For Ram Faerber, this election is all about the people of Barrie.
“I’m not in for me,” said the 59-year-old, who is the lone candidate looking to unseat Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman in the municipal election on Oct. 22. “The people will be my guide throughout my time as mayor.”
Born in Guyana, the successful businessman has lived in Canada for 37 years, 17 of those in Barrie. The owner and operator of a recycling business and a mat and distribution business in the city, Faerber believes his work ethic and commitment to every citizen of Barrie is what makes him the best candidate.
“I am very hardworking,” said the family man, who has been married for 20 years and has four children and two grandchildren. “The people will be my guide. I am very experienced with people from all walks of life and everyone (will) be treated equally. Over the years, I have learned to use both my head and heart to make decisions.”
Lehman is seeking a third term at the helm of the city and Barrie’s 46th mayor says he wants to continue to build on the work he’s done over his eight years in office. In 2014 he won the mayoral election in a landslide victory with more than 90 per cent of the vote.
“I love this job,” Lehman said at a press conference back in late August when he announced he would seek a third term. “I would be deeply honoured to do it for four more years.”
The Barrie mayor says he feels like so much has been accomplished over his two terms.
“We’ve seen 10,000 new jobs, whole new sectors of the economy from big data to the digital media,” he said. “We have expanded our hospital, our college. We’ve been the safest city in the country twice. We’re Canada’s third-most entrepreneurial city.”
In the last eight years, the city has also built a library, theatre, GO Station and added 440 units of affordable housing and a highway interchange.
“We’ve built seven new parks,” Lehman added. “We expanded the waterfront and gone from spending $5 million a year on roads to spending $44 million, this year, fixing roads, all while keeping Barrie’s taxes among the lowest in Ontario.”
Faerber believes housing and jobs will be key issues in the future the city needs to deal with today.
“The projected growth for Barrie in 2031 is about 210,000 people and jobs to growth ratio is about 101,000 jobs,” Faerber explained. “The current plan by the city to create 840 housing units by 2024 is irresponsible.”
By 2021, he figures the city will need about 1,500 housing units. But, property taxes is another issue he feels strongly about.
“There is a growing tax burden in Barrie, despite having seen substantial revenue growth,” he said. “The even more disturbing part is that this growing property tax burden does not even include the rising burden of municipal water and sewer/wastewater, which also grown at a faster annual rate than residential property taxes since 2005.”
Faerber says property taxes have gone up 35 per cent over the last 10 years.
“There are $12 million uncollected property taxes that people can’t afford to pay,” he said. “If I become mayor, I will do whatever it takes to not increase property taxes for the next four years.”
Lehman says what fires him up, and why he sought out the job in the first place, is the belief in the need to do things differently. He points to joining forces with six other cities to create, what he calls, the most innovative power company in Ontario. One that’s owned by the people of Barrie.
He is also proud of how the city has done things like installing LED street lights, Service Barrie customer contact centre, geographic information system (GIS) analytics, online services and mobile platforms for the city’s civic works as well as recycling sand.
“We’re using these innovations to tackle the big challenges that are facing our city like climate change, financial sustainability, public safety, infrastructure,” said the 43-year-old, who grew up in Barrie. “If we are going to keep taxes down, we have to keep doing things differently. We can’t be too afraid to innovate.”
Faerber believes the city must also focus on homelessness and the mental health and addiction issues that are affecting the downtown core.
“Can you imagine what business would be like if people weren’t afraid to go there?” Faerber said. “I have spoken to thousands of people who are afraid to go downtown because they don’t feel safe.”
Lehman says he took the job as chair of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario’s Big City Caucus because he believes cities could lead and Barrie is starting to lead. He feels the city is becoming one of the most progressive cities in Canada and is taking its place on a provincial and national stage.
“Elections are about the future and I believe I’m the right guy to lead us through four more years,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of some transformational changes in our city. We have hundreds of millions of dollars of investments coming to our downtown, coming to the annexed land in the south of the city. That needs to be guided. Our economy is being transformed and that needs to be encouraged. Our society is taking care of those who need help and that needs to be fostered. I really feel like we started a lot of great things in Barrie and I want to finish the job.”