OrilliaMatters will profile all the candidates seeking election in the Oct. 24 municipal election.
A local antique store owner and professional entomologist is hoping to secure a Ward 2 council seat in the upcoming municipal election.
Dael Morris, 67, grew up in the Cook’s Bay area of Lake Simcoe, but has lived in Orillia for the past 20 years, all of which she has spent in Ward 2.
Before opening her antique store Gutta Percha in 2013, Morris worked as a freelance forensic entomologist in Canada and the United States, and also spent a decade working for the Royal Ontario Museum.
Some of her previous political experience includes volunteering with the Ontario Health Coalition during the recent provincial election, where she worked to bring awareness to “the privatization and monetization of public health care,” as well as petitioning against the sale of Orillia Power Distribution.
She also runs the popular Facebook group Local Orillia News, which she started in 2017 following the closure of the Orillia Packet & Times as a forum for residents to discuss local events and issues.
With development and environmental concerns ramping up amid Orillia’s rapid growth, Morris said the city is at a critical juncture.
“We've got climate change, and a provincial government that doesn't even recognize it,” Morris told OrilliaMatters. “We've got an outdated plan of development that is self serving to the developers, so there is development without any regard to the environment. When I say environment, I'm talking about people too.”
With Orillia slated to grow to 50,000 people over the next few decades, Morris hopes to bring “thoughtful” growth to the city.
“I think there needs to be a bit of breathing space, … not to stop development, but the development has to be thoughtful, it has to be thought about and considering climate change and the environment for the future," she explained.
While Morris stressed the need for additional housing within the city, she has concerns about proposed condominium projects at Cedar Island and 70 Front St. N., as well as the built environment encroaching upon wetlands on James Street — all due to their proximity to the natural environment.
“I would like to see a more intelligent approach to this development if we're going to be pushed into it, because the province is pushing us into it,” she said. “I think we should push back, and I would like to see everybody have a place to live.”
She views municipalities as “the last stand” against the province’s development plans in the region.
“With the provincial government pretty much juggernauting across the province right now with this high pressure development scheme, I think the municipalities are the last stand if we're going to have a decent future,” she said.
Along those lines, Morris suggested municipalities band together to combat housing prices by pressuring the provincial government to reintroduce price controls on rental units.
She viewed the idea as a “partial” solution, but one that is important nonetheless.
“I personally know of quite a few people that were evicted from their apartments so that the landlord could hike up the rents because there's no rent controls anymore,” she said. “Why can't the municipalities band together at the county level … and put pressure back on the provincial government to bring back some rent controls?”
Morris also highlighted the need for better healthcare access in the city, particularly the lack of walk-in clinic services for patients without doctors, as well as a need to address the opioid crisis and mental health issues.
Another issue Morris would like to work on is commemorating, restoring, and making use of Orillia’s historical sites.
She pointed to John and Mary Street, which she said are built on top of Indigenous burial sites.
“Hardly anybody is aware of the history of this area, and it needs to be … visibly recognized in consultation with the people of Rama and the Wendat as well,” she said. “Whether it's through artwork or plaques or whatever, turn it into a tourist thing if you want, but it has to be recognized. People need to know what they are on.”
Morris also expressed a desire to repair the “Somebody’s Mother” statue at Couchiching Beach Park, and to establish a public beach and arts centre at the Huronia Regional Centre, alongside the OPP and courthouse currently occupying the property.