My Passion For Municipal Gov’t Led Me To Council

By Barrhaven East Councillor Wilson Lo

Amongst the three levels of government, municipal government is the most practical.

All we do has a direct immediate impact on the daily lives of residents in the community, and the results of what we do are very visible and tangible.

That is why how we achieve our goals and the support we get from the federal and provincial governments is as important as what our goals are.

Late last month, I had the privilege of attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference in Toronto.

The FCM is an advocacy group representing municipalities across Canada. Though it has no formal power, it is the main lobbying group of municipalities and often navigates and negotiates with federal departments on their behalf.

It was an incredibly rewarding four days of workshops, seminars, and study tours around Toronto to discuss evolving issues cities are facing, including infrastructure, housing, and climate change.

Experts including academics and those with theoretical and practical experience in relevant fields spoke on issues like rural connectivity, building great public places, future-proofing agriculture, and food production, and attracting and retaining municipal talent.

Keynote speakers included leaders of the four major federal parties selling us on their vision for Canadian municipalities as well as political analyst David Coletto who offered insight on the temperature of the country and what voters care about right now.

My favourite activities of the conference were the study tours of municipal facilities, new urban communities, and areas of cultural significance, such as the massive redevelopment of the eastern waterfront, including the re-naturalisation of the Don River’s mouth.

I also had the opportunity to reconnect or network with municipal officials from across the country. The activities proved that most cities face the same issues in every municipality—albeit at different orders of magnitude.

Although most cities have challenges unique to them, like Ottawa’s relationship with the federal government, municipalities are Canada’s largest think tank and best generator of innovative ideas to improve the lives of those in our communities.

From metropolises with more than a million people to rural villages with fewer than one hundred and everything in between, we are the foundation of this country.

I have been fascinated by municipal government ever since I started following politics. In fact, I became interested in municipal politics after Frank Scarpitti, the current mayor of my hometown, Markham, spoke at my high school in 2007 shortly after he was first elected Mayor.

As someone who’s introverted, I never actually wanted to be directly involved…but look where I ended up.

Politicians are nothing without community engagement, from sharing ideas to sharing complaints. Beyond the bigger picture, we can only fix hyper-local issues like a sewer grate that’s been clanging for years, or a dead grove of trees if we know about it.

I know Barrhaven East very well from my days driving the bus, but without you, I would never have known Neill-Nesbitt Park was missing its garbage cans, or that there was a broken crosswalk button at Strandherd and Woodroffe. The issues have been resolved.

Unfortunately, most people are engaged the least with their municipal level of government. This makes sense, since we are the overseers of primarily day-to-day operations, which one may not notice until something goes wrong or goes missing. Admittedly, cynicism is also a factor.

Engagement is a two-way street and requires us to engage with residents, too. One of my goals during my term is to do just that, and I hope you’ll share in my journey towards greater civic engagement.