Incumbent Paul Ayotte is running against Daryl Bennett for Mayor in the October 25th municipal election. In this interview with PtboCanada, Ayotte explains why he thinks he has what it takes to be Mayor of Peterborough again:
PtboCanada: What can you offer Peterborough in the role of mayor that Daryl Bennett can't? Obviously your years of experience in politics is key, but beyond that what else makes you the man for the job again?
Ayotte: From my knowledge of the community gained over decades of public service, I identified housing, infrastructure, downtown, transportation, arts and culture, civic pride, recreation and sports as areas that we should concentrate on four years ago. We have made gains in all of these areas and I see them as key areas that continue to require our attention. You can go to VoteAyotte.com to get the details. The experience I have gained working with senior levels of government and our MP and MPP to make things, like the airport project, happen when it had been turned down in June 2009—yet was so important to this whole region—has been very valuable. Meeting with different provincial ministers at AMO has also given me contacts that are valuable going forward.
PtboCanada: As you yourself have pointed out, Daryl Bennett is very well connected—and respected—in the business community and beyond here. What are your thoughts on this race and Daryl?
Ayotte: I have known Daryl since the days when he was pumping gas at his dad’s service station on Hunter St. and know how he got into the business and he has done well. I know of his connection to Trent through Dr. Symons and I know of his stint on the CFDC board through contacts. I congratulate him for putting forward his name and offering his service to the community at this stage of his career.
PtboCanada: You are known as a man with an incredibly strong work ethic. Will you bring the same passion and determination if re-elected? You're not "burned-out" from your first-term as mayor?
Ayotte: I will continue as I have been doing. I love the job and can hardly wait to get to work in the mornings. Every day is a little bit different. Sure I get the odd email that I would like to pass on to someone else, but I had a few of those during my 38 ½ years at GE Canada as well. No, I am not burned out and look forward to continuing my work on the projects outlined above and on my website. When invited to a community function, a few hours of my time invested in a community group’s activity pays great dividends as they will go on to put in hundreds of volunteer hours that make Peterborough the community we, who live here, are so proud of.
PtboCanada: You have initiated attention to and support to the impoverished and homeless, such as through Our Space and affordable housing. What would you do to continue to advance such initiatives, with our unemployment rate being so high right now and so many parents and kids in great need of food and shelter?
Ayotte: Approximately 35% of our gross budget ($66.5M) goes to provide assistance to those less fortunate in our community through social services, housing, tax rebates, and community grants to organizations within the community providing services to this client group. It is a tough nut to crack, but I believe we are making some headway. It is a community problem and we need to find a community solution. The group is creating a community hub around the Prince of Wales school area and bringing together the neighborhood with health care, social services, education, and other community groups. Some service clubs and churches have offered assistance as well.
I see us continuing to support our community partners in their efforts to supply affordable housing. When the unemployment rates rise as they have in this economy, the demand for city services increases accordingly. Often the business community will say times are tough and the city should be cutting back, but that is when we face more challenges at the city.
PtboCanada: Speaking of unemployment, what will you do to continue to bring/attract more business and companies to Peterborough, and to create more jobs and keep our young braintrust from leaving the city to seek new jobs? It's disappointing how we educate students at Trent and Fleming and then lose a great percentage of them to bigger cities where the jobs are.
Ayotte: With a global economy where your competition is not around the corner or in the next city but might well be on the other side of the globe, where NAFTA has certainly had an impact on our heavy industrial base, where president Obama is trying to guide the US out of a recession of great proportions, and the Canadian economy is not growing as fast as we like—what will the Mayor of Peterborough do to attract more business to Peterborough? I think the first step is in retaining the jobs we have through accessing government programs and then moving forward through the GPAEDC to attract new business. The investment in the airport and the opportunity to attract aeronautical businesses there and subsequently their support businesses going forward is certainly a positive for the region. Investment in the Innovation Cluster at Trent will show dividends down the road as well.
PtboCanada: Your competitor is employing technology and social media (e.g. using Twitter @bennettformayor and a website DaryBennett.ca) and regular email media releases as part of his campaign, partly to tap into the younger generation of voters. Are you planning to use social media or any other technology as part of your campaign? Will you becoming a "tweeting" mayor like others (e.g. Mayor Ellis in Belleville and Mayor Miller in Toronto) to let citizens know what you're up to in the community?
