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Councillor Early emphasizes smart growth and planning for Caledon’s future

By Rob Paul

Diving into the world of municipal politics isn't necessarily every Councillor's calling from Day One, but Ward 2 Area Councillor Christina Early found herself wanting to do more for the community after years in the business world.

That led Early to run for Caledon Council in 2018 and achieve the goal of giving back to the Town she raised her family in, while bringing a unique view to Council given her business acumen. 

“I had a pretty nice career before I started into municipal politics and worked pretty hard in that career—it was always retail Pharma—and I worked my way up to several executive positions,” she said. “I always knew on the day that I would retire, because I knew I wouldn't be there until 70, that I wouldn't be able to sit idly at home and I knew I wanted to get out in the community.

“The driving factor was never really politics, it was always getting out in the community and meeting some people and making a difference; I knew I wanted to volunteer in a series of Wards. That was the force and when I first got elected, I was still working a bit and then did an early retirement. I'm very happy that I did that because the learning curve has been quite incredible, specifically because of the many different issues Caledon faces.”

Not originally from Caledon, Early found herself wanting to raise a family in the Town because of its similarities to where she was raised and its strong community which ultimately drove her to want to get involved after she retired.

“I grew up in rural Ottawa, but it's funny because it was literally the same as where I'm living now after I married my husband,” she said. “The back of us was cornfields, the front of us was Greenbelt with trails, and so when I met my husband 27 years ago, it was a very natural fit in Caledon. He's a multi-generational farmer and through the 27 years we've raised two girls and community has always been there for us. When I was raising the girls, I was either working or it was extracurriculars—I volunteered at the school but couldn't volunteer on boards because of my job. 

“For me, community was everything because we're a 4-H family, and now I just want to give back. Now I'm fortunate to sit on the Caledon Community Service (CCS) board, the library board, the Ontario Health Team as a rep for CCS for Dufferin-Caledon, and I've been able to really take a good look at some of our social services. It's becoming a real driving passion of mine to ensure we have some solid integration with those social services as we continue to grow as a municipality.”

Representing the residents of such a large ward has led to Early focusing on plenty of different issues over the years because of the diverse areas and settings that are within her constituency.

“I remember when I was knocking on doors in Ward 2 and people would ask me to tell them what my platform is, and I would say, ‘Let me first tell you what Ward 2 is all about,'” she said. “Ward 2 to me is the closest ward to mimicking greater Caledon. It's got small villages, rural residential areas, a large farming community, we have small businesses, we have those urbanized areas in Southfields and Mayfield West, and we're the fastest growing Ward. 

“When you think about accomplishments, we had the traffic calming measures that had to go on, you were dealing with different associations, you were dealing with agricultural issues, and you were dealing with a lot of truck traffic, which was significant for our residents. And also, you were dealing with the issue of illegal trucking and it's prevalent throughout Caledon.”

The issue of illegal trucking has become a bigger problem because Caledon covers such a vast amount of land and working on the problem is one of the initiatives Early is and will continue to champion going forward.  

“With the trucking issue, that's consumed a great deal of my time because people are so concerned. People are concerned about the road state and their safety. There are 2,000 trucking companies through Peel and I don't think this problem is going to go away in the short term. We're really going to need to continue as a municipality to find solutions and we need to have dedicated depot space in conjunction with a solid set of by-laws. The by-laws will be huge because they need to be enforced and they need to be enforced fairly. I think this is a huge task for Caledon because we're the one municipality that has a lot of land left and we're so close to the GTA, so, of course this is where trucks are going to try and hide and park.”

In Early's opinion, the most important aspect of being on Council and representing a wide range of residents is to be able to connect and build relationships with them to hear and understand the issues that are most important to them, and that all starts by ensuring they feel comfortable reaching out. 

“I love working with the community and residents, it's been my greatest passion,” she said. “I have tried to take all my old business skills and put it into this political world. I'm never going to be comfortable as a politician, but I'm really comfortable looking at things strategically and when you're in business you're getting back to your customers very quickly. I look at our residents as my customers so when they call, I get back promptly and they often say, ‘I can't believe you took my call and responded so quickly.' For me, I really love the people and conversations. Some politicians may be emotional and take things to heart, for me at this stage of the game, I just try to enjoy every moment and the people I meet and the contributions I get to bring to the table. Your background plays a role in how you look at things and so I look at things from a strategic business standpoint and everybody brings something different to the table and that's what helps the team connect.”

