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Municipal Trailblazers

Resource December 21, 2021

We All WinOn municipal council, you can use your experience and skills to make a positive impact and shape your community today and tomorrow. Meet just a few of the municipal officials who are the leading the way to creating more diverse Council tables.

Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin

Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin
Bio: Lynn Dollin was first elected to Innisfil Council in 1994 and served a term as Deputy Mayor before being elected Mayor in 2018. Dollin served as president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario from 2016 to 2018 and is a Past Chair of the Ontario Small Urban Municipal Association. In 2020, she was honoured with the Women of Influence in Local Government Award for her contributions to municipal government by Municipal World magazine.

Dollin has served on numerous local boards, including the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, the library, Nottawasaga & Lake Simcoe Conservation Authorities, South Simcoe Economic Alliance, Physician Recruitment and Economic Development. Prior to elected office, she ran her own small business.  She is the mother of two grown children.

Why municipal government?

“My father was the first to encourage me to run, while I was pregnant with my second child. I decided to go for it a few years later. It wasn’t easy. There were people who would ask me why I wasn’t home with my family. But that has changed for the better over time.”

“I believe in local government because it provides the services you count on every day. In municipal government, you can work as a team to effect real change and make a direct impact on the community and people’s lives. That is so satisfying, even when it takes time.”

Highlights and challenges

“The best part of the job is the constant learning and connecting with great people, whether in the community or the municipal sector. Every day is different and through it all, you meet some amazing people.”

“Angry online comments can be tough and I don’t get drawn in. I’ll step away from insults. But I do find that while people may be mean, an individual person is usually kind. If you can have a one-on-one conversation about a specific matter, you may not persuade them, but they will understand and accept the decision.”

Tips and advice:

“The most important thing for candidates is to understand the job. Many people get drawn into local politics over a single issue. The role is bigger than that. It is really about what you want growth to look like and thinking strategically about the future, not about micromanaging services.”

“The best way to succeed in municipal government is to work with others. Take advice, ask questions and get a lot of input. Women often are better listeners and that can go a lot further than someone who thinks they have all the answers.”

 

Grey County Warden Selwyn Hicks

Grey County Warden Selwyn Hicks

Bio: Born in Guyana, Warden Hicks emigrated to Toronto, Canada as a child. He was a social worker for 13 years before earning his law degree as well as a Master of Business Administration. He settled in the Town of Hanover with his wife, Barbara who is from the Town. The couple practices law together and are raising their four children in the community. First elected to Town Council ins 2006, Warden Hicks is now Deputy Mayor. He was selected to serve as County Warden for 2019, 2021, and 2022. He serves on numerous community organization boards and committees.

Why municipal?
“I used to work in social services and I was so frustrated that we were putting band-aids on gaping wounds. I started looking at how I could make meaningful change at a policy level. That’s when I pursued a career in law and in politics. I chose municipal government because it is closest to the people. It is rewarding to see ideas go from concept to reality. You can see your town get better.”

Challenges and highlights
“A recent highlight has been the bold work we’ve done at the County on affordable housing. Starting in 2021, our Council voted to dedicate 1% of the tax levy annually to affordable housing.  Additionally, we created a affordable housing fund which raised $1.1 million in its first year alone to support affordable housing projects. This will be a legacy in our community, and it is very exciting.”


“There are sacrifices to be made. As a lawyer, serving in municipal office has meant giving up billable hours. There can also be a loss of privacy when you serve, especially in a small town. But it is also so rewarding to make a positive impact on your community.

Advice
“Get involved with your community. Start by serving on committees and commissions so you can learn about what is needed and then you can decide if you can make a difference in some way.”

“The key to success is building relationships. Lone wolves don’t get anything done.”

“Don’t assume that you won’t fit in or that people won’t vote for you if you look different than the community. If your message resonates, people will vote for you.”

 

MP London West Arielle Kayabaga

Arielle Kayabaga

Bio: Arielle Kayabaga came to Canada with her family as it fled civil war in Burundi in search of a more a stable and promising environment. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at Carleton University, Arielle gained initial experience in government supporting Members of Parliament through her work in caucus services on Parliament Hill. Arielle was one of 29 young Canadians selected to represent the nation’s youth at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16). She entered local government as part of the mentorship program at London’s City Hall and then ran a successful campaign to become a City Councilor. She was recently elected the Member of Parliament for London West.

