Welcome back to another episode of the PTBO housing show. We have a guest this week - we’re happy to welcome Jeff Leal, who is one of our Mayoral candidates in Peterborough. Jeff’s got a long history, story, and background in politics in Peterborough and in Ontario.
Welcome back to another episode of the PTBO housing show. We have a guest this week - we’re happy to welcome Jeff Leal, who is one of our Mayoral candidates in Peterborough. Jeff’s got a long history and background in politics in Peterborough and in Ontario. This week we sit down and talk about all things of interest to Peterborough residents and the surrounding area in terms of our upcoming election.
For anyone reading this that would prefer an audio or video version, the full audio interview is available on my podcast, The PTBO Housing Show, on all major platforms and the full video is linked above.
Peterborough residents - if you haven’t already gotten your letter in the mail to log on and vote, make sure you track that information down. There was a very low turnout in the last municipal election, and when it comes to voting and elections, the number one thing that anybody can hope for is that no matter who gets selected, that there is at least a strong representation of voters so that we know whoever is elected is truly the choice of the people.
Mitch : So Jeff, your career in politics. What was your “why” when you started out, because you’ve had a long run here.
Jeff: I first started in municipal politics in 1985. I was elected to the Peterborough City Council representing the South end of Peterborough, the Otonabee Ward. I did that for the next 18 years, from 1985 until 2003. One of the great things that always motivated me is to try to improve things. You know, we truly do stand on the shoulders of others and we should always acknowledge that. So when we do that, we continually build forward and make it better for the next generation of folks that will be living in the great community of Peterborough.
Mitch : During your time representing Peterborough as our Member of Provincial Parliament, What was your pull towards the Liberal party? What would you say are your core beliefs that drove you that way versus any of the parties, such as the NDP or Conservatives?
Jeff: Great question. I really had two kind of political heroes in my life - one was Prime Minister Lester Pearson, I can tell you a bit of a story, I was a Cub in 1968. Mr. Pearson of course lived in Peterborough for a while, he went to school here in Peterborough at PCVS because his father was a minister at George St., United Church. So in the late fall of 1967 when Mr. Pearson announced his retirement, he made a commitment to visit those communities across Canada where his father had been a Methodist minister. So one of the stops, was indeed in Peterborough and the Cubs were all lined up in the main foyer there, and Prime Minister and Mrs. Pearson paid us a visit, but more importantly, Mr. Pearson had the great courage to give Canada its new flag as Canada was approaching its Centennial year and we had become a mature nation of 100 years old. While we recognized our great heritage of the past, he wanted to give Canada a distinctive flag that would be known around the world. In those times, the flag debate was the most vicious debate that ever really occurred in Canadian politics, and there were opposing views. Eventually, at Mr. Pearson's government-run enclosure in late 1964, and for the first time in February 1965, the new Canadian Maple leaf flew on top of the loft at Parliament Hill. So, I was always a great admirer of people in public life that had the courage of their convictions to get something done. The other one that may surprise you, is Mr. Davis, who was a long term Premier of the province of Ontario from 1971 to 1984. What always struck me about Mr. Davis was the ability to listen to the other side and often get a compromise - can you meet halfway to move the interests of Ontario. I think often in politics today, Mitch, we've lost that ability to do that compromise right and it's created a more polarization of politics today.
Mitch : So the short answer is you were following your political heroes, as opposed to I guess, dogma, or theories. Instead of just going to one side because of some philosophical belief system. You admire these people and what they accomplished, and you wanted to emulate that.
Jeff: About a month ago I had a long conversation with Tim Hudak, a former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario, now head of the Ontario Real Estate Association, and I must say that when I lost 2018 and Mr. Hudak was one of the first people to call me.
Mitch: You said you admired Lester B. Pearson's ability to get something done and stand by what they believe, and make those decisions. We had a prior meeting with the Peterborough Home Builders Association where we spoke with you, and you mentioned other leaders who had the gumption to make decisions such as raising taxes to increase the to spending in certain areas. I do have a of the question about taxes. In terms of our city's municipal budget right now, and the services we need or don't need, is there anything you picture cutting or anything you picture the need to raise more funds for in the way of raising taxes?
