye exams, and mandatory benefits are 100% funded by the province, and so that doesn’t have an impact on the municipal budget. There are other benefits that municipalities can decide to offer to their social assistance clients. And if they do provide them, the province only funds them up to a maximum of $10 per case per month. And currently, Peterborough provides about $15 per case per month in discretionary benefits. And so that extra $5 is paid by the city. 8:51 Ayesha I see. So what kind of falls under discretionary benefits, what are we talking about? 8:55 Will Pearson So discretionary benefits are also health benefits. At the public meeting for public delegations on Monday night, a couple of people spoke that were concerned about discretionary benefits. One of them was Joanne Bazak-Brokking. 9:10 Joanne Bazak-Brokking Discretionary benefits are only called discretionary because it requires a worker to make a decision. They cover health items such as eyeglasses, dentures and emergency dental care and hearing aids. Discretionary benefits also cover subsidized bus passes and contribute to basic funeral expenses. Budget 2021 will remove $142,568 from the discretionary benefit budget, that’s on page 171. This policy change will significantly reduce the capacity to meet essential health needs for people already hit very hard by COVID-19. 9:53 Will Pearson So this the city spends about $700,000 on its contribution to providing discretionary benefits and city staff in the draft budget of proposing a cut to that and the benefit in particular that they’re planning on, or proposing to cut is the recreation benefit. And this provided and continues to provide today I guess, up to $200 per child per year to families to help those kids access recreation activities and social activities. 10:23 Ayesha Okay, and that’s being wiped out completely? Or will there still be access to recreation services? 10:30 Will Pearson So about 1500 children accessed this benefit in 2019, I should say. And, yes, to your question, the city is trying to mitigate the impact of this cut in one key way, Armtrong explains to me and that’s — the recreation department, which is outside of social services, has its own subsidies for people who are on low income. And starting next year, the plan is to broaden the eligibility for those subsidies to include people that are on social assistance. And so someone who is losing access to this benefit will be able to go to a city run recreation facility and access this subsidy. So that’s one way that they’re kind of mitigating that impact and the budget for the recreation department is being increased by $75,000, to anticipate that demand that there might be more people coming, that are losing access to that benefit. I should say, though, that the amount that the recreation benefit for people on social assistance is being cut is more than $75,000. So while the city is trying to mitigate the impact of this, you know, still amounts to a service reduction, it still amounts to a cut. 11:40 Ayesha Okay. But it’s part of this larger pot of money that also includes health benefits, right? 11:46 Will Pearson Mm hmm. And the city — one of the reasons why I spoke to Ellen Armstrong about this, and she pointed out that one of the reasons why, or an additional thing that’s happening this year is the city really wants to prioritize health benefits in its discretionary benefits. When the discretionary benefit program was reviewed, the division noticed that the amount of money that they were providing folks to access you know, dental care or dentures just wasn’t enough to cover the actual costs of dentist work right now. Because I think that those rates were developed about 10 years ago, and dentist work has gotten more expensive since then. And so while, they are cutting this recreation benefit, they’re not — They’re taking some of the money that they save from that cut and actually investing it in other health benefits like dental benefits and denture benefits. 12:38 Ayesha So that’s discretionary benefits, getting a cut. You also talked about poverty reduction initiatives. What are those? 12:44 Will Pearson Yeah, good question. And an important question. When I saw that in the budget, I didn’t know what they were. And I think that just is an example of how important it is to ask questions and dig a little bit deeper into this document, because you don’t always know from the document itself. And so I asked Armstrong what this program is, and she gave me a pretty, pretty good explanation of it. 13:04 Ellen Armstrong There are many items that we cover, we have the provision of baby supply, both for social assistance recipients and low income residents. And we have a fund called Helping Hands, which uses small amounts to cover emergencies, such as if somebody runs out of food in a month and there’s no access to a food bank, or over the counter medication, bus fare, taxi fares. When somebody comes in and there’s an emergency that they need something for, we have a bit of money set aside for that. The baby supplies that can be covered