While Cheryle Baker has always wanted to go into politics, it took surviving a cancer diagnosis two years ago and her daughter’s encouragement to finally take the plunge.
“My daughter asked me, ‘What else did you want to do that you never got to do?’ And I said, ‘Well, I always wanted to go into politics,’ because I know all about legislation, how to amend it, change it – it’s always evolving. It’s supposed to be servicing the betterment of humanity. It’s supposed to be inclusive. But it has to start with a beginning, and then it involves something greater with people challenging it, and working towards the right solutions,” she explained.
Baker, who has lived in Elmira since 1998, represented the Green Party in the riding of Oxford during the last provincial election. Although the 2,097 votes she received well back of the winner – Conservative Ernie Hardeman, who received over 22,000 votes – Baker looks back fondly over the experience.
“I went into an area where nobody knew me except for my family. I said ‘I’ll be happy if I get two votes just for the experience’ and I got over 2,000 votes, so I was very happy at the end,” she explained.
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Running for a Ward 1 seat, Baker says she is hoping to find progressive solutions to the challenges Elmira faces.
“I’m going to ask these questions if I’m on council. What is it? Is this the right thing to do? What’s the cost?”
While Baker acknowledged that promising to lower taxes is popular and will likely lead to votes, that is not her approach.
“People want their taxes lowered. That’s what wins elections. Everyone’s feeling the middle class squeeze, so whoever’s going to be campaigning saying ‘no taxes’ is going to get elected. But then we don’t have the infrastructure in place… we’re going to start encountering problems, because the infrastructure we have is variable. And it’s starting to wear down and it’s going to need replacing; we’re not going to be able to fix up because now we don’t have the tax levies,” she said.
To counteract the housing crisis Baker would like to see council take steps to enable homeowners to build apartments in their homes or in their backyards. This would also allow homeowners to grow their wealth, she added.
“You can create all kinds of incentives to build that are stackable, right for people to create their own wealth, a second source of income,” Baker said.
Along with increasing housing options, Baker would work towards increasing services that the town provides.
‘This is a community that really combined means services for everyone. And if you’re struggling, just go around and talk to people, and they’ll direct you in the right direction. Or they’ll try to work with you to try to find solutions. And it’s a really positive environment here,” she said.
Having previously run unsuccessfully for council in 2014, Elmira resident Dan Holt is taking another shot at one of two open seats in Ward 1.
“My life has pretty much been in education and nonprofit businesses. I know that both of those areas require support in order to really implement any ideas for the good of the organization,” Holt said.
“I recognize that I would be only one of six people on the council. But I’m used to discussion and compromise to move an organization forward. And I really think that those experiences would help me to help others that I would represent for the residents of Woolwich Township,” the former psychology professor and counsellor at Purdue University said.
Holt, whose PhD is in psychology and education, said he has several priorities if elected to council, the first being more transparency.
“I think a neat idea would be to explore a newsletter to citizens in the township to better inform them of current issues so that they can be more aware of and involved with what’s going on,” he said.
“I don’t really want to cast aspersions, but I don’t think that people feel like they have much say in regards to budget or upcoming things.”
While Holt indicated he would like to see council be more fiscally conservative, he also has some priorities that will cost money, including implementation of the core urban design study, increasing retail options downtown, bringing back police services to Elmira, the widening of Highway 85 and construction of a truck bypass.
“There are over 450 heavy trucks that go through Arthur and Church intersection every day. That’s hazardous in terms of the roads. Diesel fumes are known to be carcinogenic, so helping to get that bypass faster is certainly something that’s worthy,” he said.
Given the large costs involved with these projects Holt said he would like to explore “creative solutions,” to get these things done.
“It depends on how it is approached. With some of these situations, see if they can be done in a way that doesn’t increase taxes and can satisfy situations,” he said. “I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know all the questions. I would like to approach different situations in a way that looks for creative solutions, and not just the standard ‘well let’s raise taxes.’”
While he has been an active member of the community, Holt says that he has not been outspoken or critical of the current township council.