Jeff: What I think one of the important things is you always have to set priorities, and you set priorities by listening to the community. I mean, they’re extremely helpful in order to identify those things that need to be done and the fact to make sure that you have the resources to do it. I've always felt that one of the great issues of this current election is how we expand our economic base, and people have heard me talk about this from time to time. Karen and I have two great kids. Our son Braden just graduated from Trent University. Our daughter, Shanae, just graduated from Laurier, and I always felt they should have the same kind of privilege that I had, and my family before me, if they want to make a contribution in Peterborough, and seek their destination in Peterborough should have that opportunity - and we can only do that by widening the economic base. Part of that, of course, is to make sure we have sufficient lands, employment plans, and housing plans to make that happen. You know that Peterborough is one of the few communities in Canada today that has four great assets. We have a University of international reputation, a College of international reputation, original airport which is a significant player in Canada and Ontario’s aviation industry and, of course, PRHC. So how are we leveraging those assets to the max to make sure that Peterborough becomes an investment destination?
Mitch : So on that note, with the city's budget right now and in the sources of funds, do you think that our current tax rate is sufficient at what will be the main source of revenue going forward?
Jeff: The roles we have now is, basically, we have an 80/20 split on the ratio. 80% residential and 20% industrial/commercial. There is a really big task at hand to try to rebalance that somewhat, rebalance it and move up that ratio that’s industrial/commercial.
Mitch: What’s ideal in your mind as a percentage if it was picture perfect?
Jeff: I mean, I think you start setting some targets that can move over a 4 year period of 5%. So that would be 75/25, because if you start rebalancing those ratios, you start taking pressure off the residential taxpayer. And if you're moving that ratio up 4 or 5 percentage points, that means that you're creating employment, and when you create employment you generate revenue that you can set up on some of those priorities that are so pressing in our community today.
Mitch: That's a good segue into another question I had. What jobs do you envision Peterborough creating?
Jeff: You know what, Mitch, I'm a bit biased. I spent 5 years as a Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs of the province of Ontario. I happen to think food and food processing has a real advantage for the province of Ontario. The United Nations tells us that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people in the world to feed. And during my kids lifetime, there will be, because of climate change, there will be some areas in the world that will no longer be in agricultural production for a wide variety of reasons. Sources of variation are are drying up, but one of the important things strategically is Canada, Ontario, is in a very good position to help meet the world's demand for food production. And I, within my ministry, we had put together the team working with the Coca-Cola foods that landed Fairlife to Peterborough. We put $6 million on the table to assist Coca-Cola foods, which leveraged an $85 billion investment by Coca-Cola foods. By all standards they’re doing rather well. They’ve increased their employment base in Peterborough, and are important for our dairy farms in the province of Ontario, they’re processing about 400,000 litres of milk per day in that operation. So I think that food and food processing gives us a distinct advantage when you're looking at, you know, the heritage manufacturers that we had in Peterborough. Quaker Oats is the only one that's really left in those heritage manufactures and they’ve been successful because they’re in the food industry. I used to say, you know, when I was in the Ontario legislature, 107 members had to eat three times a day. Food is always a nonpartisan issue which made operating that ministry a real delight for me.
Mitch: Yeah, and that certainly is in line with the global headwinds of food scarcity and food price inflation.
Jeff: We still have a good land base here in Ontario, and our agricultural sector is one of the most productive in the world. People sometimes forget that agriculture and food processing adds about 38 billion dollars to Ontario's economy each and every year, and employs in excess of 800,000 people.
Mitch : Now slight offshoot, do you think we will ever be able to really be competitive on that sort of industrial manufacturing site in the long run versus the cheap players in international competition?
Jeff: We can, because one thing that Ontario and Canada has is quality. I had the opportunity to lead trade missions during my time as minister. Once to China, once to India, and one of the things that Canada has a reputation for in the world is that our food standards are among the highest in the world and our quality is second to none. So there's a big demand in these countries to get to have products that are processed, and crops grown, in Canada and in Ontario in particular.
Mitch : Jobs is a good segue into drugs, homelessness and poverty. The homelessness, the drug issues, and economic issues, they all intertwine - but in the debate with the Homebuilders Association and PKAR the other week, I noticed you had a distinctly different opinion on your stance on the drug problem. What do you see as a solution there?
