Ward 4 Candidate Survey Results

Happy City recently sent out a survey to the candidates running in the Ward 4 Byelection.

Here are the results!

Why are you running? What experience would you highlight as a reason to vote for you?

Jill Bruce:

I have been a resident of Ward 4 for the past 13 years and my husband and I have chosen to raise our children here. During this time I have become acutely aware of the issues that we, as residents, face. I am a Parent Representative on the Roncalli Elementary School Council and through this position I have had the opportunity to work with various individuals and groups such as: The City of St. John’s, MHA’s, the School Board and most importantly, the general school community. Within this position, I worked as part of a team to effectively lobby Government for our new school and fundraised and planned for the new playground. I have participated in programs that promote clean communities and was responsible for the installation of the garbage containers along Airport Heights Drive.  This past June, I was a founding member of the concerned citizens group that was successful in having the proposed telecommunications tower moved from Airport Heights Community. Most recently, I have been working as a liaison between parents, the RNC and the City Officials regarding traffic issues. Residents have been vocal about wanting a new voice on City Council and I feel very strongly that I am that new voice. I pride myself on being someone who is genuine and approachable and someone who listens and get results.

Debbie Hanlon:

I feel my combined community and business and Ward 4 Councillor experience has given me a unique skill set that will contribute to our city. I have 25 plus business experience with a focus on relationship building and collaboration. I am also a long time volunteer as well as a communications coach.


Janet Kovich:

I’m running because I’ve worked hard all of my life, constantly learning and being promoted and its time for me to put all of my talents to use to give back. I believe that the residents of Ward 4 deserve fresh representation and I would love to be able to help. I’ve always been one who helps and solves problems. I have 30 years of business experience, and am intelligent and resourceful. This campaign is the culmination of a career that started when at 16 years old, I had my first job as a summer student running a museum that was located in our town with inventory that was loaned out by residents. The next year, I was President of our Youth Organization and I have been working and growing ever since.

A career highlight that is a reason to vote for me is my experience as a constituency assistant for St. George’s – Stephenville East in the late 1990s to early 2000s. My provincial government experience will be an asset as a councillor, I know how government works. I know the proper channels to get things done. I worked hard for the people and we did good work for them. In addition, I was a business manager, and currently am an executive assistant and have been for many years. I’ve spent much of my time managing the finances of the companies that I work for. My career requires monthly review of P&L statements and budgets, and am used to fiscal restraint. This will be so important in the next few years at Council and beyond. Both of these careers require ‘heavy lifting’ behind the scenes. I’m used to making things happen and getting the work done to ensure that everyone around me has what they need to proceed with their jobs.  My time as a realtor gives me not only experience in representing people, but also insight into how they live and what affects the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. City policies and legislation directly affect people right at their homes. We desperately need affordable housing to give families a hand up, and accessible housing to ensure that our citizens are not held back because they have challenges to face. The realtor in me speaks for those citizens.

Sheilagh O’Leary

I live and love public service. I am experienced and committed. I have proven myself to be responsive to the needs of the community and its residents, both on and off St. John’s City Council in my 25 plus years of advocacy and community service. As a former city Councillor at Large, elected with the highest number of votes in 2009, I have experience and support. Those four years taught me a lot about how to work with the community and navigate the system and that’s a must for any councillor. As our city grows and changes we need a council that is productive and effective, but even more we need councillors who bring vision to plan our growth and adapt to the continuous change we are facing, particularly in these fiscally challenging times. I am passionate about where we live and how we live. I want to represent the residents of Ward four.

Matt White:

I am running as a citizen who is concerned for the health, safety, and economic future of our city.  I am an accountant with experience in financial analysis and strategic decision-making, which are key skills needed on council today.


If elected, what goals would you set for Ward 4, and the City of St. John’s, over the next five years? What would be the obstacles to getting there?

Jill Bruce:

Speaking to hundreds of residents in Ward 4, I have come to know many of the issues.  If elected, my goals include but are not limited to;

– Road safety and better traffic calming measures

– Clean and safe neighbourhoods

– Stronger enforcement of by-laws

– Community Based Programs

The main obstacle involved with achieving these goals is the economic downturn that the City of St. John’s is currently experiencing. The fiscal situation makes funding for many of these programs difficult. The exception here is the idea of Community Based Programs as most of the infrastructure for these programs already exists.

Unfortunately, funding is not our only obstacle when it comes to issues such as road safety and safe and clean neighbourhoods. Even with proper and adequate funding, there appears to be a lack of social responsibility on these issues and greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating our residents when it comes to littering and road safety.