are things like car seats, cribs and booster seats. You can imagine if someone’s in receipt of social assistance, and has a baby that they have to have that just to get the baby home from the hospital. So that’s what we use some of that money for. The remaining amount was used to support other funding applications that reduce poverty and promote social inclusion in the City and County. And so things like the recent rural transportation pilot, the completion of the Age Friendly plan, the pilot site that worked out of — that created a Havelock hub. We funded that for the first year, the initial One City program in downtown we gave them some startup funding for that for the first year. We also supported the low income dental clinic at the health unit and keeping kids healthy program. So if there’s something where somebody needs a bit of extra money to get something that’s socially beneficial going, we would seed fund it I guess is the best word. 14:51 Will Pearson So it’s as Armstrong said it helps people to get baby supplies, grocery cards, taxi rides, if they need them, and then this other seed funding for other poverty reduction projects in the city. don’t exactly know how this cut is going to affect those different programs. In 2019, the baby supplies were $30,000, the helping hands fund so that’s like grocery help things like that, was $35,000. And then the seed funding was $75,000. So that all added up to about $140,000. And that’s the number that’s going to cut by 50%. So it’ll be about $70,000. And I’m not sure which of those programs is going to be, receive that cut. 15:39 Ayesha Right. Okay, so those are the cuts. There’s also a couple areas that are getting a little bit of a boost. In this draft budget. Can you talk a little bit about what we know about that? I think it’s in the housing portfolio in particular. 15:50 Will Pearson Yeah, homelessness. That’s one area where the city is planning or the draft budget proposes to spend a little bit more money. As I said earlier in our conversation, that’s just a reflection of the increased need, and the increased severity of homelessness in our city right now, especially during COVID-19. And so the city’s contribution to its homelessness programs is expected to rise by about 28%. 16:17 Ayesha And what do we know about why those costs might be going up, especially around homelessness? 16:24 Will Pearson Well the city is planning on opening a new 24-seven overflow shelter. And the overflow shelter is currently only run at night. And so staffing it for an extra 12 hours a day is going to be more expensive. I think that social distancing is just reducing the capacity of some of the shelters in Peterborough, and that’s driving up costs. And there’s more information about this is – we’re recording this on Tuesday, November 17, and my understanding is that a report is coming to council next week and will be released this Thursday about how funding of the shelter system is changing. And so I’m looking forward to that report and learning a little bit more about how and why funding of the shelter system is changing. 17:09 Ayesha Mm-hmm, and that’s on homelessness, there’s also affordable housing initiatives in this portfolio, but we’re going to give that it’s own episode. So we’ll dive in the coming weeks… But this has been a look at the draft budget – all of the things we’ve been talking about are draft changes that staff is proposing. What are you looking at in the next week as Council deliberates? What do you think might change? 17:33 Will Pearson Yeah. So next week, council gets to take a look at this budget and decide how they feel about it. And I’m yeah, I’m really interested to see how council responds in particular to these, the two service reductions or cuts that are happening in the social services. If we remember back to last year when one of the proposed cuts was the closure of city-run daycares. And, yeah, Council was just not comfortable with that. And so I’m interested to see how this plays out next week. 18:03 Ayesha Yeah, absolutely. I think like talking to Dean a bit about the pressures council’s facing, especially because of this year because of COVID. Like, childcare is particularly a pressure point for a lot of families and folks hurting because of a lack of employment due to this recession. It’s an interesting budget to consider, and I think it’ll be interesting to watch as it plays out. So thanks for walking us through it, Will, super appreciate your time. Any final thoughts? 18:31 Will Pearson No. 18:32 Ayesha Okay, well, thanks. 18:38 Ayesha That’s all for Peterborough Currents this week. On our website you’ll find an article write-up of all the information shared in this episode, as well as a transcript in the show notes. Coming up next week, we’ll be talking about the climate change action plan, affordable housing and more. I hope you can join us for that. Music in this episode comes courtesy of the Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania. Thanks very much for being with us today, and I’ll talk to you more later. Have a great weekend.

