The NB Media Co-op interviewed Corinne Hersey who is running for mayor in Fredericton this May to hear more about her vision on revamping city hall, reorienting housing development, solving homelessness in the province’s capital, and regenerating city land.
“One of the reasons I decided to run was because I felt that the people of the city weren’t being represented. That included all levels of the people. Our voices aren’t being heard and there are too many people being left out of policies,” said Hersey.
During a mayoral debate at St. Thomas University in 2016, Hersey asked then councilor Mike O’Brien who was running against Mayor Brad Woodside about what he would do to help students afford housing and get jobs in Fredericton.
“Mike specifically answered that he would be working to ensure affordable housing and that students had good jobs,” she recalled. “But as I’ve seen while he’s been a mayor, there has been no movement in that direction, and if anything housing has become more expensive for students.”
Dissatisfied by the direction the city is heading, Hersey decided to run for mayor on a campaign for “positive change.”
Hersey is part of a movement in Fredericton to get new councilors elected, including more women. Currently, Ward 11 Councilor Kate Rogers, who is running against Hersey for mayor, is the only woman serving on Fredericton’s city council.
For Hersey, “Taking city hall outside of city hall” is a top priority.
“I believe that city hall meetings should be held in the wards not in city hall. Councilors should have to have meetings in the ward with the people, at schools, universities, senior centres, halls to hear their constituents’ concerns. It would encourage democratic participation so that we don’t have a 37 per cent voter turnout.”
Hersey feels that such a change would build a “better rapport between mayor and councils and allow the council to know what the community wants.”
She believes this proactive approach could better mediate the ongoing discord between Sunshine Garden residents who are opposed to having the Phoenix Learning Centre, a homeless drop-in centre and planned assisted living location, in their neighbourhood.
“The people who are working at the Phoenix Learning Centre are doing their best but there are still some problems, so now what do we do?” said Hersey. “If you work together with the community, then the Phoenix Learning Centre becomes part of what everybody has to address and the people in Sunshine Garden don’t just feel like it was pushed on them.”
Besides the Phoenix Learning Centre, the City Motel affordable housing project has been a contentious issue in the lead up to the election. After public backlash, Fredericton city councilors were pushed to vote to give a conditional $900,000 in funds to the project after rejecting the proposal at a city council meeting just a few days earlier.
“For the homeless, you have to put a roof over their head – yes. But with that roof over their head has to come all the services that are needed to get them to be part of our community. We need to do everything we can to get them to live their optimum life,” said Hersey.
For Hersey, “Affordable housing is about the homeless and students who cannot afford to move out of their parents’ home, seniors who cannot sell a home they cannot keep, and the rest of us who are a few paycheques away from being unable to pay the bills.”
“Any city’s best resource is its people. If you have brain drain. If all our university students come here and want to stay here but they can’t find jobs and housing, they will leave, and that’s a huge loss to us,” said Hersey.
Hersey is concerned by “all of these pop up developments. The city is really creating its own housing crisis because it’s building middle to upper income apartments and condos.”
If elected mayor, Hersey said she would prioritize affordable housing and make sure that “nobody is paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. Right now some people are paying 60-70 per cent of their income.”
“You can’t just put up less than beautiful and cheap looking apartment buildings and stick them in places that are already poverty enclaves,” said Hersey.
For Hersey, “affordable housing works best when you can integrate it into other housing projects. So you tell developers this project won’t go ahead unless there’s five to ten per cent affordable housing.”
Hersey said that housing must also “be accessible, green, and then there has to be some kind of rent control. This is supposed to be provincial jurisdiction, but there are cities across Canada that are ensuring that rents cannot increase within a five year period.”
Hersey thinks that the housing problem in Fredericton can be partly addressed by restoring heritage buildings for affordable housing.
“Many cities are restoring those heritage buildings because it is cheaper than building new ones. It’s not about gentrification, trendiness; it’s about using these beautiful, stable, sturdy buildings as part of your affordable housing portfolio,” said Hersey.
Hersey has a vision of a housing community at the New Brunswick Exhibition (NBEX) grounds where there is urban agriculture and education, markets, and animals where seniors can socialise and children can learn to grow food and have sustainable lifestyles.
”I think it is critical that housing be inclusive of all ages, socio-economic differences, abilities, cultures, and knowledge,” said Hersey.
Besides teaching sociology at St. Thomas University, Hersey is an educator at Hayes Farm, an urban teaching farm in Fredericton’s Devon neighbourhood, and has been part of community garden initiatives across the city. Her work has earned her the YMCA’s Peace Medallion Award in 2020.
Hersey has a pocket full of green strategies to offer, from turning Fredericton into a ‘sponge city’ by expanding green spaces and permeable surfaces that clean, harvest runoff and soak up excess water to creating urban agriculture and natural urban forest that will help create jobs and mitigate flooding.
“You can’t cut down trees and stop flooding. You need to plant more trees. A flood strategy must take into consideration that the city floods from both the river that is bare of trees, shrubs, bushes, and native flowers and from up the hill where trees have been replaced by buildings and roads,” said Hersey.
Hersey also wants the city to involve the Wolastoqey peoples in decisions about city land.
“We all want to protect the river and the land,” said Hersey.
Data Brainata is a permaculturalist-in-training who has an interest in politics.