Debbie Hanlon: 

A key and critical goal – and one which is relevant to the entire city – is planned growth and ensuring that our residents have the services they need, as well as a safe ward and a safe city. These goals are lofty and long-term, but we must never lose sight of where we are going. There are often obstacles to achieving goals – and there is no exception in the aforementioned. One particular obstacle will be the economic downturn in which we find ourselves. However, this circumstance does not offset the goals – it simply means we have to be more creative and collaborative in engaging partners to facilitate their achievement. as well we have to be always attentive to fair allocation of resources we do have.

Janet Kovich: 

One of the things that is on the radar for Ward 4 is the Kenmount Terrace Park. The residents of Kenmount Terrace have been dealing with this for many years and they are finally seeing some progress. Its been promised and is now in the Budget for 2019. Its important to see that through. An obstacle to this is funding. Its supposed to be there, but we need to watch that its not reallocated. Residents there feel let down on many levels and this cannot be another one of those times.

As well, we need to improve on traffic patterns, safety in school zones, and safety on city streets. This means not only improvements with regards to speeding and traffic calming, but also sidewalk clearing for the children. Thorburn Rd and Airport Heights Dr. have issues with sidewalk clearing for children who walk to school. Sidewalk clearing adjacent to schools shouldn’t have any obstacles. Making sure the equipment is dispatched before children go to school shouldn’t be a problem. The crosswalk safety concerns are around the City, including in Ward 4, such as: in front of Roncalli and Rennies River School, where parents with children cross the street and have been at risk. Several streets in Kenmount Terrace suffer from excessive speeds. The biggest obstacle to safety is the carelessness of drivers. Furthermore, Allendale Rd at the Prince Philip Parkway is a nightmare for residents coming off Strawberry Marsh Rd. The traffic patterns there are tangly at best. The obstacle there would be financial and having the traffic committee revisiting that area, acknowledging that there is a problem, and finding a solution. Likewise, Polina Rd at Kenmount is currently being revisited with the Owners of the Avalon Mall to reconfigure the Mall entrance.

Another huge issue on the radar is The Big Dig. This is not just a Ward 4 issue, but a City issue. This has the potential to turn into a downtown-ruining nightmare if we’re not very careful how we approach the work. Its paramount to take lessons learned from other such projects and carefully assess risk before even breaking ground. While the Big Dig in Boston is a mega-project much larger than our Big Dig, it was fraught with problems and should be an example of how things can get out of control. The biggest obstacle to this being a success, would be to do it the way that our City Council has been operating for years. We cannot attempt this without contingencies. We cannot attempt it without complete clarity and honesty. We cannot attempt it without involving the downtown businesses that will be affected. And we cannot attempt it until we are sure that we can manage the scope, risk and creep. This project needs to be carefully planned within the next 5 years with leading civil construction experts from across the country and beyond, and not a shovel to ground until we have a firm understanding of it.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

As a resident born, raised and schooled in Ward 4, with children still being schooled in the district, I understand the issues of this area. Ward 4 encompasses a large and mixed geography. Two notable concerns in Ward four have to do with the newest addition, the neighbourhood of Kenmount Terrace and one of its oldest, Churchill Square.

Kenmount Terrace is a prime example of what happens when a city doesn’t engage in appropriate planning in the development phase. With hundreds of new homes and thousands of residents, there is no park or green space, no tree design, central amenities or community spaces. These things help foster the neighbourhood concept that I have lobbied for years to implement in city planning. This issue has been an ongoing concern for residents for a number of years. As well, traffic concerns as a result of the roadway design create speeding and dangerous living conditions for residents, especially those with young families. In partnership with the developers who continue to do business in Kenmount Terrace, we need to improve and build on infrastructures that supports healthy and accessible neighbourhoods. Obstacles could include an overall lack of political will to improve planning measures for this developing community and the City’s poor track record on prudent financial management.

The safety and integrity of our neighborhoods is the most direct indicator of the overall health and vibrancy of a city as a whole. Churchill Square was my home base and I have witnessed the slow degradation of an area that once boasted the best planned zone in the city. The Loblaws supermarket closure has been a very contentious issue in this area for both students and older adults because healthy living necessitates food access. Mixed neighborhoods with access to services are integral for a thriving city and healthy residents. This would be an issue I am anxious to tackle and problem solve in partnership with the owner. Moving forward, we have to look at the bigger issues of how businesses contribute to neighbourhood wellbeing and instigate planning and models that support it.