Nov 2020

19 min 6 sec

For our second episode of the Budget Week podcast, Peterborough Currents spoke with Su Ditta, executive director of the Electric City Culture Council to learn more about the role of advocates in the budget process and what she’s advocating for the 2021 municipal budget. The audio in this episode is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the unedited interview, click here. Episode transcript 0:02 Ayesha Hello you’re listening to Peterborough Currents, I’m Ayesha Barmania. This is the second episode of our series on the 2021 Budget Week, and today we’re talking about arts and culture advocacy. 0:14 Beau Dixon You know, when I first moved to Peterborough, I was drawn to the thriving arts community. Coming back here to Peterborough, I’ve taken advantage of the low, you know, moving back into my house low mortgage. My partner and I are able to do a lot more more work in home digitally. We’re able to rehearse because there are spaces here in Peterborough to be utilized. I’m having clients from Toronto, I’m now in talk about having clients from Toronto come to Peterborough because they are needing spaces to rehearse. Simple things like that, where it’s been overlooked in the past because Toronto has offered all of these resources. But I’m really seeing now that Peterborough has an opportunity to really seize the moment. And an opportunity to maintain that reputation that Peterborough had when I moved here 20 years ago, and this is almost an opportunity to revitalize the arts community because of economically where we all are but because of the the talent that lies here in Peterborough and by doing that we can generate some income and we can bring more work and artists into this area. 1:34 Ayesha That was Peterborough performing artist Beau Dixon speaking at the public budget meeting on Monday. During his presentation he joined the calls for sustained arts funding from the city and more support for artists working during the pandemic. He added his voice to the calls spearheaded by arts and culture advocacy group EC3 – the Electric City Culture Council. Since advocacy and lobbying is a major part of the material that gets considered when drafting the budget, I wanted to understand more about how advocacy groups set their priorities and go about their work. So I called Su Ditta, the executive director of EC3 last Monday and I asked her to start by talking about how she is approaching arts advocacy with regards to this city budget. 2:17 Su Ditta So for the 2021 budget, of course, it was different than in previous years, we needed to think about what was going – what the overall situation with finances was going to be with the city, which was that the city was facing a very significant deficit: what kind of money was going to come down from the province and how much of that money might be earmarked for other things, and how much we thought we might be able to ask to be earmarked for our sector. We have to also be very quick on our feet in terms of a gut reaction that happens in a time of crisis, which is, everything else is more important than the arts or luxury. Because we know from feedback from many, many articles and research papers that have produced in fact, the arts have been a critical critical tool for communities for large populations and small to get through this crisis in good mental and spiritual form. So we had all of those things in mind. Then you think about, ‘Okay, what things are we going to do that are direct advocacy or hard advocacy? And what kind of things could we do that are indirect advocacy or soft advocacy?’ So one of the things that’s different in advocating this year around financial support for the arts is that the arts are invisible right now. The venues are closed, exhibitions aren’t happening or happening only recently, in small forums, concerts aren’t happening. ArtsWeek 2020 was cancelled. And that normally happens right before budget discussions. That was a huge issue. And the second one was to kind of – advocacy had to be shaped towards the incredible vulnerability the community has right now. And that there were certain organizations that were having a particularly tough time: the venues that are box office dependent and have high operating costs. So all of those things are informing our work as we prepare the advocacy program. 4:35 Ayesha Absolutely, and you’ve done – EC3 has done a fair bit of research on the impact of COVID-19 and the recession on the local arts community, how are you synthesizing all this information? And what is the – what are the priorities that are coming out of this information you’re looking at? 4:53 Su Ditta So organizations in Peterborough say pretty much the same thing that organizations all across the country and internationally say that the first thing to survive and to have a healthy recovery, and better long term future is to have stable basic operating income. So that means that we wanted to argue for no cuts to the community investment and project grants budgets, and to the service grants for arts, culture and heritage organizations. So knowing that that stability is there makes a huge difference to people. 5:34 Ayesha And I wondered if you could just speak a bit to what role do these community grants play in the arts ecosystem? 5:42 Su Ditta Municipal – the community grants are essentially the contribution from the municipal level of government to the operating grants of the core major arts organizations in the city. The service grants fund some and I can talk about those separately. But there’s, you know, a group of about I can’t remember exactly, maybe 20 groups that get their municipal level of their operating funding through that program. And it’s absolutely crucial. So that money combined with provincial money they get, combined with the federal money they get, creates the core operating budget to pay for overhead costs. So to pay staff salaries, rent, office supplies, insurance, all of those really critical things that you can’t go on and carry on with unless you’re paying your utility bill and making sure you’re covered by your insurance and that you have money for basic marketing and promotion and all the things you need to keep your doors open. You know, there comes a point and I know a number of groups feel now they’re going to just squeak through till the end of the calendar year which for some people is the end of the fiscal year but it was going into next year where things were really really dicey because uncertainty is our worst enemy right now. We have no idea when things can open right up again, no idea when we can get back to our, to our audience to our ticket sales to our fundraising events. So it