Jeff: Well I think it's a multifaceted approach, Mitch. One of the things I think Peterborough does need our MPP and are our MP, respectively, and Mr. Smith and Mrs. Ferrari, I think have talked about that, need to have wraparound services for these individuals. And to the advice that I've received, one of the best ways that you can approach addiction is to get the person off the substance. In the spring of this year Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, got 18 million dollars to develop and 20 treatment beds. We need, I think, the same opportunity here in Peterborough, and it seems to me, that could be an integral part. We talked about converting the Trinity United Church into a wraparound service centre, and that might be an appropriate location for at least 20 treatment beds as part of the overall net mix. Bearing in mind that the way treatment beds are allocated in the province of Ontario - just because you're from Peterborough, doesn't mean you get a treatment bed in Peterborough - but you’ve got to start that process to have them in place. There's also, for some additional investment in community services, because we do know, the United Way has told us, that each individual that doesn't have a roof over there is a unique story. The best way to address those 320+ individuals that have been identified as having a challenge in getting shelter is to make sure that you deal with them on an individual basis, and almost an individual approach to each one of them to get them back on the path of recovery, because that's what we all want. You know, homelessness and drug addiction covers all aspects of society. We’ve all heard that professional hockey players that have made a lot of money over their careers get addicted to cocaine. They go through their life savings pretty quickly and there have been instances of them on the streets, so there's no one economic income group that this impacts, it impacts all of society.
Mitch : Yeah, I agree. Speaking of that, PATH, Peterborough Action For Tiny Homes, I’m curious to get your thoughts on that. Myself and my family volunteered a little bit with that cause, and we came across a very passionate group of individuals there involved. There is a lot of criticism from people who haven’t investigated it very much, thinking it's just not the right approach, but then they don't have any answers in terms of what the right approach is. What are your thoughts on that?
Jeff: I saw the presentation at Grace United Church. I’m very impressed. I know Father Leo Coughlin rather well. Actually, when my younger brother passed away, my brother Ted, he presided over his funeral. So I've known Father Leo for a long period of time. There is no question that to deal with homelessness is, as I said, it is a multifaceted approach, and tiny homes I think is really a part of that mix. Finding an appropriate site is something that will perhaps take some time to accomplish. If you look at tiny homes in three jurisdictions - two in Ontario, Kitchener, Kingston, and Fredericton New Brunswick you can see how it's been a successful approach to provide shelter. Because what you provide shelter, then you can get into the other issues that are a challenge for these individuals that find themselves in a very precarious position. Also, I looked into a concept called BOXABL. Entrepreneurs working with Elon Musk, they have a manufacturing plant in Las Vegas. They produce a home of 375 ft.², that goes in the box, that box arrives on site and it goes together and they use the term like a Lego set to make that happen. One of the strengths of the BOXABL is the ability to withstand severe weather conditions. There's been talk about converting containers, shipping containers, and you know there's a lot of them that are sitting around in various areas of Ontario, and Canada, and there are innovative ways to convert them into housing.
Mitch: Just through my involvement with PATH, the hurdle that always comes up, is these things never grab any traction until they get that piece of land. That's the biggest hurdle. The service support and wraparound services are there, the volunteerism is there, you’ve got Home Hardware giving materials at cost. So the biggest problem is always the land. They have several hundred volunteers now lined up that are ready to donate their time and efforts, but what's holding them up is the land issue. It's come up before about how long some of the rezonings can take. No doubt we talk about it on the commercial development side of things, or the large-scale planning for subdivisions and the housing development side of things. But in terms of this - winter is coming. They've declared a climate emergency and shut the fountain off in Little Lake. Why can't they force a rezoning on one of these properties quicker? Is it in the cards at all? And does it strike you as an absurd idea to declare a homelessness emergency and try to expedite the rezoning of a piece of land?
Jeff: I actually talked about that this week during my remarks delivered to the Rotary Club on Monday. Under the Ontario Municipal Act, there are limited prescribed actions that can be taken by municipal council during the period of election until a new council is sworn in. That will take between nine and 10 to 11 weeks to happen. So the calendar is not our friend. So one of the things I've suggested, that Mayor Therrien, and in conjunction with the Chief Administrative Officer Sandra Clancy can do during this interim period is, actually declare an emergency - which would allow us to access resources from the government of Ontario and the government of Canada and would allow us to do a number of things within this - what I would call - a bridge period. And if, you know, I'm successful in being elected mayor of Peterborough, I would ask to get something on my desk right away for a more permanent resolution to this very serious matter. I think we can’t afford to not do something over the next 9, 10, or 11 weeks of interim period. Because, as you and I just chatted at, this week it's gotten significantly cooler. And let me say this - in a G7 country, no individual should ever die because they don't have shelter because of the elements that we face as a community.