Airport Heights is crying out for road safety measures in school areas. For example, in the Roncalli 30 km school zone are not being abided. Children, families, and crossing guards risk their lives every day and solutions to this present issue must be found. An immediate implementation of a push button stop light at the school cross walk, rather than a yellow caution light would be a good starting place. There is also room for partnerships with our province and the RNC to look at this ongoing issue that seems to come up repeatedly in many neighbourhoods.

Since I have been on the doorsteps, I have learned that city enforcement on garbage collection and neighbourhood cleanliness is a big issue for residents in Baird subdivision and University area as well as citywide. I would immediately investigate how we can fix these issues and lobby on behalf of this neighbourhood for better practices. In the long term we need to start talking about how to better educate transient residents about garbage collection and make sure we’re all conscientious about keeping our neighbourhoods clean.

Matt White:

For Ward 4, I would set the goal to increase green space and recreational areas by 20%. This would include developing parks and walking trails in Kenmount Terrace.  The obstacle here would be securing appropriate financing, but I believe in allowing corporate sponsorship for these spaces.

What do you believe should be the priorities of this Council in the coming year?

Jill Bruce: 

I feel that the main priorities of Council in the coming year are:

– Finding a way to reduce the tax burden on the residents and businesses of St. John’s

– Regaining the citizen’s trust in leadership. They must adopt methods to increase consultations with the public regarding the budget.

– City needs to look at ways to cut unnecessary spending within their budget and not cut funding to core programs.

Debbie Hanlon:

Strengthened fiscal accountability, independent auditor, fair taxation system, clear communication and long term planning.

Janet Kovich:

The biggest priority for Council should be repairing relationships, both internally and with the community. As well, they need to check their personalities and agendas and remember why they are there and who put them there. They need to be clear in their communications with their constituents and treat each other with respect. There isn’t just one leader there, they are all supposed to be leaders. They need to get in touch with the realities of what some of these residents live on a daily basis.

Council also needs to work to understand the fiscal realities of the City, the Province and the Country. Council needs to revisit the Budget (especially the tax increases), follow through on the financial review that they have moved forward, and set financial goals and benchmarks that will be adhered to.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

  • To enhance public service through a balance of improved fiscal management with a respectful, compassionate approach to governance.
  • The decision-making behind closed doors in private meetings (which been happening for years) has to stop.
  • To gain the trust of its residents and businesses once again. Transparency and accountability to the public is first and foremost!

Matt White:

Council’s main priority in 2016 should be creating an city auditor general position to oversee spending and ensure taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollars.

What do you think about the draft of the new Municipal Plan? (Online at http://goo.gl/5H4XTM)  What will the impact be on Ward 4, and is there anything in there you’d change?

Jill Bruce:

The draft of the new Municipal Plan includes a multitude of valuable ideas.  The five key themes that emerged from the public consultation process; Valuing Environmental Systems, Vibrant, Complete Neighbourhoods, Strong Diversified Economy, Quality Urban Design and Investment in Transportation and Services. Within these themes, there were points that thought were especially important.

– Putting a greater focus on quality, affordable shelter

– Protection of our wetlands and built heritage

– Age-friendly communities that provide services and facilities for people of all ages.

– Access to healthy foods through the support of the production of local foods, by local farms and community gardens.

I do think, though, it is worth mentioning that although the draft of the new Municipal Plan includes valuable information, it must be followed. There needs to policies and guidelines set out that ensure what has been gathered and written though extensive input from the residents of St. John’s, will be of value. It should also be noted that this plan was developed in 2014 when the City was in a very different financial situation.

One of the issues I noted is the wording in Section 7.11 regarding Telecommunications and Utilities. While advocating on behalf of residents who strongly opposed to the proposed location of a tower in Airport Heights, I experienced firsthand that this document had very little impact on where these towers can be erected.

Debbie Hanlon:

Significant input was received for the development of the municipal plan to shape its vision and strategies. Its intent is to enable planned development while also addressing many other key areas including the natural environment. Any plan is only as good as its implementation and i will work to ensure that this is effective. At this point, I cannot speak to anything I would change. There may be instances where the good of ward 4 and the broader city might necessitate amendments and/or rezoning and I will be vigilant in ensuring that the plan does not become a static and inflexible document, but continues to reflect the vision we all hold for the city.

Janet Kovich:

The draft Municipal Plan is a good, common sense document. Unfortunately it was drafted in 2014 before the bottom fell out of the oil market and we found ourselves with a City Hall that is dealing with backlash from an ever-expanding budget. It talks of economic strength, personal disposable income, business development opportunities, record low unemployment, recognizing the contribution of the arts, etc. The reality is nowhere near as rosy in 2016, and the arts and business communities are on their feet of late, in dealing with the fallout from increased taxes in the budget. My belief is that the draft Municipal Plan needs to be revisited.

