The number one social issue in Cambridge at this moment is the opioid crisis. It is a medical and social crisis that immediately affects the community at large. This is a multi-pronged issue, which makes it very difficult to deal with- and yet we must deal with it, with strength, conviction and, yes, compassion.
Let me be clear: No matter how hard we might try, no matter what we might be able to accomplish in Cambridge, this city and this region cannot alone bring a sudden end to the drug-addiction problem.
That’s why I am proposing a, “SafeCity” plan to address the problem. In the first step, there needs to be a Regional summit of mayors, MPP’s, MP’s and the Regional Chair to discuss, investigate and bring to the table the necessary social funding and financial supports from all levels of government to solve the problem. Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo cannot solve this problem on our own and more federal and provincial support is necessary.
The second step is to recognize the extent of the problem and then implement a strategy that deals with prevention, treatment and harm reduction.
As an example, we need more outreach workers to help addicted individuals. More financing is needed to fund mental health challenges and detox centres. Now with Cambridge’s ban on safe injection sites in our downtowns, Public Health needs to completely rethink the harm reduction strategy. We need strategies that also recognize that 70 percent of drug overdoses that are taking place are outside our downtowns and in the suburbs. That’s why our hospital needs to play a more central role in this issue.
“The Icelandic Model”
Of paramount importance, is our need to understand that the present opioid crisis we are facing cannot be viewed strictly in terms of today’s intervention with the present population? There is a very important second phase that requires us to look upstream and plan to help future generations to avoid addictions to alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This can only be done by investing more financial support into our nine neighbourhood associations in Cambridge and investigating a new and exciting programme called the “Icelandic Model”. This has been proven to be highly successful in steering young people away from addictions and I have already asked staff to investigate and report back to city council what elements could be used that we could incorporate into present programming to help our youth steer clear of opioids and other addictions. In other words, we need to confront this problem by intervening today and planning for the future.
In conclusion, we cannot bring an end to the homeless or addiction problems alone as a municipality. What we can do and this is my pledge to the citizens of Cambridge is to make our city a safer, better and healthier place by confronting these problems with the other two levels of government and incorporating new and tried approaches with the proper financial supports to successfully overcome the problem.
One of the first steps in the SafeCity strategy is to assist in the moving of the Bridges. We need to assist the Bridges in finding a new home out of the Galt core. Over the past months we have assisted them in providing them with a framework for doing a proper needs analysis and we have discussed the importance of the membership on a sites selection committee which will determine the future location of this facility. This process is now underway and it is expected by the end of October that the Sites Selection Committee will be up and running looking for a possible new home that meets the requirements of a demanding homeless population with numerous needs.
The next step in the “SafeCity” strategy is to help people with addictions and homeless individuals access affordable/supportive housing affectively lessening the growing prevalence of “tent camps” in our community. This will require considerable more supports from the federal and provincial governments because if we are going to lessen the number of tent camps in our parks and the outreaches of our city, then the immediate introduction of supportive/affordable housing is necessary.
Our hospital is the last to be rebuilt in the region and it has been a tortuous waiting game until finally in 2014 a contract was signed with a projected completion date of 2019 for all three phases. Yet, here we are again going through a series of missed completion dates. The builder has failed on a number of projected completion dates this year to hand over the finished 250,000 sq. ft. wing of the patient care wing which is the second phase of the project with the unlikely completion this year.
This is becoming a serious situation as the health of the Cambridge community is more and more impacted because of staff affected by sub-optimal conditions (e.g. Emergency working as a split department) and planned service expansion slowed or deferred because the new space is not available. Also, the general public has been compromised by the lack of parking space, the cramped conditions in the old wing and the general confusion of navigating the space.
As a result of this continuing troublesome situation, I have with the full knowledge of the hospital administrator, Patrick Gaskin, approached the Minister of Health about this situation and asked for her involvement in getting our hospital opened and the whole project back on track.
Also, and along with our new MPP, Belinda Karahalios, we will work together to push this over the finish line.
More Help Needed
Our hospital connects all of us and it is important that we have a medical facility that serves not only us, but future generations with the very best physicians and equipment that can be provided by the community. Like a number of our public institutions, costs are rising and those volunteers who have accepted the difficult task of asking for donations on behalf of the hospital are now realizing this is becoming more and more difficult each year. Hospital equipment is absolutely important and used on a daily basis wears out and over time becomes obsolete. In concert with this are the dramatic increases in hospital equipment. Obviously, our hospital needs help and it is not help that has traditionally come from the province, but from volunteered based hospital Foundations. Yet, the demands on these volunteers by the dramatic costs of this type of specialized equipment have outstripped their reach to fund these everyday medical necessities.