Those relationships with the residents don't only allow Early to hear from them, but also to learn from them and have a better idea of how to achieve the goals the community is most passionate about. 

“It's everything, it's absolutely everything,” she said of relationships with residents. “I don't know one thing that would trump it. Even on Sunday morning I had a resident call me about an issue and we talked it through and sometimes when you talk it through you recognize how much you've learned over the years and we were able to work through the issue. Without the residents calling you and without the contributions from them, you don't form the learning and don't understand what the community wants.”

The connections go beyond the residents too, said Early. They're needed with fellow councillors as well to make sure everyone is on the same page as they build for the future. She says this is particularly important for Caledon going forward with the expected growth boom.

“[Caledon being in lockstep is] going to become extremely important because we're growing up, by 2051 we'll have 300,000 residents with 125,000 jobs,” she said. “That means that in the next two terms of Council there will be a lot of work done and we have to ensure we have the collaboration and are headed in the right direction. We have to put some business expert standards into our municipal service programs and we have to ensure we take that collaborative business approach. With that growth we have to do this strategically and I think all members of Council will have to be very responsible to understand what Future Caledon is going to look like in the next three decades. It's imperative each Councillor understands their role and responsibility in shaping Future Caledon. 

“You don't want someone sitting independently because there's too much work to do. If there's anything that has the greatest nagging at me its how are we going to ensure that we shape Caledon in the right way and balance growth with responsibilities and commitments to the environmental leadership. We have a huge initiative to make sure our current residents are well cared for while building our communities for future residents and ensure we have the jobs, and we want to make sure the 80 per cent of Caledon that is green stays green and is protected as we become environmental leaders.”

One of the main focuses for Early going forward will be the continued development of social services in both Ward 2 and Caledon as it grows, she references other municipalities being hindered by not prioritizing services before their expected growth.   

“In Southfields Village, we have a community centre where we started a hub program. What that means is we have CCS, Caledon Parent-Child, the library, Punjabi Health—we have a number of social services,” she said. “To me it's the infancy and the next drive point for me is to ensure as we build out each community that our community centre has space. We need to talk about the needs of each community and what social services each community needs and build on the community hub. For example, we have the Exchange in Bolton but that's a 25-minute drive, and we have a big geography in Caledon that needs to be accounted for with social services. We need to be proactive in regards to the services that Caledon residents require and that won't be an easy task. It takes funding and collaboration between the municipality, the Region, and the Province. I'm the alternate for Regional meetings so I see the challenges that Mississauga and Brampton are going through because they developed much earlier and it's tougher to go backwards to find the funding and create the infrastructure for the needed social services.”

The other big focal point for Early is smart planning, both in Ward 2 as it develops and throughout Caledon as Council works to approve the Future Caledon Official Plan that will set the stage for the next three decades in the Town. 

“The other thing is we're building out Mayfield West 2,” she said. “In my mind, as we buildout Mayfield West 2, we need to think about the green spaces, community centres, and ensure we're building a sustainable community. I was very proud this year that Council passed the Resilient Climate Action Plan. It's very robust and we want to be forward-thinking and be carbon neutral by 2051 and ensure we have high development standards. We recently delegated to the ministers during ROMA to talk about putting our money where our mouth is from all levels of government as we talk about sustainable communities. It's going to require dollars and years but if we don't start focusing on sustainable and environmentally friendly communities now then we'll have a problem. 

“We also have to realize we need to develop for the people who are coming to Caledon and do it responsibly and ensure our developers are building for the future of Caledon because we're going to be the envy of other municipalities. It should be a privilege to develop in Caledon and so we shouldn't jump the gun and allow anyone to develop here; there should be a process with high standards that emphasizes the environment. You have to do what's right for the future and that's why the next two terms are so important. We have a land mass that equals Mississauga and Brampton and only 20 per cent of our mass will be developed while 80 per cent remains protected. That's the most important message that people need to hear.”



Post date: 2022-02-17 11:01:59
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