With that said, I like that it speaks to enhanced public transit, underutilized and vacant retail space, inclusive neighbourhoods, urban planning to promote pedestrian traffic and sustainable communities, and it recognizes the issues of traffic congestion and the importance of our Downtown area. I like a lot of what it says and hope that we can massage it to be more current.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

Here is a 150 page plan which would govern the future development of the City for years to come. I want to ensure that certain basic ideas become standard practices in our future. Those issues I noted in Kenmount Terrace and Airport Heights shouldn’t be matters of the city playing catch-up. Allowing a school to be built without taking proper traffic control plans into account is, again, a sign of lack of basic planning.

Have you read it? Doesn’t it say all the right things? This is not our first plan. The last plan said all the right things, too. So, we are experts at creating glossy plans that tell us how wonderful we are and how the city is going to do all the right things in the future. But what happened in Kenmount Terrace? The plan at that time had all the right ideas in it. Why didn’t they happen in Kenmount Terrace? Where are the green spaces, the park areas, the traffic controls? Those things that create quality of life in our communities were all in the last plan.

Our council doesn’t lack the ability to create nice plans, what is missing is political will. We need councillors who will do the heavy lifting that makes these wonderful plans into wonderful neighbourhoods.

Matt White:

I am aware that this plan was first presented to council in 2014 and has still not been approved.  I am cautious that the plan was first drafted in a very different economic environment.  I support the idea of healthy, complete neighbourhoods and investment in the transit system to make it usable for working citizens.  These initiatives are critical to Ward 4 where citizens have consistently voiced concerns about limited access to recreational space and unsafe traffic.

Over the past few months, there has been controversy regarding the 2016-2018 Municipal Budget. Do you think this outcome could have been avoided? Why or why not? Should St. John’s be making changes to this budget, or the budget process?

Jill Bruce:

The reality of the fiscal situation that not only the City of St. John’s, but the Province and Country is currently facing makes it incredibility difficult to produce a budget that would be without any controversy. It is obvious, however, that the process leading up to the release of the 2016-2018 Municipal Budget was deeply flawed. From the lack of public engagement, to timing of the release of the budget itself, there are many opportunities for City Council to learn going forward. The changes we have seen since the release of the Budget have come due to public outcry and protest. If the proper channels of communication had been established before the release, both the residents and the business community would have had a stronger voice.

Debbie Hanlon:

Yes I feel it might have been avoided as I feel the city did not look deep enough within its own operations for fiscal improvements. The drastic hike in taxes is a hardship that many in our city cannot bear and it needs to be revisited. I have been advocating for and will continue to advocate for an independent auditor, paid for by the provincial government, to review the financial operations of the city.

 Janet Kovich:

The controversy could have been avoided by Council being upfront and honest that they did not have the time and information required to complete the budget process. Having a 90 minute meeting to go over a budget of that size is ridiculous. That document should have been planned in conjunction with the City Staff at least six months in advance. As well, special interest groups who would be required to find alternate sources of revenue or asked to take on some of the items that were cut by the City, should have been engaged and able to plan instead of being blindsided by the cuts. Furthermore, taking the opportunity to raise taxes because of the over-inflated assessments should have never happened. In my work, I’ve always reviewed P&Ls on a monthly basis. I don’t understand why this isn’t done at the City by Councillors, as they are ultimately accountable to the citizens for spending.

This budget does need to be reviewed and solutions found instead of burdening residents and business owners for the City’s inefficiencies. Either find other revenue streams, or find internal efficiencies. The budget process needs to be overhauled. A municipal councillor must provide prudent financial judgements and as indicated by Councillors, they did not take that opportunity with this last Budget.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

Yes, I believe this controversial budget fiasco could have been avoided. The fashion in which the Council has engaged citizens only to be disregarded is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable. In such tough economic times, hitting residents and businesses while they are already financially vulnerable is completely unsound fiscal management. The flip-flopping on cuts to arts and community services after the budget rolled out, the lack of transparency that still exists regarding line items in the budget all indicates a Council that is out of touch with its residents and those to whom it serves.

Why has the budget increased exponentially still with significant cuts to service? This, after stating less than a year ago, that the city was in sound financial status? I strongly believe that an external audit needs to happen. I have spoken to and written Mr. Eddie Joyce, Minister of Municipal Affairs to request just that. I believe businesses will close, residents will be squeezed from their homes and we will continue to see an exodus of livyers moving to neighbouring municipalities to reduce this imposed financial strain. Revisiting this budget is absolutely necessary.

