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Stephen Wright | Photo: Peterborough Examiner

Profile on Mayoral Candidate Councillor Stephen Wright

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
October 14, 2022
Profile on Mayoral Candidate Councillor Stephen Wright
Stephen Wright | Photo: Peterborough Examiner


I met Stephen Wright at his office on George Street. It’s a modest space, with an old wooden kitchen table in the front, cluttered with various papers and campaign materials. Behind a large makeshift wall made of a large sign bearing Wright’s smiling face, came the disembodied voice of his Campaign Manager, Mariann, greeting me into the room.

I’d arrived a little bit early, and unable to see into the office had loitered for a few minutes outside. Once I entered the room, I realized that the window signage created a one-way glass scenario. Throughout our conversation, members of the public would walk up to the window and attempt to peer in, not knowing that there’s someone seated less than four feet on the other side of the glass. At one point in our conversation he told me that he’d had to replace the sign on the window four times since the beginning of the campaign due to vandalism.

Stephen Wright was born in St Andrews, Jamaica. His mother immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, at first leaving her children behind due to the restrictions imposed by the immigration program. Stephen and his siblings lived another six years in Jamaica before he was reunited with his mom. From New Brunswick, his family moved to Toronto before settling in Alberta. Mr. Wright then attended university in Winnipeg and has called Peterborough home for the past 17 years.

First elected to council in 2018 after an unsuccessful run in 2014, Mr. Wright is currently ending his first term as councillor for the Northcrest Ward. He told me that should he be elected Mayor then he plans to restructure Peterborough’s city government by abolishing the ward system and cutting the size of council.

“It’s important that our city councillors are looking at the entire city with a corporate lens. So the downtown problem doesn’t become the challenge of the two councillors in the downtown, it becomes every councillors issue to address this way, when you do make the financial investment in a downtown, then there’s that corporate view of the importance of making a financial contribution downtown.

Mr. Wright is running on what he’s calling his “C.L.E.A.R” vision for Peterborough. As such, he is prioritizing Community Safety and Climate Action, Leading and Engaging Toward Balanced Growth, Economic Development, Airport Development, and Re-Inventing Downtown Core.

Part of this vision is borne out of his understanding that the discussions taking place at City Hall are disconnected from the concerns of Peterborough residents. The final pillar of his platform concerns the downtown, which is seen by so many as a locus of the major issues facing the city, from affordability, accessibility, safety, and development standpoints.

“It doesn’t matter what door you knock on throughout the city. You hear, I’m not going downtown, I’m afraid of downtown. I don’t feel safe downtown. And it’s and it transcends all categories of citizens. So whether you’re talking to seniors, whether you’re talking to the younger student population, it doesn’t matter who you’re talking to about this. If you don’t feel safe downtown what happened? One of the most resounding quotes that somebody made was that downtown feels like something somebody abandoned a long time ago.”

Mr. Wright sees the increasing student population as a bonus for the city itself. He asked rhetorically what the city would look like in the absence of the post-secondary institutions and the student population. The concerns raised by students, of course, tend to focus on affordability and availability of housing when they come here. To this point, Mr. Wright noted that he would incentivize the private sector to develop city-owned lands to create more affordable housing through rent-control.

“Looking at the current affordable housing model, where the city might waive the development charge for something in the central area. And then a developer buys city owned properties for pennies on the dollars and then applies to the federal government for infrastructure and housing money. The only thing you’ve really done is subsidize the cost of the development.”

Mr. Wright suggested as well that he would create a housing registry which would contain the information of city-approved landlords. He mentioned as well that he encourages students to call the property standards department if they notice anything dangerous or substandard about their housing.

All these are longer-term solutions to what is a growing point of concern. Like the other candidates, Mr. Wright is in favour of the Canada home-share program and hope to be able to ensure that Trent makes good on its promise to build more student residence space over the coming years.

When asked about how he would help to support members of our community who are experiencing homelessness, addiction, and struggles with their mental health, Mr. Wright provided a lengthy answer to the ways in which the city and the region should approach the issue. It’s important for Mr. Wright to make it clear that these are interrelated issues that have differing root causes and that providing the proper support to individuals is the best way to ensure community safety.

Mr. Wright believes that in order to effectively address the drug poisoning crisis, the city needs police to be tough on those dealing drugs while ensuring the individuals who are using drugs are given the support they need when they want it. “We can’t police our way into better health,” he said.

“But you do have a number of people coming into the community preying on our marginalized. To be clear, we want to take care of those who have had traumas in their life. And this is how they’re coping with the trauma, we want to help that community.”

On transit and transportation issues, Mr. Wright has big plans for the future of getting around the area. He believes that the re-alignment of transit routes in the city was unnecessary given the fact no one was going anywhere anyways. The key to revitalizing the transit system, which he notes is still operating at a 50% ridership from before the pandemic, is listening to transit workers and those who use the service.

Developing the airport, and creating passenger services to that resource also ensures that Peterborough is working to expand its catchment area as far as Kingston, which, he believes is the first step to bringing regular GO train services to Peterborough.

Regarding climate change, Mr. Wright sees the possibility of working to make the emergency vehicle fleet electric, following massive shifts in the infrastructure. He noted that in his term on council he helped bring in the climate emergency declaration, calling the moves the “small touches of climate mitigation.”

Mr. Wright has a conviction that he is viewed as a threat to the established order of the city amongst the older more established candidates on the ballot this year and their supporters. He’s running a campaign that obviously addresses the issues facing the city and the concerns of citizens. He is dreaming big about what Peterborough could become in the next decade and more. The question now is are the people of Peterborough ready?

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