A belated Happy New Year to All.
I apologize for the delay in posting my first blog of 2019. Work proved a little busier than expected and frankly, I have been enjoying the downtime since the election.
Nevertheless, I committed to a number of Londoners that I would get back in the game, and am very grateful for the messages and thoughtful words from so many people encouraging me to stay active in civic affairs. It is interesting to note that at its peak, this blog was generating over 33,000 unique hits with each post. Not bad for a no-name candidate who was polling a paltry 4-percent at this time a year ago. All the credit for this surge in my profile goes to our campaign team and the amazing volunteers, donors, and voters who supported our candidacy. And in appreciation for this grassroots support, I plan to remain as engaged as possible in the advancement of our city – through my writing and any calls for public service should they arise.
What motivates me to continue to write this blog are the messages I received from Londoners at the 30,000-plus doors our team knocked on during the campaign. When prompted, our fellow citizens can be brutally honest about what they like and/or are looking for from their civic government. They also believe that our city can be much better than it has become. So out of respect for their insights and opinions, I plan to continue to table and champion the suggestions of Londoners in the hopes that this input will be heard at City Hall, and considered a part of Council’s public agenda. Obviously, I expect neither blanket consent nor endorsement of every issue/idea presented. However, it is my understanding that nearly 40,000 Londoners marked my name somewhere on their ranked ballot, and I would hope that such a level of support counts for something. And if nothing else, the next election is just 1,372 days away.
So, what did Londoners say at the door. Well, not surprisingly, much of what they said was reflected in not just my campaign pledges, but the pledges of all of the Mayoral candidates. After all, the best way for any candidate to succeed in public service is to parrot what they hear, and then, if elected, implement what was said.
It is interesting to note that the vast majority of Londoners have and continue to hold to a desire for City Hall to focus on the basics. They include:
- Providing quality civic services as efficiently as possible and at a fair price.
- Keeping our streets, infrastructure and public spaces safe, clean and well-maintained.
- Supporting business growth. Enabling their success and that of their clients and employees.
- Offering a helping a hand to fellow Londoners when needed.
- Protecting and preserving our natural assets.
- Providing vehicles and venues for public connection, entertainment and enjoyment.
- Keeping taxes at a manageable level.
It is also worth noting that every Mayoral candidate spoke of their willingness to deliver on these basic objectives and committed to doing so if elected. I know this because both me and my Mayoral counterparts attended a whopping 18 All-Candidate meetings over a seven-week period leading up to the election. It got to the point where could we recite each other’s platform almost verbatim, Cape Breton wisdom and all.
The reason I am opening with this perspective now is that the new Council is in the midst of preparing its strategic plan, and seeking input from Londoners on our collective priorities for the next four years. To this end, I offer of the following:
Do Not ReInvent The Wheel
First, I believe that Council should set aside City Staff’s desire to rewrite the City’s Vision Statement, and focus instead on identifying and prioritizing the basic programs and services that deliver the basic objectives cited above. In my opinion the Vision Statement prepared by the last Council – “To be leaders in Commerce, Culture and Innovation, and the region’s connection to the World”– is quite good and should retained. Why waste time re-inventing the wheel, especially when we have an opportunity to leverage past good works and put some early runs on the board? At the outset of every business that I have ever led, I have focused the team on implementing simple initiatives (frequently suggested by the front-line employees themselves) to improve revenue, reduce expenses and most importantly improve the customer experience over a 12-month period. Such an approach is quick, easy and incredibly impactful both inside the organization and out.
Keep It SimpleTo Start
Second, I really hope that this Council avoids the exhaustive milestone-packed plans and ‘city-building’ hyperbole that consumed so much of the previous Council’s work. They should especially avoid using amped-up words and phases such as ‘bold’, ‘transformative’, and ‘first in Canada’ to help temper expectations and limit distractions from what really matters to our citizens. In my view, Londoners would be much better served if Council simply outlined and implemented a set roster of first-year operating priorities that Londoners have repeatedly tabled as their wants and needs (e.g. traffic light synchronization, sidewalk repair, downtown parking, responsive police, better transit coverage, etc), and budget accordingly.
A terrific example of this approach is already underway. Shawn Lewis, the newly elected Councillor from Ward 2 has not wasted any time in pushing forward just such a basic initiative, namely to materially enhance our snow removal efforts across the city. This is desire I heard repeatedly expressed by Londoners throughout our community, and one our City should be able to deliver quickly and cost-effectively.
A tactical 12-month approach will also help build public confidence in the new Council and afford them the opportunity to consider more ambitious initiatives in the future. Londoners want action. And now, with this year’s additional assessment growth windfall, Council has a wonderful opportunity to deliver on many of these very basic objectives without a substantial hit to the taxpayer.
I recognize that London has still many significant challenges before it. The City’s economic development, housing, transportation and public health/safety strategies and structures all need considerable attention, and will surely consume the Council’s agenda over the next four years. But for right now, I believe the priority needs to be on doing the basics well and providing Londoners with the quality services and well-maintained infrastructure they truly seek, all at fair price. The last Council did undertake more of this in the last year of their mandate, including: the acceleration of the Adelaide Street underpass and the approval of a green-bin, same-day-per-week waste management program. However, much work remains.
If Council is truly interested in setting for itself a direction and generating a list of priorities for the upcoming Council term, I strongly encourage them to look no farther than the Londoner at the door who made it very clear what they want from our City and its representatives.
After all, in my view, it is not the number of milestones hit nor the hype attached to any one initiative that determines success. Rather it is Londoner’s ongoing satisfaction with our civic services that will be the true measure of this Council’s success, both in the near team and 1,372 days from now.