Matt White:

Raising taxes was the only way to cover off the expenses outlined in the current budget, as the city has not done enough to diversify revenue and manage expenses during times of prosperity. Controversy surround in the 2016-2018 budget could have been avoided if the city had independent oversight of its finances.  It would instill some confidence that the city is managing its finances appropriately.  Without transparency in how the city manages spending, it is difficult to determine whether the budget process is flawed and should change.


With provincial budget deficits and decreased oil prices projected for the near future, many residents and businesses across will be affected in one way or another. What role do you see the St. John’s City Council taking during this period?

Jill Bruce:

Municipal governments play a very important role when it comes to providing an environment for economic growth.  There is a delicate balance that needs to be found in keeping taxes manageable and yet being able to provide the services that the residents expect and deserve. This may prove especially challenging in tough economic times as municipal governments are not able to carry deficits. The City must work to create other revenue streams in order to lessen the burden on taxpayers.

Debbie Hanlon:

We need to continue to be fiscally responsible as NL is headed into some very challenging economic times, now is the time to be extra careful with spendings…long term planning is required. The tourism industry is a very lucrative industry for NL and especially St. John’s, we need to continue and support this industry to the fullest. We also need to be a more open inclusive city so we can attract more new comers to our city. Nl is rapidly aging and is aging ahead of the rest of Canada , that coupled with a low birth rate are prime indications that a strategic plan needs to be developed to ensure New comers feel welcomed and want to stay in NL and raise their families here..adding greatly to the social and economic fabric of our community, please see the attached document, http://www.stjohns.ca/doing-business/business-and-economic-initiatives/strategic-economic-roadmap the Strategic economic roadmap for guiding our city to 2021, which I am very proud to say I chaired the development of this document, along with business and community groups, city staff and all levels of government.

As well we need to identify what if anything the city can be doing to encourage more home based business and entrepreneurs in all sectors – to provide alternatives to those who may find themselves unemployed due to downsizing.

Janet Kovich:

The City Council needs to lead by example. We need to look inward and make some changes to how we spend and on what. If residents and businesses need to be more prudent, so does the City.  I would suggest we start by rolling back the increase that council members are slated to get in 2016 and continue from there.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

Council needs to engage in a complete external review of budgetary costs, making the budget more publically accessible. We also need to engage the city’s managers and employees in how we can come up with cost savings. We need to look inside of our walls to be fiscally responsible in the coming number of years and we need a plan of action that is proactive for our future. The approach needs to be a balanced, which means the weight cannot be thrust upon residents and businesses alone.

Matt White:

City council really needs to be proactive to address the needs of residents and businesses in St. John’s during this economic downturn.  I would push the city to partner with our provincial and federal counterparts in delivering social services to those in need and engaging our citizens to help others.

“Engagement” has become a word used frequently at all levels of government. What is your idea of successful engagement, and do you believe the current City Council is achieving that?

Jill Bruce:

I believe successful engagement involves a high level of trust between all parties involved. Residents need to be assured that their feedback and opinions are not only heard but considered. Although it is evident in the draft of the new Municipal Plan that the current City Council has taken steps to try to achieve successful engagement, the release of the latest budget shows that there is room for an enormous amount of improvement.  I feel that the current Council must be open to adapting new framework as it applies to engagement.  The City of Guelph has developed a Guiding Set of Principles for Community Engagement that I feel would be a move in the right direction for the City of St. John’s.

It includes the following:

-Inclusive: The City designs engagement processes that allow all community members a reasonable opportunity to contribute and to develop a balanced perspective. The City builds relationships with stakeholders by using a range of activities to engage diverse participants.

-Early Involvement: The City involves community as early as possible in the engagement process so stakeholders have time to learn about the issue and actively participate.

-Access to Decision Making: The City designs processes that will give participants the opportunity to influence decisions.

-Coordinated Approach: The City coordinates community engagement activities to use community and City resources effectively.

-Transparent and Accountable: The City designs engagement processes so that the stakeholders understand their role, the level of engagement and the outcome of the process.

– Open and Timely Communication: The City provides information that is timely, accurate, objective, easily understood, accessible and balanced.

– Mutual Trust and Respect: The City engages Community in an equitable and respectful way that fosters understanding between diverse views, values and interests.

-Evaluation and Continuous Improvement: The City evaluates engagement activities to ensure engagement processes are effective.

