Editor's note: MidlandToday has asked council candidates in Midland, Penetanguishene and Tiny Township to provide a synopsis of why they are running for public office. Municipal elections take place Oct. 24.
The following response is from Steffen Walma, who is running for council in Tiny Township. For more election coverage, visit our 2022 municipal election page by clicking here, where you can find candidate profiles and other election news.
What is your name, what will be your age on election day, and who are your key immediate family members you rely on for support?
Steffen Walma, 35 years old, supported by his wife Morgan MacMillan and children Ronan and Isla Walma.
In 10 words or less, why is your municipality the best in the province?
Rural beauty, sandy shores, fertile farms, friendly people, my home.
What prompted you to run as a municipal leader?
I’ve had the opportunity to serve two terms as deputy mayor. I got involved then to help bring affordable housing solutions, especially young families. Since getting elected to office this remains a passion as well as tackling food security and incorporating green sustainable practices into policy.
Beach ownership doesn’t affect all residents, but is fiercely disputed by those who get involved. Before property owners took over their part of the shoreline, the municipality allowed seasonal cottagers to use the land, after signing the Indigenous treaty many years ago. Who owns Tiny beaches, and what is your stance on beach rights?
The beaches have a complex history and have different ownership throughout the municipality. Private property should be respected, as should historical usage. The township needs to continue to invest in surveying and delineating the beaches it owns to avoid unnecessary disputes. It also needs to continue to strategically acquire beach holdings to increase access for our residents. Every precaution should be taken to prevent further privatization.
There is a difference between what is legally right and morally right, and the aggregate operations in Tiny appear to straddle that definition. What is your stance on aggregate operations in Tiny?
We need aggregate to build homes, roads, even septic systems. Doing so should not however endanger other important resources Like water. The township should continue to advocate to the province for close monitoring of aggregate operations. The MNRF and MOE (province) are under resourced to properly inspect active aggregate operations in Tiny. Finding the balance that protects our natural heritage features, water as well as the jobs and aggregate resources the pits produce is the challenge.
You will be asked to join committees and other municipal representations. Which are you eager to become involved in?
I would like to stay involved as Tiny’s representative on the Severn Sound Environmental Association as well as the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Committee. Further to local committees, I hope to continue to serve on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, collaborating and advocating municipal needs to the federal government.
Voter apathy is always a concern, ranging between 25.7% to 42% of cast ballots across North Simcoe in the last municipal election. Knowing you could be elected without even half of possible voters turning out, what will you do to combat voter apathy so your municipality is best represented?
Continued community engagement throughout the term. Communicating with residents on key initiatives will hopefully keep the majority of people involved and informed. This can be accomplished through online surveys, regular press releases and social media involvement.
There are many prominent concerns ongoing in the region, from affordable housing to the opioid epidemic to short-term rentals as well as others. What is one concern that you think the majority of residents are not aware of?
Tiny’s aging infrastructure. Historically, Tiny has kept the tax rates very affordable at the sacrifice of saving for the replacement/maintenance of older assets. Structures like roads, bridges, buildings, even cars have a lifespan. The province has identified Tiny’s financial risk as moderate when evaluating our infrastructure deficit. We need to continue to fund the special infrastructure levy and implement the recommendations from the tangible capital asset management plan.
The province is planning for a population of 555,000 and 198,000 jobs by 2051. If now is the time to prepare for that influx, what will you proactively do as your part in the process?
Tiny has not been identified as an area of growth in the current growth plan. However, we should still be looking at the protection of natural heritage. Making sure the province has accurate and up-to-date natural heritage and agricultural mapping will help ensure our green and growing spaces remain undeveloped. Further to that, we can explore carbon sequestration contracts in our forested lands, a more stringent tree cutting bylaw and implement better drainage/ditching to deal with the additional develop we do experience.
Recidivism isn’t just on the police and courts. As a municipal leader and crafter of bylaws, what initiatives will you undertake to address crime in your care?
I had to look this word up. Recidivism is the tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend. Tiny works closely with the OPP under a section 10 contract. We have a policing board that relays issues to our detachment and the Inspector communicates concerns back to them. Partnering with agencies like Crime Stoppers and restorative justice programs are also important to ensure community safety.
Infrastructure projects require taxpayer dollars. What infrastructure project does the municipality desperately need, and does it justify a tax increase from the ratepayers to have it done as soon as possible?
I hate to say it, as it’s never a popular topic, but the municipal offices (town hall). We have staff in portables without washrooms, no accessibility features for the public, minimal room for growth and are constantly spending money on repairing things like leaky roofs or replacing HVAC systems. The pandemic has shown us that some work-from-home options can be implemented and potentially save us some room. Before investing tax payers dollars, the current strategy needs a reevaluation that considers debenturing costs, work-from-home capacity and grants.
Times change. What is the most aged or obsolete bylaw in your municipality’s code?
Had some fun with this, looking at old bylaws.There are some old handwritten bylaws that refer to dog taxes to pay for sheep deaths or restraining livestock from running at large that have never been repealed. As for obsolete, I believe Tiny should update its policies on smoking to be more strict in public areas.
Once you complete your four-year term, what is the legacy you want residents to best remember for your time in office?
I just hope people know that I love my community and that I made decisions to preserve and improve Tiny for future generations.