becomes a certain point where you just can’t carry on. 7:31 Ayesha Absolutely – 7:32 Su Ditta You know, this is a sector that knows how to make a dollar go a long way. There is no fat in these organizations. People are grossly underpaid. Artists are grossly underpaid. And it’s a very, very vulnerable sector to work in. So this is an incredibly difficult time. And one of the things that’s, as it often does come out of a very difficult time is the resilience of some of our arts organizations. We’ve seen Artspace put many exhibitions in its windows. We saw Public Energy organize an incredible suite of outdoor performance activities with Pivot. Same with the Fourth Line. The Art Gallery of Peterborough did their online auction and all the money is going to artists. The Peterborough Singers have found incredibly innovative ways to keep rehearsing. That’s one of their big problems. If they’re not rehearsing all the time, they won’t be ready to perform when there’s a vaccine and when restrictions have lifted. And so they’ve worked incredibly hard, particularly for their staff and their artistic leadership to do many rehearsals three times a week. People are doing absolutely everything they can. So any cuts would have shaken them to the bone. 8:56 Ayesha These grants, some of them, at least, come with certain requirements that projects be completed or services be provided. How have we seen the pandemic impact organizations’ ability to do those– conduct those activities? And how is– what are you looking for in terms of like any kind of leniency there? 9:19 Su Ditta Well, there as I said, there was a comfort condition letter that – it was a good one – that went out with all the grants. And I would say that every major public funder at every level of government has done the same thing. They said, “Here’s the money that you got based on our assessment of your grant application, and in the context of who else was applying, here’s your grant. But we understand these are our special circumstances.” And I think particularly in last year’s grant applications, which would have been made in December, long before the pandemic. So I think the challenge will be in the assessment process of the Community Investment and Project grants to see you know, what people are actually able to do and what they’re proposing to do next year. But I think that the you know, I think that that kind of open ended granting and trust has to be in place there because we have no idea when people can open again. 10:23 Ayesha In addition to continued support for maintaining basic operations during the pandemic, Ditta says arts organizations need funding for COVID-specific expenses like personal protective equipment, staff training and renovations to promote physical distancing. Especially as a lot of arts organizations hope to reopen in 2021. To help with those costs, EC3 is requesting the city make a contribution to its new Arts Alive Fund. 10:48 Su Ditta That’s a fund EC3 has been building in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough. And it’s specifically COVID-19 relief and response funding. 11:00 Ayesha So that would be addressing some of the access to PPE? And – 11:06 Su Ditta All of those kinds of things. Yeah, some people may or may need additional support with fixed costs, they may want to start bringing staff back. You know, they may have things they want to do, in terms of virtual initiatives, anything, it’s very wide open. But to date, the City hasn’t provided any relief to the sector. So we were very, very fortunate to have a private individual come forward and donate some money and to offer to help us continue to build the fund. And we had a $20,000 anonymous donation, which really pushed the fund forward. And we know two other cities – it’s really interesting, I am co-chairing this new alliance the Municipal Arts Councils, this one regional Arts Council, and two other cities have exactly the same experience – 12:02 Ayesha Of the City not providing support? 12:04 Su Ditta Well, they turned us down or earlier, but we’ll ask again, because this is a very effective way for them to provide this strategic support, this emergency support, because we do all the work. 12:19 Ayesha How does Peterborough stack up against other Ontario municipalities in terms of investment in either public art or the kind of operation fund- operations funding? 12:33 Su Ditta I don’t know the numbers on public art. So I’ll tell you, it’s hard to know. And it’s something that we should commission a really good study on if necessary, because different– I mean, there are reports on this and there’s some stats available from Creative Cities Network or from Hill Strategies Research that is kind of like a, you know, a literature review of all different reports that come out. But one of the things that’s difficult is having a consistent baseline. So people will say that the funding is usually reported on a per capita basis. But what do they include? Do they include the, like our Memorial Center, which does have some entertainment activities, but it’s primarily a sports activity, that they include that in our in an arts and culture, rundown of numbers. If you’re trying to report on where we are, it’s a little bit hard to say, I’ve looked at different numbers, everything I’ve looked at says we’re or lower than most cities, like ours, but I like to throw the numbers around. It’s really hard to establish that baseline. 13:41 Ayesha I think that’s, I think that’s everything I wanted to ask about. Is there any lingering thoughts you wanted to add? 13:48 Su Ditta You know, I think that what COVID-19 has shown all of the board and staff members at EC3 and a lot of the incredible team that we work with in the city, you know, all the sponsors of Arts Awards, and all the sponsors of ArtsWeek is how incredibly valued the arts are in this cit, and how vulnerable the sector is to any kind of disruption in its their annual cycle of hard work to raise money. And finally, just how resilient and creative the sector is, what they’ve been able to do under incredibly, incredibly tight the strict restrictions is just extraordinary. 14:38 Ayesha That was my conversation with Su Ditta, executive director of the Electric City Culture Council and advocate for the arts. It was recorded last week on Monday. If you’d like to hear the unedited conversation, there is a link in the show notes on our website: That’s all for today’s episode of the budget week podcast. If you have a question about the budget that you’d like us to answer – email us at Music in this episode comes courtesy of the Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania, and I’ll talk to you later this week. Ciao for now.