Debbie Hanlon:

Engagement must be done effectively – it is not just about sitting with people and ‘hearing’ them; it is about listening and having honest and open conversations. It is about enabling those who wish to contribute to the discussion to be able to do so. I do no want to comment on the current city council and their approach. Rather i would like to speak about my approach  – and i would continue what i was doing in my previous term on council. I had an open door policy and regularly held sessions in my ward to seek people’s opinions, ideas and concerns. This information would be taken back to city staff, as needed, to discuss what was heard and required action.

Janet Kovich:

The current City Council seems to be struggling with engagement right now. Successful engagement means that there is a plan, objectives and goals for the engagement, everyone needs to be accountable, it has to be positive, everyone needs to feel they are being heard, and communications must be crystal clear and steadfast. Right now engagement is off the rails, and not only do citizens feel that they aren’t being engaged, but much of what Council is doing is behind closed doors, which is disconcerting at best.

Sheilagh O’Leary: 

Engagement is a word I am trying to use conscientiously and appropriately because it is a buzzword that has proven hollow time and time again. No, I do not believe that City Council is effectively completing what engagement necessitates. Thoughtful engagement practice does not stop at asking the public for input and having the results shelved and archived. Implementing complex solutions to business and social enterprises requires understanding methods for  successful business change into practice. There are many existing best practices that we can use to achieve the results we seek. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Other cities have been doing this for decades. A little attention to what has worked elsewhere will help us avoid a good deal of those learning pains we seem so determined to suffer.

Matt White:

Successful engagement involves seeking and using input from citizens and businesses in making decisions affecting our city.  City council does a great job seeking input.  Where we are lacking right now is using input from public engagement.  This was really exemplified when the city sought public input into the design of the park in Kenmount Terrace.  The approved park contains very few ideas that were proposed by the community group.

What (if anything) would you do to make the City more responsive to citizen input?

Jill Bruce:

I feel that in order to make to the City more responsive to the citizen input, they must better understand the needs of the community. One way of achieving this is to go one on one with members of the community in open forums of community meetings. I have been very fortunate over the past several weeks. I have stood at residents doors and been able to engage in meaningful and open discussions. Although it is not feasible to consider that Council does this on a daily basis, they have to open the lines of communication between the residents, the business community and City Hall. The residents need to know that their input is included in the bigger picture. One way to achieve this would be through Ward meetings.  If elected, I plan to, hold regular Ward meetings in different areas around the Ward every other month.

Debbie Hanlon:

Again it would be to ensure effective engagement – not having meetings out of requirement but ensuring that as needed, we would seek the opinions of those impacted by critical decisions. It is not about doing more necessarily but making what is currently done – better. In my 25 years of business, i have honed a keen ear – as without such, I would not be where I am today.

Janet Kovich:

I believe that citizens are getting tired of being asked for input and then feeling like they haven’t been heard or their input was not valued and implemented. It is so important to set clear goals and plans. If the citizens are asked for input, be clear about the outcome. Will you actually put the ideas to work or are you just on a fact finding mission? Knowing what the expectation is will relieve any disappointment that can come from thinking that you were not heard.

Its important to me to take into account all of what residents share with me. Their lives are the reality of Ward 4. They live it, they drive in it, they walk in it, they raise their children in it. Right now I feel like some of Council is out of touch. Let’s get back to reality and to working with people right where they live. Be their voice and not just someone with your own agenda who is using this as a stepping stone to something that you think is better for you. Be loyal and committed to this seat for as long as the people will have you so that they have a relationship with you, and you with them. A revolving door of representation is a disservice to the residents. Don’t start this with the thought that something better might be around the corner for you. No offence to someone who wants to better themselves, but residents deserve to have someone who is committed to them and will stand up for them when they call on you. If they care enough to talk to you, care enough to be their voice. When you thank them for taking the time to contact you, mean it and go one better by making sure that their concerns are raised in Chambers and be accountable to them in all that you do.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

We can start by listening to their concerns. We can also advertise more and make such advertising more emphatic so people are sure to note the issue being addressed. It probably won’t be so necessary to do much emphasizing for the next few months. I think this present council has everyone’s attention.

Matt White:

To make the City more responsive to citizen input, I would ensure that suggestions and ideas from the public are actually incorporated into plans.


In St. John’s, City Council is a part-time job, and paid accordingly. Would you be maintaining a second job if elected to council? What other big demands are there on your time?

Jill Bruce:

I am very fortunate to be at a place in my career right now that would allow me to hold the position of Ward 4 Councillor as a full time job.

Debbie Hanlon:

I am a business person and will continue to practice business while i am a councillor. I am also very involved in my community and tend to remain as active as always. My job provides me a living and supports my capacity to be involved in my city. No one coming on council should have to give up their job and put themselves in financial jeapordy. I have always worked – and had no problem balancing my responsibilities to my ward and my city when i was the councillor for ward four and i will provide the same deep level of attention to my work in my role as a councillor as i provide to all of my interests – paid and volunteer.

