Algonquin Highlands, ward 2: Amber Meirik

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Listen to the full interview here.

Qualifications 

Amber Meirik has been an elementary school teacher for almost 30 years. “I’ve dedicated my life to helping others and finding solutions that optimize outcomes.” She believes her greatest assets to be her communication and problem-solving skills. “I don’t do anything without 200 per cent effort.” Meirik is also a coach with the Minden Skating Club. 

Algonquin Highlands

 “There needs to be a focus on greater cooperation with other levels of government, to empower municipal governments and increase the participation of citizens,” Meirik said. “We also need to restore and improve services for taxpayers. Waste management, roads, transportation, parks and rec, municipal infrastructure … we need more careful examination of budgeted items … and we need to commit to no further increases in property taxes.” 

Amalgamation 

Meirik believes any decision over the potential amalgamation of the four lower-tier townships in Haliburton County should be decided by local residents. “That’s a major, life-changing decision. We would need some type of a referendum vote,” she said. “This issue has been spoken to many, many times, but I do feel there is a savings to be had in streamlining [municipal] administration… My opinion is it’s something that should be looked at.” 

Health

 “I would not be opposed to looking at streamlining the [two] health care centres we have in Haliburton County down to one, which can then be maintained with staffing, extra resources,” Meirik said. She indicated she’d like to see the community vote on this issue too, should the amalgamation of Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) sites ever be brought forward. 

Housing 

“We need an expansion of available housing and incentives. If we can tackle the housing crisis, that may contribute to our ability to fill vacancies in our workforce, which is another critical thing crippling our community. Basement [apartments], bunkies – those types of things could be explored.” She called on the provincial government to provide more funds for housing projects in Haliburton County. While Meirik considers herself pro-development, she is also mindful of protecting the environment. “We can’t just build without consequence. We need to do what we can to get the housing that is needed here … but also protect nature and all that makes Algonquin Highlands great.” 

Poverty 

“There’s got to be a lot more programs… there’s got to be more money put into the budget. Food banks are alive and well, we need a lot more in that area, certainly for children. They need nutrition and after-school programs. We need drop-in centres; we have to expand on our library programs.” Meirik said she’d like to see new businesses donate a percentage of their profits to the community to support poverty reduction strategies. 

Shoreline preservation bylaw

 Meirik isn’t a fan of the County’s new shoreline preservation bylaw. “The problem is that it’s a complaint-based system. This kind of system is not only inefficient due to the onus being on the citizens, but it also does not effectively stop the offenders.” She would have liked the County to hold an in-person open house, where people could attend and ask questions about the proposed bylaw, before council passed it. She also feels concerns over septic systems and the impact they can have on lake health was largely ignored. “I don’t think this shoreline bylaw is going to make the difference it was intended to make.” 

Short-term rentals

 “Multiple municipalities across Ontario are tackling this same issue … There shouldn’t be these overnight types of rentals, because those do not really do any long-term good.” Meirik believes the township needs to refine its definition for short-term rentals, and work closely with people who have secondary properties in the Highlands. “Instead of having to rent out your property for a week here and two weeks there, perhaps they could rent out to a worker who needs a home while they’re here for the summer… That could be subsidized [by the municipality] in some way – everyone’s happy.” 

Transportation

 Meirik believes the County and lower-tier townships should be exploring options for public transit. “You can operate a system in a geographically spread-out region that is on-demand. It may not be that you have a bus every hour like in the city, but there should be something available each day that you can call to get a ride.” 

Vision for the future

 Meirik wants to bring all Algonquin Highlands residents together. “We need better cohesiveness between our full-time and seasonal residents. We’ve got to see a change in our poverty numbers. We can’t have these things happening. It’s an embarrassment and a shame that this is going on in 2022, so we’ve got to help, as a municipality, any way that we can. If that means propping up [some social programs], so be it… This is the most beautiful place in Ontario, and we have to do what we can to keep it that way.” 

Focus for 2023 budget

 “I would commit to no more tax increases. We have a surplus; we need to look more carefully line by line at what’s being budgeted and maybe change our focus and priorities. One of the things I would want is more open communication, getting input from the community and then moving forward to know what their priorities are.” 

Amber Meirik the candidate

 “One of the main reasons I’ve chosen to put my name forward is because I feel there is a little bit of accountability missing in the current council. I will strive to be an accountable voice in Algonquin Highlands, by listening to all taxpayers in the township.” Meirik says she will confer with the community on all major decisions. Having been a seasonal resident for several years, she plans to move here permanently later this year.