OrilliaMatters will profile all the candidates seeking election in Orillia in the Oct. 24 municipal election.
A lifelong Orillian and prolific volunteer hopes to secure a Ward 4 council position in the Oct. 24 municipal election.
Paula Hill-Coulson currently serves on the Rotary Club of Orillia’s board of directors and previously served on its local needs committee, helping source various items for Orillians in need.
She has done volunteer work through St. Vincent de Paul, the Sharing Place Food Centre, Guardian Angels Parish, long-term care homes, school breakfast clubs and more.
The 54-year-old driving instructor also volunteers with Sustainable Orillia.
“Since I started volunteering, it’s just progressed to more and more,” Hill-Coulson told OrilliaMatters.
She has deep roots in Orillia. Prior to working as a driving instructor, she worked at her family’s restaurant, Hill’s Maple Leaf Restaurant, which has been in her family for three generations.
Her great-grandfather was ‘Hot Dog’ Tom Hill, who started a restaurant and gas bar on Colborne Street nearly 100 years ago.
“I have role models in my life who inspired me. My mom was always a volunteer, even in politics — she volunteered for for different elections — and then my dad, being a restaurateur, he was a volunteer most of his life at Knights of Columbus as well,” Hill-Coulson said. “My brother (Andrew Hill) was also on council from 2010 to 2014, so that also inspired me.”
She views her active involvement in the community as experience that will translate well to the council table, and also as evidence of her commitment to Orillia.
“Orillians know that … I’m so involved in so many organizations over the years, and that I’m committed to Orillia’s future development as a diverse, safe and growing community,” she said. “I’m committed to giving back to my community and I believe serving on council would be that ultimate act of service.
“Being involved in so many organizations and connected to the community, I feel they’ve taught me leadership skills and decision-making skills and consensus-building skills.”
As she’s made her rounds through various organizations as a volunteer, Hill-Coulson has identified a number of issues she feels need attention over the coming term of council.
“I feel mental health is a big one that we’re facing, and then we have the opioid (crisis and) homelessness,” she said. “Food security and road safety is a big, big issue for me as well, and the growth of Orillia as well. Those are big issues that council is going to (have) to look at.”
Hill-Coulson said her experience as a driving instructor has driven home the importance of maintaining local infrastructure.
“There’s a lot of concerns, not only (from) myself (but also) my colleagues, for road safety. That’s a big issue with us and that encompasses a lot, not just potholes and snow banks,” she said. “We’re in a retirement community and we have a lot of people who need to use scooters and e-bikes and different modes of electric transportation, so that becomes a safety issue for us motorists, also for pedestrians themselves and for cyclists. So, I see all that and I hear that on a regular basis from everyone … around the city.”
Hill-Coulson said she has been listening to the concerns of Orillians through her involvement in the community.
“I’m connected to a lot of the organizations in Orillia and their concerns, everywhere from food security to housing,” she said. “I’ve been talking to them as well with their ideas because they’re on the front lines with the opioid crisis and mental health, and they have really good suggestions, so it’s about listening to them.”
She would also like to help post-pandemic economic recovery in the city by finding ways to encourage people to shop locally.
“Shopping local is a big platform for me, and it’s not just in the downtown area; it’s the surrounding area as well.”
Hill-Coulson also made note of several smaller issues she would like to address on council.
“A friend of mine who owns a business up in Ward 4, her concern is there’s a lot of litter in her area and it draws seagulls in and it’s just become a bigger problem for them and their parking lot,” she said. “Some other residents, they’re concerned about stop signs that are blocked by branches and trees. Again, a small thing, but that becomes a very dangerous safety issue.”
The current Ward 4 councillors are Pat Hehn and Tim Lauer. Hehn is not seeking re-election. Other confirmed candidates are Janet-Lynne Durnford, Joe Winacott, Kyle Peacock and Pat Reid. Tyson Renshaw has withdrawn from the race.