Janet Kovich:

Currently, I’m an executive assistant and part time realtor and handle both careers adeptly. Once I’m elected as councillor, I will put my real estate license on hold. I work for a great company as executive assistant, and that position is such that flex time is acceptable, so I am well able to handle those duties and those of Councillor for Ward 4. I have no children and am currently single so personally, this is a great time for me to be able to free up my schedule and devote any time necessary to the residents of Ward 4 and the City. I look forward to serving in this capacity and being accessible.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

I am presently working as a Labour Market Facilitator for The Ready Willing and Able National initiative (www.readywillingable.ca). My job is to seek and broker employment opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder in the St. John’s Metro region and partner with the existing, and hard working supportive employment agencies. In Canada, we have an untapped resource in unemployed and underemployed individuals with intellectual disabilities and ASD. Experience-based evidence from organizations around the world proves that organizations can build engaged, efficient and high-functioning teams through inclusive hiring.

I believe that this is a perfect complement to the needs of many of our residents in the city. Yes, I would continue to work in this position if elected as Ward Councillor. Can I do it? Most definitely! I am a proven, competent, multi-tasker with a keen interest in many areas that support diversity in our community. I am also a mother to three and my love and care for my family is much of what drives me to work in public service and to generate a better community.

Matt White:

At this point I would be maintaining a second job if elected.  I am also a father to 2 small boys, and I do love spending time with them as well.


What is your favourite place in Ward 4, and why?

Jill Bruce:

My favourite place in Ward 4 has to be my home. I have deep roots in my community and feel a strong sense of belonging.

A close second, though, the look out at the top of Mount Scio. After a short hike, you are treated with a view of the City that is breathtaking.  If you haven’t done it, put it on your list of things to do this summer. Trail #22 on the Grand Concourse walking map.

Debbie Hanlon:

I don’t have a favourite place in Ward 4 , as the ward is very diverse and covers a wide area with many nice neighbourhoods . It’s the people that I like and after knocking on over 4000 doors during this election I can proudly say ward 4 has some of the most friendliest kind people I have ever met.

Janet Kovich:

I love the trail system throughout Ward 4. The Grand Concourse is where my dogs and I recharge and refresh. We have a beautiful trail system in this City and I will do my part to make sure its maintained and enjoyed by all of our residents.

Sheilagh O’Leary:

Though I have many favorite spots in the wide spectrum of Ward 4 (I frequent the coffee shops), I certainly have a special place in my heart for the Pippy Park area. As an outdoor enthusiast, I feel it is one of the area’s strongest assets, not unlike how the downtown historic core is central to Ward 2.  I believe Pippy Park is the jewel in the crown of these surrounding neighbourhoods. Walking trails, the Grand Concourse and its environs support a healthy lifestyle. I am very proud of these features in our City. Fostering and supporting activities like hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, swimming and dog walking demonstrates how ward four leads the commitment to healthy lifestyles.

Matt White: My favourite place in Ward 4 is my home in Kenmount Terrace. This is where I come to enjoy my time with family and friends.

New Business Round-up

Hello Happy Citizens!

We’re trying out some new types of content for you over the next couple months – let us know in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter whether you find this useful. Today, a quick roundup of what’s new (ish) in local business openings and closings. We figure that our gaggle of volunteers hears a fair bit about what’s on the go business-wise, and it might be worth pulling this together in one spot. Got others for us to add to this list?

There are a few notable moves and openings on the go downtown. The Starbucks in Atlantic Place has closed and moved down the street to new digs at 351 Water (which is also now home to the St. John’s Fish Exchange, (run by the former Legros and Motti chef) with a rare view of the water from the tables. Fear not, though, if you were a fan of grabbing a coffee and mooching the Starbucks wifi to do work in the Atlantic Place atrium, because Jumping Bean will be taking it over . That will leave the existing Jumping Bean (formerly Hava Java) on Water empty and looking for tenants. Elsewhere downtown, Fogtown Barbershop will be moving around the corner in the same building to take over the big, bright Water St. storefront that used to be occupied by Perfect Day. We also now have a board game cafe in town, with Mochanopoly taking over the old Coffee & Company space on Water Street.

Also downtown, the Bernard Stanley Gastropub has taken over the old Club Space, and the super-fancy Luxus Hotel and cocktail bar is open across from Raymond’s. Everyone’s favourite late-night feed is also back on the table now that Mustang Sally’s is reopening on Water Street next to the now-closed Nautical Nellies.