“Everybody is going to have an opinion, and everybody can’t be right… I’m used to discussion and compromise and trying to move the organization forward. And that’s what I would hope to bring to the council.”
As someone who has lived in Elmira most of his life, Woolwich Ward 1 candidate Evan Burgess says he knows the priorities of residents and understands its identity as a rural community.
“I was born and raised here in Elmira. I currently live here with my wife and three young children. We enjoy spending time together as a family, biking on Woolwich trails and playing at local parks. We also enjoy being part of local sport leagues and getting involved volunteering at local events like the maple syrup festival or at our church,” he said.
“I love Elmira because I had a great childhood here and want my children to have the same. It has great recreational facilities, organized sports, a wide range of events, parks and outdoor spaces and a great community and faith culture,” Burgess said.
Burgess who has a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Waterloo currently works as an account manager at Kindred Credit Union managing commercial and agricultural loans for local business. He will look to rely on his work experience if elected.
“[I will] look to innovate for Elmira to thrive. Through my experience in business management I hope to oversee a fiscally responsible and transparent government.”
Burgess is running for office because he wants “to see [the township] continue to thrive for [his] family and others that live here.”
“I would like to be a contributor for positive change within the community and maintain it as a safe, enjoyable and prosperous place to live and work. I want to make it easier for residents to connect with the township, and to be an advocate for residents and their needs” he said
Burgess identifies three main issues faced by residents.
“Some challenges are traffic on the main roads, rising cost of living, and recently the commercial development and rezoning near Bolender Park. I look forward to talking with residents and hearing their concerns.”
Burgess said he will work to speed up the timeline of the proposed bypass and work with the current owners of 39 Arthur St. N. to find other solutions to developing next to the park.
“In regards to the rising cost of living felt by residents, I want to ensure the township is transparent in its spending and is fiscally responsible, keeping the cost of governance to a minimum and lowering the financial burden on residents,” he explained.
If elected, Burgess said he looks forward to being a voice for residents.
“I will be a voice for Woolwich residents, hearing their concerns and working collaboratively to reach solutions.”
Although he has only lived in Elmira for the last three years, Ward 1 candidate Nathan Cadeau says he is familiar with the issues residents face.
“I think it’s important for potential councillors to always have a willingness to listen and learn. I’ve only been here three years, but I have been familiarizing myself with the community as much as I can,” he said.
Cadeau grew up in Drayton and received his bachelor’s degree at Nippising University in North Bay, and his masters from the University of Guelph. After returning to North Bay, Cadeau and his wife decided to make southwestern Ontario their home. In 2019 he was hired as a professor teaching community and criminal justice at Conestoga College.
“Once I got the job offer from Conestoga, it was really about where we wanted to settle down. We had explored a lot of small communities around here, but Woolwich really was the one that caught our eye the most. We just love the potential the community has. It’s so close to the urban areas of Kitchener-Waterloo, but at the same time, you really do get that small town, agricultural vibe, which is what we both crave,” he said.
There wasn’t one particular reason that made Cadeau decide to run for council, although he had been considering it for some time.
“I knew that the municipal election was upcoming. And it had kind of been on my mind for a while, dipping my toes in the water…this is the community that my wife and I really chose to raise our kids and what better way to ensure the vibrancy of the community than to hold a seat on council and to have that voice. I think that I have some knowledge and I have some skills that could be put to good use given a seat on council,” he said.
For Cadeau, Elmira residents face many of the similar issues that others do-particularly coming out of the pandemic.
“This has led to I think a lot of division and a lot of I don’t want to say animosity, but certainly differences of opinions and I think that what we need to do moving forward is to bring ideas and bring people together,” he said.
Cadeau also has his eye on downtown development and the recently released core urban design plan.
“I think that if you try to look past the urban design, you’re kind of missing the picture of, of what that design has really been saying is that we need to really start with that downtown core, build that up. Make that a space that every citizen of Elmira can be proud of,” he said.
Cadeau says he looks at the concerns of residents as opportunities to make changes.
“I think that I have some knowledge and I have some skills that could be put to good use, given a seat on council.”