Ashburnham Ward may be one of the best-kept secrets in southern Ontario. Where else can you live in a self-contained small town with abundant recreational opportunities that's only a fifteen minute walk across the river to a city with all its amenities - at a price affordable for young families?
The older, central area of East City has become home to many young parents in recent years as retirees sell their quirky properties. The continuous parkland along the Rotary Trail is
attraction enough, not to mention two public elementary schools and a
revitalized commercial strip along Hunter Street anchored by the
newly-relocated Peterborough Examiner and the Ashburnham Ale House - all
within walking distance.
Candidates Paul Teleki and Donald Fraser are
part of this demographic. They're both progressive thinkers and self-employed entrepreneurs who've created niches for themselves while focusing on community-building. Both have well-developed platforms that lay out practical ideas for a sustainable Peterborough with strong focus on Ashburnham itself.
Ashburnham is rich with parkland and is the city's most bike-able ward. Lying along the
Otonabee means the ward is relatively flat, except as it slopes up to
the canal, which contains suburban sprawl to the east. The Rotary Trail, an accessible non-motorized highway great for both
recreation and transportation all the way from Trent University to Little Lake, has set the tone for the ward. Surveys conducted by Teleki, discussed on his website, show that "complete streets" providing safety and convenience for pedestrians and cyclists are important to residents.
What about the rest of the ward? The area north of Parkhill is dominated by retirement condominiums until it opens onto the newly-sprawling, car-dependent Frances Stewart neighborhood east of Armour Road. But it's south of Lansdowne that's the focus of new growth in the ward, with the proposed Coldsprings subdivision south of the 115 bypass set to take advantage of the easy access to the highway and industrial employment areas.
Incumbent councillors Len Vass and Keith Riel stand good chances of being re-elected. But Fraser, Teleki and Gary Baldwin are a formidable set of challengers. Riel replaced Patti Peeters on council in 2010, picking up about 2100 votes, while Vass was re-elected to his third term with almost 2700. Teleki, only 30 years old at the time, finished third in the race with almost 1800 votes.
Riel's been against the Parkway throughout, arguing that Ashburnham will be shortchanged by the $100 million plan, which will suck tax dollars away from other projects and provide a road that few Ashburnham residents will have cause to use. Riel, a former labour leader, hasn't made smart growth a campaign focus, but his dollars-and-sense perspective on the Parkway is a valid one. Riel is also one of the few councillors to admit that his responsibilities are almost equivalent to a full-time job, as per this Examiner article. Councillors get paid about $27,000 a year. Riel figures he made about $12 an hour last year. If we want a more responsive, better-prepared council, shouldn't we stop asking them to work for minimum wage?
Vass, who lives in Keene, is a small business owner who ran unsuccessfully for mayor twice before getting elected as councillor. Vass is known for chairing the committee that moved Peterborough public transit from a 30 to a 40 minute cycle. That was a realistic move, and has reduced frustration at late buses. But who can keep track of a 40 minute cycle? Ridership has stagnated as Peterborough's bus system remains old-fashioned in its approach, and continues to be used mainly by those who have no other choice to get around. Teleki and Fraser have called for a much-needed rethink of the whole service.
Vass supports the Parkway, and reportedly waffled on the Jackson Park bridge until finally voting with Bennett to back it. When Vass announced at the December public meetings on the Parkway that he wasn't going to run again in 2014, people cheered. This summer he changed his mind and registered immediately after Bennett in late August. Vass still doesn't have a website. It's hard to think of any reason why this non-resident flip-flopper deserves yet another term.
Gary Baldwin, a long-time resident of the south-east part of the ward, ran in Otonabee Ward in 2010, finishing third with 1700 votes. Baldwin's a retired principal with the Kawartha Pine Ridge school board who accepted no corporate contributions to his 2010 campaign. His website doesn't mention a thing about smart growth, but it's clear from his resume that Baldwin's a sports and recreation enthusiast who values physical exercise. He's been keeping track of his footsteps for the campaign, which he's called "Stepping Forward for Ashburnham" - more than 250,000 so far. Does he support the Parkway? Smart growth? It's hard to tell. Baldwin's website and his Cogeco clip emphasize listening, compromise, and responsible management. Like Vass, Baldwin remains vague on specific issues.
Thankfully, Fraser and Teleki are anything but vague.
Fraser's website is chock full of good ideas on specific projects. Fraser calls for attracting "innovative businesses" to Peterborough, a "complete streets approach to improving transportation," and ward-based neighbourhood associations. He wants to improve communication with citizens by having staff reports published at least one week before council meetings, and having councilors declare their "major supporters" before making relevant decisions. Fraser distinguishes himself from other progressive candidates with his emphasis on local food. He's been writing about food issues for years, and has strategies in mind for strengthening our local food network.
He's like to see further development of Hunter Street East as an arm of the downtown core. Fraser says he's against the Parkway, but didn't want to make that a principal campaign issue - a sensible approach, since the Parkway is largely irrelevant to Ashburnham residents. Instead he's focusing on redesigning specific intersections such as Parkhill and Armour, and revamping our outdated bus service. It's evident that Fraser's work with Peterborough Green-Up has given him plenty of insight into practical ways to improve our quality of life.
Teleki, who runs a research and planning business, has been doing plenty of canvassing too, often with his infant son strapped to his chest. The Examiner's photo of Teleki at the door with baby-in-Snugli heads online stories several times, including articles on surveys and the casino, which he calls a "desperate solution." Teleki's platform is much like Fraser's, emphasizing specific areas where practical improvements can be made and focusing on innovative approaches to our local economy.
Teleki, like Riel, feels that the Parkway will only drain away funds that should be spent on upgrading Ashburnham's own roads, or spent on other kinds of innovation. "Imagine what we could do with 1% (roughly $780,000) of what would be spent in roadways and support innovation in our community," he writes. Instead of investing in such outdated mega-projects, Teleki looks to the future with solar-powered street lights, a bridge to the Zoo, traffic circles, a green-waste program, and geothermal heating and cooling. Teleki completed a Master's thesis on "rethinking accountability" in Canadian government with an emphasis on ethical responsibility.
Ashburnham residents should be pleased to have both Fraser and Teleki as progressive alternatives to the stagnant business-as-usual approach of the incumbent council.
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