The big news outside downtown is that the empty Canadian Tire on Elizabeth (a frustration to everyone looking for a box of nails in the centre city) won’t be sitting empty much longer – Piatto has applied for a permit to open a new location there, and Leon’s will take some of the rest  It’s not hardware, but it’s also not empty! That end of town is swiftly developing into a little mini-downtown (albeit not a very pedestrian-friendly one), with a big new Jumping Bean and (during the warmer months) the Blue on Water food truck.

Also outside downtown, the city’s range of cuisines has expanded with a new Philipino restaurant open on Ropewalk Lane. 

The 2016 Budget in Perspective

There is much ongoing debate and discussion regarding the recently passed 2016-2018 Budget for the City of St. John’s, including the recent resignation of St. John’s Poet Laureate,demonstrations at City Hall, and criticism from former councillors.

 But, how does our budget compare to those of cities across the country? How much do other cities, of similar population, spend on the items that we are talking about here in St. John’s?

 We chose the following eight cities to compare some items of interest in their 2016 Municipal Budgets. To keep things simple, we chose comparison cities with similar populations to that of St. John’s. It is important to note this is not a perfect comparison as there are many factors that contribute to fiscal priorities, including (but not exclusively) geographic size, proximity to another major centre, stage of development and age of city, focus of economy (resource-based, technology-based, tourism, etc.), and whether the city is a capital.

  • Regina (Population: 193,000; 2016 Budget: $418,800,000)
  • Trois-Rivieres (Population: 134,800; 2016 Budget: $256,900,000)
  • Kingston (Population: 117,000; 2016 Budget: $348,158,937)
  • Guelph (Population: 115,000; 2016 Budget: $216,000,000)
  • Lethbridge (Population: 89,000; 2016 Budget: $355,792,722)
  • Kamloops (Population: 85,700; 2016 Budget: $136,993,405)
  • Victoria (Population: 80,000; 2016 Budget: $220,948,785)
  • Saint John (Population: 70,000; 2016 Budget: $173,000,000)


While reviewing each of these cities, we looked for the following items for comparison: residential and commercial property tax rates; mil rates; arts grants and funding; public transit; community centres; sanitary operations; snow clearing; road expenditures; parks & recreation; parking revenue; and salaries. As different cities have varying levels of budget information provided online, not all items were available for comparison. We also tried to figure out how different cities handle their sports teams and convention centres, but that is especially complex and a bit beyond our volunteer time to research!

For each budget item that we found for each city, we calculated the per capita amount spent on that item – that is, how many dollars are spent per resident of the city for that item. Again, it should be noted that this is not a perfect comparison as different cities design and word their budgets in different ways. If you have corrections to these figures, please email them toadmin@happycity.ca and we’ll update this blog post!

The comparative analysis can be found below. We are hoping that this analysis will help to provide perspective and help to further inform the ongoing discussions regarding the budget.

Mil Rates and Property Taxes:

The first concern on many people’s minds, understandably, is their property tax bill – whether for their home or their business. We looked at this in 3 ways: breaking down the total amount of taxes coming in by the number of people who live there, and looking at the “mil rate” – the number of dollars of tax you pay per $1000 of property value.  St. John’s is pretty solidly in the middle of the “Taxes per capita” measure. Looking at the rates, we’re third-lowest on residential rates, and second-highest on commercial.



Property Tax Revenue Per Capita     

Residential Mil Rate     

Commercial Mil Rate     

St. John’s
















Saint John




Trois Rivieres
















Arts Funding:

This has been the flashpoint of the budget debate (UPDATE: A motion will be introduced on January 4th to restore the cut arts grants – albeit by redirecting money from other community grant or art procurement programs), so we tried extra hard to dig up some numbers on it – but it wasn’t easy! Different cities present and manage their arts budgets in very different ways, and it wasn’t always possible to figure out how much was going directly to artists, and how much was being spent on arts and culture overall. Different cities also include different kinds of facilities within “arts and culture” – public libraries, for example, which are provincially funded here. So take these comparisons with a grain of salt. That said, we do think it’s worth a look. We also dug up a research paper that compared a bunch of Ontario cities on this measure, so we tossed them into the table, too (leaving out Ottawa and Toronto, which are in a different league in many ways).

St. John’s comes in last, here, on grants and second-last on the (fuzzier) measure of overall arts and culture funding. It’s worth noting, though, that some grants to arts organizations come from the city’s community grants program and aren’t getting captured here – still, our city has a pretty big hill to climb to overtake any of the other cities we looked at.

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