Ayotte: I will admit I find a hard copy easier to read and mark up for my purposes going into meetings. We are on Facebook now through my young volunteers [Editor's Note: and Twitter], but I don’t see myself as becoming a “tweeting” mayor anytime soon—unless maybe you are available for lessons!
PtboCanada: Related to the above question, how do you plan to reach out to the younger generation (Gen X, Gen Y) to show them you care about their needs and are accessible via technology? What do you believe you have done to benefit the youth population in Peterborough already? Because they are the future of this great city.
Ayotte: Through our recreation division, we have a youth council and have some centres set up where they can go to interact with their peers. We also provide the Mayor’s Youth Award that is given out every three months prior to a Council meeting to deserving youth. They are recognized for outstanding contributions to the community in the arts, scholastics, sports, and volunteer work. We also supported the Kawartha Wakeboard group when they wanted to come to Peterborough to provide an event geared to youth and providing entertainment for them. I am sure we would look favorably at similar opportunities in the future.
I believe the renovated Market Hall Theatre will provide some interesting opportunities for young performing artists and entrepreneurs when it re-opens next year.
PtboCanada: Many would-be voters are still apathetic, and can't be bothered to show up to the polls on election day. Is there some way you believe we can engage those community members to care, to get involved, to vote?
Ayotte: I believe by moving to internet voting, we have made it very easy for people to vote and I think the results in the last election (48%) showed we are moving in the right direction. Unfortunately to get that percentage in the past, it only seemed to happen when there was a referendum question on the ballot. So with the advertising that is being done and the fact you can vote from anywhere there is internet, this should improve our numbers. You can also vote at any poll in the city which makes it even easier for people.
PtboCanada: Your relationship with Coun. Patti Peeters has been acrimonious and dramatic at times. Do you think this kind of lively debate is a healthy thing between you and Peeters, and the community to see? Is it just that you're both so very passionate?
Ayotte: There are eleven different people with eleven different personalities on Council with eleven different visions of where the city should be going. The Municipal Act requires municipalities to have a procedure bylaw to govern the calling, the place, and the proceedings of meetings so that the public has an expectation how the business of Council will be done. As Mayor and chair of Council, it is my role to see the City’s business is done effectively and efficiently by enforcing the rules of debate as set out in the Procedure Bylaw approved by Council. Sometimes that rubs people the wrong way when they are passionate about an issue.
PtboCanada: Your campaign sign says "leadership, experience, integrity". Can you elaborate on those areas?
Ayotte: My website VoteAyotte.com has a list of accomplishments there that did not happen without leadership. I have also been asked to chair a number of boards like the Ontario Summer Games, Peterborough and Area Flood Relief, Civic Hospital and Peterborough County City Health Unit. I am an Accredited Municipal Clerk-Treasurer, have a Certificate in Public Administration and 27 years experience on Council—16 as Chair of Finance, 15 as Deputy Mayor and 9 as Chair of Planning. As for integrity, I believe my record speaks for itself.
PtboCanada: The perception of the downtown is mixed, though no one doubts it has amazing potential. Some of the main concerns are 1) attracting more people downtown, 2) safety issues and 3) parking. The DBIA is making an effort in these areas, but what will you do/are you doing to attract more people downtown and make it feel safer. Our downtown has so much going for it with great retailers, arts facilities (Showplace, Market Hall), bars, restaurants. So how do we get even more people down there?
Ayotte: This is how I see downtown in the near future: Downtown will have implemented a number of the recommendations of the Downtown Master Plan. We will have more residential units above businesses bringing more people downtown, making it more of a people place while addressing the Places to Grow legislation regarding intensification in the core. We needed to come up with a program to assist the landlords to do this and also petition the Province for changes to the Assessment Act.
Charlotte Street would have a permanent Farmer’s Market, including some storefronts where KawarthaChoice products—meats, vegetables, and dairy products—are available at all times. Market Hall Theatre, Showplace, and The Venue will anchor a vibrant performing arts community, and provide meeting space to draw people into the core to support the local restaurants and shops. This will add to the vibrancy of downtown.
PtboCanada: As incumbent, what would it mean to you to be elected mayor of this city again?
Ayotte: It would be a tremendous honour to be re-elected, just as it has been an honour to serve this term. I would look forward to continuing the work of building and rebuilding our community and joining with community groups as they continue to contribute to the social fabric of Peterborough.