Nov 2020

15 min 19 sec

To kick off our Budget Week podcast, Peterborough Currents spoke with Dean Pappas, city councillor for town ward and chair of the finance committee about the impact of COVID-19 on the city budget and how the process is unfolding this year. The audio in this episode is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the unedited interview, click here. Episode transcript 0:01 Ayesha Hi there, you’re listening to Peterborough Currents. My name is Ayesha Barmania. I feel like I almost don’t need to say it anymore but I’ll say it anyway… 2020 has been an unprecedented year. The measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have had a ripple effect through everything. And as we come closer to the end of the year, we’re beginning to see how it’s impacted the city’s finances in actual numbers. To kick off our budget week podcast, I called town ward councillor and chair of the city’s finance committee, Deans Pappas to talk about how the budget process works normally how it has been working this year, and also how the pandemic and its recession have impacted it. With city council set to deliberate on the budget next week. I also asked Pappas, what changes he’s hoping council will make to the draft budget before it gets final approval in December. What you’re about to hear is an edited version of our conversation. If you’d like to hear the unedited version, we have that available on our website. You’ll also find there a transcript of this episode. I spoke with Councillor Pappas on Tuesday last week. And here’s what we spoke about. 1:04 Dean Pappas In my mind, it’s one of the most important documents that we have. It outlines how the city will operate for the whole next year, basically, right? It’s our, you know, people say what’s your strategic plan? Well your strategic plan is our budget, right? If you need if you want a project or you want a program or, or a capital project to go forward, it needs to be in in the budget, right? 1:28 Ayesha One thing that I’ve been learning about in kind of preparing this podcast and learning more about city budgets is that it strikes me as like an interesting example and like a collision point for a bunch of different forces that city council has to pay attention to. There is the public and like constituents opinions, but there’s also advocacy groups weighing in, there’s the outside agencies, there’s staff at City Hall and and provincial legislation that you have to take into account. I wondered if you could speak to how these different interests get represented in the budget? And how do you do the kind of balancing act? 2:02 Dean Pappas Well, and I think that is the big question, right? I think we have to be mindful of it, and I think people need to keep in mind that, you know, the biggest part of the budget that people think we have, is actually non discretionary, that, you know, that is money given to us by other levels of government, like on social services, to be spent for specific programs. So almost the biggest part of our budget is non-discretionary. Because that’s just what it costs to deliver those services. So, some of those costs are mandated like social services are pretty fixed costs. Right. So there’s not a lot of movement there. Our union costs our collective bargaining agreements, they’re pretty fixed costs. So you might see that there’s, you know, there’s, you know, there’s, there’s a big portion of our budget is just just salaries. So when you see that big number, but we employ 1000 people, so our payroll is pretty big, right? It’s not quite 1000 people, but it’s, it’s in that neighborhood, you know. And so the payroll is pretty large, when you start thinking about what they all get paid. And, you know, and as you move through all the ranks, you know, and they’re all in different departments, from, from housing, to fire to police, on down to library staff to arts, culture, and heritage staff, you know, to arena staff to people picking up the garbage and recycling. So, they’re, you know, it is a balancing act, right. It’s like, you know, if we fund that, do we, do we have to lay off people at the museum or at the Art Gallery, or do we increase that and do we have not as much garbage pickup? Right? And, you know, I mean, so it’s all intertwined? It’s not, it’s not a linear line? Like, if we cut you know, if – Are you gonna cut transit to pay for something in a different department? I mean, it’s a difficult choice. Right? 4:12 Ayesha Sure. And you had spoken about how the budget can be viewed as almost a strategic plan for the city. Well, what can we read about the city’s priorities in this year’s budget, if we’re – go ahead. 4:25 Dean Pappas We’re still kind of getting there. But I, I put a I put as much stock as we can in the public engagement piece. And that’s why we kind of started the – we call it the public budget roadshow. I started it two years ago. This year, it got cut short by because of COVID, obviously. However, we still had 500 respondents to our survey, which is a pretty good number. To me, that shows some, you know, people are engaged, there was still, even during COVID people bothered to care about the budget and fill out the public budget survey. And priorities in that were housing, cost of living and social services. That was the number one, two and three. When you really break it down, there was 12 priorities. But realistically, the top three are what you’re going to be able to kind of tackle. 5:22 Ayesha So how does something like the public survey, how does that get used in the budget deliberation process? 5:28 Dean Pappas Well, we’d like to have it done in early May and and staff – In the old days, council used to give priorities to projects like staff would show up with a bunch of projects and programs that they thought were important. And then council would then go ahead and prioritize all of those right? When you do it this way, it’s almost like the public whose community it is. Right? They do all the living and paying in the community – they’re the ones who get to say, well, these are our priorities here. So, and this year was a little bit of a, of an extra survey because of the PDI money. And what did the public want us to do with that? So? Yeah, so and now staff – just to get back to your question, sorry about that, I wandered a little bit there. But to get back to your question, staff then take those results, instead of presenting them to council like they used to, then we would pick, the staff really take those top three priorities and try to answer some of them in the budget documents, right. You know they take their cue a little bit. 6:52 Ayesha So yeah, well, to take an example, and like you mentioned, from the public survey this year, number one, and two that were listed were housing and social services. And I want to point out also that something like safety and criminal activity came in at eight. I want to try and understand how those results that came in, as I understand it, council directed staff to draft this budget with a capped increase to the police budget, up to 2.18% I think. 