Interview with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey

We are here today with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey to discuss issues facing Brampton residents as well as South Asian community.  Her take on the last 4 years and whats ahead for Brampton.

Question: Thank you Linda for taking the time out to meet with me and discuss some topics facing the South Asian & Brampton community with our audience.  So to start.. for our audience who may not know you well, tell us about yourself?

Linda: Well Im someone who first ran for politics in 1991, my children were 3, 5 & 7 at the time.  My baby now is 30 years old, so I’ve served as a municipal councilor for 12 years.  Then I was recruited to run for the Liberals in 2003 & at the time, I was angry at the way city was shortchanged by the Provincial government whether it was the Brampton Civic hospital that was not built at the time, all we had was Peel Memorial hospital .  For city of this size, that was not enough healthcare.  I served at provincial level for 11 years as Minister of Labor, Natural resources and municipal affairs and housing and I was chair of cabinet.   I got to bring things to my city: 410 highway, Erin Oak kids, Brampton Civic hospital.  Around 2013, during ice storm, I started getting calls from people in the city to run for mayor, I had experience running the province and city was in bad shape. All 11 members of my council were under criminal investigation for their expenses, we had lots of losses and we were not respected around the province.  I decided to leave the province and come back to run for Mayor. This is my 1st term as Mayor and I said when I got elected that I will disrupt the status quo, I would do things differently, that I would make the city more accountable, transparent, I wanted people to have confidence in the city hall again.  They thought before that if you want a job at the city hall, you needed to know somebody.  If you wanted a contract, you needed to know somebody.  It shouldn’t like that. I have one of the youngest, average age is 35, most diverse and most well educated cities in Canada and I want our city to be strong, proud.  I wanted to bring university to the city, we have… we have Ryerson as our partner, working with Sheriden college.  I have tried to turn the city around, very difficult to move a big ship and turn the direction quickly.  We have done a lot, we have 7 new members of council in the last term out of 11 and now this term 3 of my colleagues are retiring and 1 is running against me, so we’ll have a change now, at least 4 seats and I have a dream that my council will look like my city after this election.  Up until this point, most people on council look like me, but that’s not Brampton.  Top 3 languages: Punjabi, urdu, gujarati.  This city has changed, it has evolved and I want to find a way to strengthen it and bring more job and pride to the city and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 4 years.

So what would you term as your biggest 3 accomplishments over the last 4 years?

Well, Ryerson university is a big one.  I would say the youth shelter is something Im very proud of.  When I first got elected, I sat down with the chair of United Way and said to her..what is the 1 thing I can do in the next 4 years that would really impact the city and she said.. do you know what, you don’t have youth shelter in Brampton.  I said you must be mistaken, we’re a city of almost 600,000 people, how come we don’t have youth shelter, she said you have nothing.  So if a young person gets into trouble with their family, if they get kicked out or they run away, they have to go to Mississauga.  And if Mississauga is full, they have to go to Adult shelter which is not ok.  So last year, a group came and delegated a region, saying it’s a crisis/emergency, there was plan to do a study and I Said to the chair, can we not take the money from that study and put it into temporary shelter for now.  We took those dollars and now we have 30 beds in Brampton that we didn’t have before.  For me, that’s huge.  Next step is to bring a women shelter.  Shelter is located at Goreway/Queen, still temporary and too far out and I would prefer its closer to transit.  #3 is to bring in the auditor general.  I brought in the provincial auditor general to look at the books and finances of city of Brampton were not in good shape.  We were not a role model to any city or province.  We brought him and we went from rate of B minus to A minus, so when your credit rating goes up by that much, it means you spend less money on interest charges, so putting the city on a better track financially for me was important . He gave us a number of recommendations and we followed all of them. He told us to flatten the organization, it was too heavy in the middle, we had too many directors and managers, so we cleared out a whole layer. It means more people at the top and the middle are making decisions together and talking to each other. It saves us about $2 million a year but its also more efficient, so I wanted to demonstrate that we understand that tax dollars are important and that we’re not going to waste them.  I’d like to ask him to come back again and evaluate.

What are the top 3 issues facing Brampton residents right now according to you?

They are telling me they’re concerned about crime, their taxes and their jobs.  They are extremely happy about the university, they want to see that go forward but I think these are uncertain times from a job perspective.  I still have people in my city working 2-3 jobs…its hard, its hard to raise a family, hard to take care of your parents.  Having a good paying job and not leaving the city to go to work would make life much so my job is to bring jobs to the city, to attract busiensses that want to locate here whether its in cyber security which is what Ryerson wants to focus on or Life sciences.  I don’t want people to work on an hourly or minimum wage..thats not the way to live, that makes life hard for families.

Lets elaborate a bit more on the crime concern that you spoke about. What has been done, why hasn’t it worked and what is the solution?