Mitch: I appreciate your thoughts on that in terms of the interim actions. We need to get the discourse going like you said. I'm sure that's music to any of the downtown business owners ears, or anybody that has a family member or friend that’s fallen into the situation. How has more urgency in this matter not happened yet to this point? But it's an ever evolving thing in an election year that is made more prominent. So glad that it's in the forefront.
Mitch : One question that came up from somebody on Twitter, is that how does one get council and the city staff rolling in the same direction If everybody's not on the same page? There's a bit of finger-pointing that always goes on, delays on the staff side, and then bill 109 transferring some more responsibility to the staff and bypassing the council a little bit. If everybody isn't getting along, how do you take a dysfunctional council and align them with a staff that watches councils come and go, and get stuff done?
Jeff: That’s a very good question. I must say that during my time as Minister of Agriculture and Food in the province of Ontario, I worked with exceptional men and women in the Ontario public service. My Deputy, Dr. Deb Stark, who I still chat with from time to time, certainly worked with me very close. We identified the priorities from a public policy perspective of the government, and Deb Stark, in her role, made sure that the great men and women that I got to work with carried out these priorities in an expeditious manner. And one of the things I learned from being a Cabinet Minister, and that industry that I lead - Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs - was small enough, a billion-dollar budget, 900 employees, that we could set goals and make sure that we have everybody driving to achieve those goals. I talked a little bit about Fairlife, but we also had two other major developments at the same time, with an 18 month period, and we put together three packages that landed Feihe in Kingston Ontario, which is a baby formula manufacturer based on Chinese investment that was back to my time as part of my trade mission in China. We worked very closely with Michael McCain from Maple Leaf Foods in London Ontario, and Fairlife here in Peterborough. But what we did is we knew we had a calendar, we had an 18 month calendar, so we were continuously focusing on goals that we needed to achieve. And that's the job of political leadership. The political leadership sets those goals, and the civil service, the staff, must embrace those goals and make sure they get carried out in a timely fashion.
Mitch: I like the goal setting. To distill those points there, setting goals and trying to stay accountable, I suppose, or being vocal or verbal about what the goals are to the public.
Jeff: If I can just add, I think it might be helpful, we will point shares of various portfolios of city councilors. I'd like to see these councillors and the the role of the chair that they have, really have mandate letters with what is expected of them. Then the public could go on the City of Peterborough website and say the chairman of social services is responsible for these items A to Z. Are they being carried out particularly in housing by the chair of housing? If you're setting goals, you put a public mandate letter. These are the goals we want to achieve, and you can start following that to make sure that’s being carried out, and there’s transparency.
Mitch : Yeah. And so if it gets dysfunctional where you have a councillors that have, I would say, extremely different visions or perspectives on the world, or have different visions for how things should go going forward, and you get into gridlock, how does one overcome that?
Jeff: Well I think you treat everybody in a very respectful manner, and you know you'd be surprised at people that come from different political visions, if you sit down and listen and respect them, you'd be surprised how quickly you can get to the middle and an honourable compromise pretty quickly.
Mitch: So you believe you’ve got that special sauce to bring everyone together.
Jeff: I think it's very much achievable, and you know, if all members of counsel feel they're engaged and respected, sure there will be votes where one person is one way and one person is the other, but I think the key is to make sure that they feel in themselves that they had the opportunity to express their opinion, it's been listened to, and that becomes part of the decision equation.
Mitch: I had some questions on development, because typically I’m more housing focused, but I want to keep this well-rounded since we’re so close to the election. Is there anything you wanted to mention?
Jeff: Well I must say I think Peterborough has some very distinct advantages. I mean, I had the great privilege of growing up here, and the good folks at Peterborough put confidence in me on several occasions and it's always been a humbling privilege that I've been given over that period of time. And I think right now, I mean, you know, I'm 67 years old. I'm in the autumn of my life and I think some of this skill sets that I've acquired over time will really be helpful. As I said at the start of this, I truly believe in my heart that the next generation, if they want to seek their destiny in Peterborough, they should have that opportunity.
Mitch: Thank you everybody for tuning in, and thank you Jeff for taking the time to sit down with us and have this conversation.
Find Jeff's mayoral campaign here.
Thanks for tuning in, and don't forget to vote when the time comes!