7:22 Dean Pappas One eight. That’s correct. 7:26 Ayesha But I believe there’s also a direction to hire KPMG to look for potential cuts in social services departments, which includes the housing portfolio- 7:34 Dean Pappas That wasn’t just social services, they were to look at every department. 7:38 Ayesha Okay. 7:40 Dean Pappas Yeah every department. They came with 16 areas, they felt that we could save money, and some of them are reasonable, some of them aren’t reasonable. But at budget time – I’ve asked staff to actually break out the 16 and insert them and have the reports ready for when we discuss them in budget, so that we can pull them out at that time, but we’ll see where they go on that. But like, but KPMG really did say that there wasn’t a lot of fat left on on the bone or meat on the bone. Did I mix my metaphor? Or meat on the bone or whatever. 8:18 Ayesha You might be looking at meat to trim at this point. 8:23 Dean Pappas Meat to trim, I know. The police budget is up to the police to bring back. We recommend a cap or a guideline for their increase. And I believe that was a six to five vote at 2.18%. That, you know, there are some councillors that wanted to have a higher guideline. So yeah, you probably know where I would have gone. But so then it’s up to the police by the Police Services Act. We can’t direct the police operationally. So we can give we can say no to the budget. Like when they finally do present their budget here on Tuesday of next week, the police will present their budget to Council and the council will debate it on Wednesday of next week or the week after. We can say no and send it back to them. 9:26 Ayesha Could you have said – sorry – could you have capped the increase at zero percent? I noticed outside agencies had to be kept at zero percent this year. 9:37 Dean Pappas Well, the police, you can’t cap it, you can suggest the budget guideline to them. So we could – so, because of the way the Police Services Act is structured, we could have suggested zero or a lower number than 2.18%. Which I would have been you know, I would have been up for debate on any number. Right. So. But we needed to but that was what council settled on. Six councillors settled on that. You know, there are many councillors that wanted a higher number. 10:12 Ayesha Yeah absolutely, um, to kind of switch gears and talk a bit about – so we’ve been talking kind of more about services and expenditures at this point, but to kind of turn more towards the sort of revenue side of things, I guess. 10:25 Dean Pappas There aren’t any this year. (laughter) 10:30 Ayesha Well, I want to return to – so council was struggling this past summer to agree on a number for the property tax increase. And as I understand it, there was no consensus. 10:41 Dean Pappas They didn’t. 10:46 Ayesha You didn’t and so staff has come back with a proposed 2.87% property tax increase. 10:52 Dean Pappas That’s correct. 10:53 Ayesha I want to just kind of try and understand that process like has giving – has leaving it up to staff to propose the increase given a bit more leeway to this budget? Or, like what options has it opened up? 11:10 Dean Pappas It’s the first time in my memory that council couldn’t agree on a guideline. Like we’ve always been able to get in the ballpark. Normally, it’s a range that we give them. Like in the past – when I was first elected to council, it would have been a range like 1.5% to 2% in that range, and staff would come in in the middle somewhere. And then when Darryl became mayor, we gave them a hard number. And then this is the first year that we haven’t been able to give them any number. I think there’s a number of reasons for that. Everybody has a different number in their head I guess. I just think and I see this recession that we’re in, in a very clear way maybe because I’m on George Street every day. The people who could afford to work from home, you know, can afford to work virtually, many of them – I can’t say all because that’s never the rule – but there were many people who could work from home and they didn’t miss a lot of paychecks. Work virtually, right? Many of the other – the middle income people and the people in the service industry, they were minimum wage earners, they did lose their jobs. Right so to me, there’s a real discrepancy in this recession that we’re in. You know, if you just look at all the billionaires – I don’t want to get on my soapbox but – you know the top one percent during the pandemic they really did increase their overall wealth during the pandemic if you look at the numbers. I just think, to me when I’m trying to argue for a lower number, I really believe that we need to give people a break here. 13:01 Ayesha So you’d like to see the increase lower than 2.87%? 13:03 Dean Pappas Absolutely. I don’t think people can afford that. And even in the commercial area, those costs are passed on by businesses. If a business owns its property, it’s paying taxes. 13:18 Ayesha So this draft budget that we’re looking at is pretty, like perfectly balanced. With the 2.87% property tax increase, accounting for loss of revenue elsewhere. What would you suggest? Like what concrete savings solutions might be out there if we went with a lower percent increase? 13:37 Dean Pappas Well, I think that’s what we have to go through and look at, right? I know that Councillor Beamer has offered up a bunch of cuts. There is 0.45% I believe – sorry I don’t have the budget book in front of me, I apologize – I think it’s 0.45% of that is, is going directly to a debenture, which is like a mortgage for a city this year, so we can do some more capital works this year. So our capital budget is $70 million. If you were to pull that out, it would come down to about $61 million. So that’s still a good chunk of money for capital this year. And you can shave a bit off the taxes there too. 14:21 Ayesha Okay, gotcha. 14:22 Dean Pappas So that’s just one example of how you can shave that down without touching services, you know what I mean? 14:28 Ayesha It seems like you’re walking a very, very tight line between, like austerity, and but also like injecting cash and keeping up services for the folks who need it who are also hurting because of COVID. 14:43 Dean Pappas Yeah, I’ve been telling people I believe we’re in a three year kind of recovery that we need to manage our way through, I think this year was really going to be about survival for people. Right, and then after that, we could almost relaunch. The economy and the pandemic are hopelessly tied together. Until we solve the pandemic and save people’s lives, we’re definitely going to be in a recession and we’re going to be on hard times. 15:22 Ayesha Absolutely. And what’s the starting point that we’re coming into this kind of recovery period? Like, what can you tell me about the deficit that we’re carrying? 