Why she ran for municipal government?
“Municipal governments impact people directly in their day-to-day life. I had a eureka moment listening to Council discussions about services that mattered to me as a single mom, like transit. I realized our voices are needed in the room, if we want to make our community livable for people from all walks of life.”

Highlights and challenges
“One of the highlights of serving on municipal council was working with my colleagues on a successful motion to include an equity and anti-racism lens to our budgeting process. When we use this lens, we can shape our services to meet everyone’s needs.”

“You have to work with your council colleagues and not everything will go your way, or things you worked for may get over turned. It can be hard but it is all part of the democratic process. The important thing is that it’s an open and respectful debate.”
“You have to protect yourself from the more toxic online activity. It can help to have a strong and trusted friend or family member be a buffer to review some of the comments and content so that you are not dealing with it directly every day.”

Tips and advice
“Don’t wait to be asked or invited. Don’t question if you deserve to be there. If you feel there is a need in your community where you can contribute or make a difference, run for office or support a local candidate you believe in.”

“If you decide to run, remember who you are as a person, and that you are only one person. People will have unrealistic expectations, or they will make assumptions about you. Stay true to yourself.”

 


 

Shuniah Mayor Wendy Landry

Shuniah Mayor Wendy Landry

Bio: Bridging the worlds between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities has been central to Municipality of Shuniah Mayor Wendy Landry’s personal and professional life. A member of the Red Rock Indian Band, she is the first First Nations woman to serve as Mayor in Ontario. She is also the President of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, which represents 37 northern municipalities. She serves on the Board executive for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and is Chair of AMO’s Indigenous Task Force. She also serves on the Board of the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and as Board Vice President of Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corp. Professionally, she has had a long career in corrections and education and is currently the Senior Advisor for Indigenous Initiatives and Community Engagement for Enbridge. She’s been married for 33 years and has six children, including three that come to her family through the child welfare system.

Why run for municipal council?
“Basically, to affect change and to be part of the decision-making process. I started out serving on a local police services committee. When I approached Council about a youth recreation program, I got a lot of push back. People had an old-fashioned mindset. While we were eventually successful, it inspired me to run. It was a leap of faith that people wanted something new.”

Highlights and challenges
“I have received so much support and pride from my First Nations community. I think it is so important that we are at the table, so that we can have a voice in decisions that impact us. I take the responsibility of being a bridge between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities very seriously.”

“I have a great sense of pride and accomplishment when I see where we have come since 2007, when a few moms came together to start a youth program. We hired a part time coordinator and now this year, we’re looking at hiring a full-time recreation coordinator. Change takes time and this role requires patience, but the payoff is great.”

“Some people were concerned about my Indigenous background, so I addressed it head on by asking them what they were worried about. This was an opportunity to educate people about Indigenous history and help build an understanding of what First Nations are asserting for and that they are not coming to take back the land.”

Tips and advice
“When I first ran for Council, I knocked on about 1,400 doors. That’s what won the election. It’s the only way people will get to know you. Visit every house, even if they have signs for the opposition. You can have great, respectful conversations and sometimes win over people. It’s a lot of work and commitment, but effective.”

“Building trust is everything. You do that by being upfront and honest about who you are. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Give people the chance to know you and people will learn they can trust you.”

“Know your audience. You’ll meet people from all walks of life. Take time to learn a little bit about them, so you can connect with them from where they are coming from, speak to what they care about honestly and don’t be afraid of the difficult conversations, always speak your truth from the heart, and you will gain respect.”  

“Keep your feet on the ground and remember where you came from.”

Timmins Councillor Kristin Murray

Councillor Kristin Murray


Bio: Councillor Kristin Murray was elected in 2018, the first person of colour elected to Timmins City Council. She is a mixed-race woman of Cree and Jamaican ancestry. She also has the distinction of receiving the most votes for a single Councillor in Timmins’ electoral history. A social worker and counsellor, Murray is the Equity and Diversity Lead Program Supervisor for North Eastern Ontario Family and Child Services. She is working towards a B.A. degree from Laurentian University in Equity, Diversity and Human Rights. Some of her priorities include Indigenous health, supporting Indigenous practices and teachings, and climate change. She has two daughters.