So I was appointed to the police services board 4 years ago. Im the only Mayor who’s been there for full 4 years. Those 7 people are the boss of Jennifer Evans who is our only employee so we set our policy with her. The first year I was there, we argued about carding or street checking.  Chief wants to do it, I think its wrong.  I don’t think its right to disproporationaly stop people because they are visible minorities for no reason so we argued about that.  Last year we argued about budget. Chief brings its budget to the board, we take it to the reason and it gets approved at the region.  And the budget chief brought to us, I said I don’t think its good enough, and I said to her here is my problem: when someone gets attacked or robbed in the city, they call the Mayor’s office, Im one of the first people they call.  When someone tells me they’ve been robbed and no police officer comes for 3 days, that’s too long. That’s a problem.  It really makes me frightened for my community because if you’re robbed, you don’t want to go into that house again.  It changes how you feel about your city so I said you need to put more money into frontline police offices.  So we argued about it and I won and we went to the region for 37 additional police officers, 10 more dispatchers (people who answer the phones), and some more court security. Im not sure that’s the right number.  I think we need more than that. The chief would tell you statistically we’re not in any more danger than we were a year ago but statistics don’t make me or residents feel safe so there is a chart she has about benchmarking.  We have the lowest number of officers per capita. I don’t know why.  Maybe its an efficiency thing.  I think numbers should go up.  I think we should be parallel to cities like Ottawa or Hamilton/London.  Those cities have much higher per capita police officers so couple of weeks ago, I brought a motion to the region and recommended the chief looks at this.  The chief asked for more money from Provincial minister, she asked for some of the $25 million that minister gave to Guns and Gangs in Toronto.  I agree with her. Bad guys don’t care if you’re in Toronto, Etobicoke or Brampton.  The guns and the gangs follow each other, and they will come into Brampton. We need to make sure that our officers are equipped.  And the world is changing, we’re going to have legalized Marijuana so I think the more officers, the more prepared we’re going to be for the things that are changing around us.

You also spoke of property tax concerns, and if I look at mine, they increased around 5% year over year, which is substantially above the rate of inflation, how do we bring that to around inflation?

So property taxes are a big bone of contention for my residents and I understand why.  But when you don’t plan your city properly or don’t bring the right business in, then all of the burden ends up on the residential taxpayers.  If you bring in more industrial/commercial, the lower the property taxes.  But we as a city, have only built subdivisions for decades.  Its one of the reasons I left the city because I was like I cant work with the developers anymore.  I can’t put 125 houses where only 100 should go.  I can’t work with the development community.  So the development community essentially was driving everything in the city.  We weren’t focusing on job and in one case, we took 40-45 acres that Kodak used to own and convert into residential.  That land is gone forever.  You can never build any business there.  So I’ve been trying to change that narrative, trying to flatten the organization.  So in reality, the taxes actually have gone down slightly while I’ve been mayor but the MPAC values properties as higher values, but on the tax piece they have gone down slightly.  So one of the things I did in the budget was to put 2% added every year for infrastructure.  We, as a city, are not taking care of infrastructure whether its recreation centres or firehalls or bus stations, any of the infrastructures that city owns.  In fact, the summer that I ran, 2 roofs failed in Brampton in recreational centers, so that means my residents are in danger, employees are in danger .  You can’t do that, we were not taking care of the facilities we owned and I felt that was wrong.  In fact, other cities are now following our lead.  It’s the right thing to do.

Another thing I want to bring up, you mentioned South Asians as the largest group in Brampton, what are some of the programs at the city level, available to the community?  How do residents know these exist and we can also publish them on our website once we know.

So there are some programs, most are not offered by city of Brampton but provincial government or regional programs.  Our problem as government is we put Silos, we don’t talk to each other and we don’t help our residents because they don’t know who to talk to.  Frequently they come to us, and we try to get them to the right person, but if English is not your first language, its hard.  One of the things I tried to do is get as much of the information possible translated because as you get older, you revert to your mother tongue.  If there is an emergency, I want my seniors to know what to do, who to talk to, I try to get as much translated the city does.  I want my seniors to know how to access a cheaper bus fare, dental programs, discounted recreational programs, those are all issues that help elevate everybody.  We can give you a copy of an article I wrote on poverty that talks about 3 programs:  affordable transit, dental program, and recreational and these programs are private.  No one would know you’re getting help from the city to do that.  We also work with education institutions like Sheriden college working with new students, doing orientation programs with police, municipalities so these students know who to talk to, about basement apartments, parking, bullying, etc…

One of the things we would love is if you can give us a list of what programs exist for newcomers/elderly, we would publish it on our website.

Linda: Absolutely, the city publishes seniors recreational guide and little things like shoveling your know, there is a program that you can apply for that gets you money for shoveling your snow.  We doubled it last year and most people don’t even know about it.  I don’t want people to get heart attack shoveling their snow.  We want to help them.

Your message to the youth Linda & Brampton residents?

Get out and vote.  This election is really important and we’ll make decisions about the university, transit and about things you care about.  If you want a city that is going to be modern, we got some great young candidates on the ballot, go and find out who your representative is.  Go out and vote, you can make a difference.

Thank you to all the residents of Brampton for the 4 years I’ve had.  Im very appreciative and humbled by the support that I’ve had.  This election is very important, you have a choice to stay with someone who is stable and delivered results for this city whether its fighting for better healthcare, fighting for more money for the police, making sure we brought a university or you have a choice of somebody who is risky and not have a relationship with federal or provincial government.  Don’t let this opportunity go by without voting.  Go out and vote.  Bring your friends, your neighbours, municipal elections matter.  The moment  you get up in the morning, municipality touches you: you turn on the light, you brush your teeth, you walk outside, the streets, firehalls, libraries, recreational centers, whether your street is plowed, grass is cut, how quickly the fire truck comes to you are all municipal issues, so get out and vote.