15:29 Dean Pappas Yeah, the COVID. The effects of COVID – because of loss of revenue and increased costs for services, that will cost roughly $21 million this year. So that’s $21 million dollars, we didn’t have. We got some relief money for social services and transit, which was two of the bigger pots of money where we ran over, because we have to, because no one’s going to be left out in the cold, right? We have to make sure that we have services for people. And, yeah, we have to run transit. Even though it’s not a mandated service, it is an essential service. 16:16 Ayesha Sure so not mandated by the province, but – 16:19 Dean Pappas It’s not mandated. You don’t have to have a bus service. But you should have a bus service. 16:26 Ayesha Right. 16:26 Dean Pappas But social services is mandated by the province and both of those chewed up our budget. So we got some money from the feds and the province to cover off those two. And then we’ve had to raid our reserve funds to come up with a lot of other money, which a lot of that will have to be paid back from future revenues. 16:51 Ayesha And as I understand it, municipalities aren’t allowed to carry a deficit from year to year, has there been any leniency from the province on that kind of requirement? Or? 17:01 Dean Pappas No, and I don’t expect there to be actually. So we’re still about $2.7 million short. But staff are confident that they’re gonna be able to make that up this year, the problem is that that affects future revenue streams, because they’ll have to pay back those reserves. So there’s going to be a bit of an accordion effect. We can pay it off now, but then future revenues will also be down. 17:30 Ayesha Sure. So I wonder if you could make a little bit more concrete, what we might be looking at in terms of, you know, making up this deficit later. Like, are we thinking about higher user fees, higher tax rates, like in future years? 17:41 Dean Pappas Well, I think – and here’s just my thoughts – we’re not counting on any casino revenues this year. So those are in the budget. So without going into austerity cuts, you could – that’s not money we’re counting on – so you could use that money to pay back the money you borrowed from your reserve accounts in future years. So that would be one year of the casino would actually pay that back. That’s about $3 million. So we’re $2.7 million short. You know what I’m saying? So you’re almost there. If you just don’t budget anything for the casino for a couple of years, you’ll be up on the plus side 18:37 Ayesha As long as it meets all of its costs. 18:42 Dean Pappas And yeah. And before COVID it is it was paying around that – it was paying about $2.8 million is what we were getting from the casino. 19:00 Ayesha Great. And so. So coming into my second to last question. So you talked a bit about how you want to see a lower property tax increase. But I also wondered, just in general, how do you feel this budget, this draft budget at the moment strikes its balance? And is there anything at this point that you’d like to see changed before it’s voted on in December? 19:17 Dean Pappas Well, as far as the number goes – when you look at other communities that are, you know, there’s lots of other comparators that we can see. You pay more for property tax in Peterborough like we’re the fifth highest taxed city in our classification in Ontario. But you know, it’s a bit of a – I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I should have looked them up and if you give me a second I can – but if you look at say, Milton, for instance, their average household income is about $110,000 a year, and they’re paying, they’re paying $1,700 per household in property taxes. And if you start looking around what other cities are paying, and what the average household income is, then, we’re actually really high. Like we’re not anywhere where we should be on both of them. Our average household income is $54,000. And the average house in Peterborough is paying $4,200 in property taxes. Throw on insurance, and a mortgage payment, and, you know, there’s not much left. 20:46 Dean Pappas You know, so I think it’s all tied together, like people’s ability to pay, you know, the fact that we don’t have enough jobs and jobs are important. And other people don’t like talking about jobs all the time. But it gives people a sense of purpose, it allows you to have some freedom that you can, you know, you have money in your pocket, you can do what you want gives you that kind of financial freedom, right? So I think they are both tied together. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in Peterborough, we have high taxes and a low income, whereas other cities our size have a much higher income and lower taxes. So we’re a little the wrong way, and that’s a hard cycle to get out of. 21:45 Ayesha So my last question is kind of on a different topic. So the meeting on Monday is one of the opportunities for the public to weigh in. There have been several over the year. And we’re actually not that far out from when the budget deliberations or the budget roadshow would start for the 2022 budget. What do you think is most useful for the public to weigh in on? And how do you hope to engage with constituents on the budget? 22:08 Dean Pappas You know, I always tell people to please, you know, there’s lots of ways to contact us. Most councillors are pretty happy to talk to their constituents, I always answer the phone when you call in. And you know, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can if I’m at work, or I’m from getting my flu vaccine, I’ll always try to get back to you as soon as I can after that. And I just think everybody has their own whatever project and you know, what I’ve learned about the budget is people have their own what they think is important to them and their community. And we need to hear that, as councillors and as politicians. The thing is, sometimes it might take a while. And I don’t want people to be discouraged that, you know, I went and asked for my road to get paved, or I went and asked for my community garden to get put in or I needed new playgrounds or I need a pollinator in my area. Whatever your project is or whatever your passion is – that’s great. We love that as councillors. So don’t be discouraged. Just sometimes it takes a while for that to kind of transpire. So, yeah, just don’t give up. Just keep coming back. Keep coming back and, you know, that’s how things get into the budget eventually.. 23:36 Ayesha That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Dean and for taking me through this. I really, really appreciate it. 23:43 Ayesha That was my conversation with City Councillor Dean Pappas, who is the Chair of the Finance Committee. That’s all for this episode of the Budget Week podcast from Peterborough Currents. We’re covering the municipal budget deliberations over the next few weeks with podcasts and articles, which you can find on our website: Have a question about the budget that you’d like us to look into? Email us at Music in this episode comes courtesy of Mayhemingways. My name is Ayesha Barmania and I’ll talk to you later this week.