Why she ran:

“After being encouraged to run, I finally took the leap in 2018. I had lived in Timmins for 20 years, but as an Indigenous and Black women, had never seen anyone who looked like me on Council. I knew beyond my professional skills and experience that I could also help advance conversations about diversity and equity in our community.”


Highlights and challenges:

“The highlight of working in municipal government is the public interaction and meeting so many people throughout the city. I continue to learn and grow because of it.”

“A key challenge is that sometime people think I can speak for the entire Indigenous or Black community. I am a strong advocate, but I do not and cannot speak for every Indigenous or Black person in Timmins. Diversity is about bringing different voices and perspectives to the table, but it does not mean that one person represents every member of a group.” 

“One challenge that affects many Black women in leadership is the stereotype of the ‘angry Black woman.’ The reality is that I have to be careful with my words so I am not cast with this label, even though someone else might say the same thing without being labeled as angry.”

Advice:

“Start preparing early. Seek out Councillors, Mayors or others to learn as much as you can. Seek out mentors. “

“Be prepared for close-minded comments and don’t feel you need to engage in every one, or else you will burn out. ”

 

Oakville Councillor Jasvinder Sandhu

Jasvinder Sandhu

Councillor Jasvinder Sandhu was elected Town Councillor for the newly created Ward 7 in October 2018. She is a seasoned lawyer with extensive knowledge in employment law, policy creation and advisement, compliance, ethics and risk management and government regulatory changes. Formerly with TD Bank and now leading her own practice in Oakville, she brings her legal experience with a business lens to Council.


Councillor Sandhu’s family has deep Oakville roots and over the last decade she has been active in the community assisting with youth mentorship, professional development and engagement. She lives in Oakville with her husband and three young children.

Why municipal government?


“Initially, I ran for municipal office because I wanted to make sure my young family and neighbourhood had the services we needed. It quickly became much bigger than that. In municipal government, you can shape where you live. As a younger person, I’m excited to help build a community where I want to live not just today, but 20 or 30 years from now.”

Highlights and challenges

“The best part of serving on Council is that you get to know people from across your community. Even when you are campaigning and going door-to-door, you get to know so much about who you serve."

“When I was campaigning, there were people who questioned how I would have time to manage my law practice, family and Council duties. I don’t think those same questions are asked of male candidates.”

“The biggest challenge is dealing with toxic comments on social media. You have to ignore it, but it is definitely not easy to do.”

Advice

“Campaigning successfully is hard work. You have to put yourself out there and just outwork everyone else. You have to start early and just keep knocking on doors so people get to know you.”

 

 

Sault Ste Marie Councillor Lisa Vezeau-Allen

Sault Ste Marie Councillor Lisa Vezeau-Allen


Councillor Lisa Vezeau Allen has more than 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector, leading or supporting a variety of community organizations related to youth, arts, and culture. In addition to serving as city councillor, she is the volunteer executive director of Grocer 4 Good Ability Development program, a social enterprise committee to programming and paid employment for people with an autism spectrum disorder or facing other employment barriers. She is the mother of three sons.

Why municipal government?

“I knew it was important to have more women represented in government. As a mother of a son on the autism spectrum, it was important to have that lived experience reflect my work on Council. I also wanted to be an example to others who are parenting a special needs child that you can do both.”

Challenges and highlights

“I am so proud and pleased that my sons are watching their mother contribute and help shape our community.  On Council, the formation of a Municipal Autism Strategy was rewarding. It brought together a range of people to work together on a common goal.”

Advice

“Running an election is a big undertaking and it helps to have a team of volunteers, to help with all the leg work. Donors are also important to success, so seek support from others.”

“If you have a family, rather than sacrificing time spent with them, it’s great to get them involved in the campaign. Ours was a family effort and I could not have been successful without the love and support of my children.”