Therefore, in order to help our community hospital, I will be asking that City Council to donate on an annual basis one percent of the budget to the hospital for the necessary equipment that we all will need at some time in the future. This one percent is equal to approximately $860,000 based on the 2018 budget. As the budget grows each year, the one percent in real dollars also grows to give our hospital every year a sustainable and dependable form of funding.
It is obvious to many people in the downtown that we need to hire more police to reassure the public of safety in our downtowns and neighbourhoods with better response times and to deal with speeding throughout our community. Cambridge is an underserviced area and the lack of visible police patrols and lengthy response times is frustrating residents who expect a quicker response to their safety concerns.
This fall, I will be introducing at the region, a motion to accelerate the hiring of more police officers in Cambridge. I want more foot patrols in our core areas and I want a determined effort to stop the speeding that we are witnessing throughout Cambridge in all our neighbourhoods. This can only happen with more resources and supports to better patrol our streets.
Cambridge has seen significant population growth which has led to increased congestion across our city. Our trips to the GTA area or into Toronto have become unpredictable because of traffic accidents and sheer volume on the 401. Cambridge, put quite simply, needs a new plan to deal with traffic congestion in the city and major traffic delays traveling into the Toronto area. I am continuing with two initiatives, both of which will complement each other and reduce our trip delays, improving quality of life for all residents. These initiatives are necessary if we are to create a strong Cambridge and continue to grow and prosper.
GO TRAIN SERVICE
Together with the Region of Waterloo, Dillon Consulting, and our new MPP, Belinda Kharahalios and Cambridge City Council, I will be requesting that the province make Cambridge a priority. Before it institutes two-way, all day service to Kitchener/Waterloo, I will be asking that it resolve the GO train issue for Cambridge first.
The results of past studies that we have done and the facts collected are irrefutable. Cambridge qualifies for GO Train Service to Milton and Union Station. A recent report for the Region outlines four possible GO solutions. They include a mixture of train types, combinations and schedules. I agree with the report’s suggestions of two new stations. One situated at Samuleson and Water for pedestrian access and another located near Townline Road where there is potential for a station with a parking capacity of between 400-500 cars. Both would serve the citizens of Cambridge in different capacities. All scenarios are possible and the overall costs are lower than other plans that Metrolinx is considering in various parts of the province. As a second possibility, I am requesting that the study now taking place which connects Cambridge to the Guelph line be seriously considered as an alternative plan and instituted as soon as possible.
BY-PASS FOR CAMBRIDGE
The debate over the LRT in Kitchener and Waterloo has been acrimonious and divisive and it has been all consuming on the Regional agenda. The result of this has been a long period where important issues and other priorities such as the increase in traffic issues in Cambridge have been displaced. In this new term, it is time to put some important Cambridge-centric issues back on the Regional table. There is a plan for a by-pass around our city. That plan needs to be accelerated in order to get trucks out of our core areas, traffic out of our neighbourhoods and congestion lessened on our main roadways. During the past number of years the Region has been working through a series of public meetings to pursue the long promised South boundary Road connection that will be Phase One of a by-pass around Cambridge. However, in order to have a true by-pass, there are two more phases that need to be accelerated in order to have a true detour for our community. Phase One: The EA (Environmental Assessment) has been completed and the Region has authorized construction that will begin just south of Meyers Rd, paralleling it over to a connection with an extended Franklin Blvd. With this part of the south boundary done and connected to Franklin, a partial by-pass will be ready to take truck traffic off of Ainslie and water Streets.
Phases two and three won’t be completed until after 2022, which is far too long of a projected timeline. Our community needs these projects fast-tracked and completed as soon as possible. Without them we will continue to see unnecessary congestion and dangerous road conditions in our city. I will be pushing hard in the new term for this project in order to relieve traffic concerns.
Our city needs GO Transit, a completed traffic by-pass as soon as possible, a finalization of the Eagle/King LRT routing and more cooperation from the Regional Government to see projects like these completed. These are the projects that the people of Cambridge have told me are the priority, and I will be advocating loudly for their completion.