Nov 2020

24 min 20 sec

Introducing a new podcast from Peterborough Currents all about the 2021 municipal budget deliberations. On Monday November 16, 2020, citizens will have one of their last opportunities to publicly address city council regarding the 2021 draft budget. The following week, city council will sit as the finance committee to deliberate and make any changes to the budget it deems necessary. City council is scheduled to approve the budget on December 14, 2020. The municipal budget shapes how our city will operate for the next year and beyond — the decisions that are made during budget week range from how much funding will there be for the arts, to what money is available for public transit services, to which roads and bike trails will get a facelift. Because of these significant decisions and because the budget poses a key exercise in how our local democracy works, Peterborough Currents is exploring the budget process over the next few weeks through this podcast and through a series of articles. Our first episode comes out on November 16, 2020. You can subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast apps, or listen through our website. Do you have a question or perspective about the city budget? Email us at The music in this podcast comes courtesy of the MAYHEMINGWAYS.

Nov 2020

3 min 23 sec

In December 2018, following the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, Maryam Monsef joined Peterborough Currents host Ayesha Barmania for an interview about gender-based violence. Monsef is the Member of Parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha and cabinet minister for the Status of Women. During the previous months there had been several stories of women in the local area being murdered by their intimate partners. The conversation begins by discussing these recent incidents of violence before delving into the Government’s plan for ending gender-based violence in Canada.

Dec 2018

34 min 55 sec

During the 2018 municipal election, Peterborough voters cast their ballots and elected in Diane Therrien, who previously served as a city councillor for Town Ward. Peterborough Currents invited Mayor-elect Diane Therrien to join us on our live radio show, broadcast through the facilities of Trent Radio. Co-hosts Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson interviewed Therrien and opened the phone lines (with some technical difficulty) for listeners to ask questions.

Nov 2018

1 hr 24 min

During the 2018 municipal election, Peterborough Currents set out to interview each of the candidates for the KPRDSB Board of Trustees. This special program includes nine interviews with the City of Peterborough candidates, the County of Peterborough candidates and those who were acclaimed, and interviews with the student-elected trustees. Find time codes below for when each interview begins: (00:06:40) Wayne Bonner, candidate for the City of Peterborough (00:18:30) Dennis Hildebrand, candidate for the City of Peterborough (00:26:40) Rose Kitney, candidate for the City of Peterborough (00:39:15) Steve Russell, candidate for the City of Peterborough (00:51:24) Diane Lloyd, acclaimed trustee for the Municipality of Trent Lakes, Township of North Kawartha, Township of Selwyn (01:00:55) Shirley Patterson, acclaimed trustee for the Township of Asphodel-Norwood, Township of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, and Municipality of Trent Hills (01:16:10) Angela Lloyd, acclaimed trustee for the Township of Cavan-Monaghan, Township of Douro-Dummer, Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan (01:27:00) Aidan Hussey, student trustee and Grade 11 student at East Northumberland Secondary School (01:38:05) Lindsey Keene, student trustee and student at Clarington Central Secondary School. There are five other elected trustee positions representing areas in the region served by the KPRDSB but these areas are not in the County of Peterborough so I have not included them in this episode. There is also one appointed position representing the First Nations in the KPRDSB region, which rotates every year in November, at the time this program was recorded, the new trustee had not yet been selected. This episode was hosted and produced by Ayesha Barmania. Original music composed and performed by John Whelan.

Oct 2018

1 hr 50 min

In 2018, the Peterborough Currents team created themed episodes as a way to explore stories in the community. This episode about food delved into six stories about growing food, selling food, making food, working with food, and the politics of food. Find time codes below for when each story begins: (0:24) Another season of gardening kicks off at Seedy Sunday; (4:40) an interview with a Peterborough Farmers’ Market vendor, as the beleaguered organization tries to put its reseller controversy behind it; (12:40) Shannon Mak serves up a cocktail at Le Petit Bar; (16:20) Martin Carbajal (of La Mesita Restaurante) explains his passion for tacos; (19:10) food service workers at Trent University threaten a strike in response to their precarious work conditions; and (26:46) Food Not Bombs Peterborough serves free vegan meals to anyone who is hungry every Monday night in Confederation Park, and they’ve been at it for almost 13 years without ever missing a meal. This episode was hosted and produced by Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson. With contributions by Mauricio Interiano and Josh Skinner. Music composed and performed by John Whelan.

Mar 2018

45 min 37 sec

In 2018, the Peterborough Currents team created themed episodes as a way to explore stories in the community. This episode about housing delved into seven stories about homes and housing. Find time codes below for when each story begins: (00:40) an afternoon on the farm of Peter and Ada Leahy; (07:20) visiting with current and historical residents of homes in The Avenues; (19:10) an interview with Rebecca Morgan-Quinn, Manager of Housing at the City of Peterborough about the City’s review of the Housing and Homelessness Plan; (23:20) Dewey Jones organizes a group of seniors in Lakefield towards creating a living space for themselves through a non-profit called Abbeyfield; (27:00) Trent University student Berfin Aksoy shares the unique challenges that international students face looking for housing, and an interview with Meghan Johnny about the Peterborough Student Housing Co-operative initiative; (34:45) an interview with Christian Harvey, Director of the Warming Room Community Ministries about his work supporting people experiencing homelessness; and (41:30) an interview with Janice Keil who is assembling an all women construction crew to build a passive house in Northumberland County. This episode was hosted and produced by Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson. With a contribution by Mauricio Interiano. Music in this episode is courtesy of Olias, Nick Ferrio, and original compositions by John Whelan.

Feb 2018

58 min 44 sec