Why did you decide to run for council?
In all honesty, running for city council was never really something I ever thought I would be doing. I love Thunder Bay and currently our city is in crisis. I'm worried about the state of affairs in our city and our REPUTATION across this province has become problematic. I see a real need to start having the difficult CONVERSATIONS about that. Safety within our community must be addressed; I want answers, accountability and like you, I want change. Policing and safety are issues atop everyone’s mind. We need the courage and drive to change those aspects of our community that have allowed these issues to intensify. I have decades of experience facilitating difficult conversations and I’m good at asking the tough questions. As a Child and Youth Care practitioner, I have always been interested in the Children's Advocate role on City Council and equally frustrated with the lack of meaningful engagement this role has provided to our community. I will be putting my name forward to volunteer for this position with the intention of bringing to it, significance and consequence. It's time.
What innovative projects would enhance life in your community?
There are a few, but let's start with saving lives. Get those safe injection sites going.
Secondly, reviving the role of Children’s Advocate and support the development of a youth services task force. We need to get community services together at the table working together to address gaps in services. We need to ensure that the new money from the federal government for the Youth Inclusion Program is used in the most effective manner.
Third, introducing changes to our city transit. I love the city of Kingston's transit plan, especially their idea of implementing travel training sessions to high school students that provide an orientation to transit travel, then offering free transit to continue exposing youth to the benefits of using public transit...what a great idea! There is more in their plan that I liked, but I especially liked that one.
There are a ton more, but I'll just sneak one more in: something that would support the reinstatement of the basic income pilot. The cancellation of this project is alarming. As a city, we need to collaborate on what we can do to step up.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for your city any way you wanted, what would you do with it?
Wouldn't that be awesome?! I would love to use that money to tick off some of the recommendations from the Poverty Reduction Strategy that speak to housing. People without a home, and lacking supports for mental illness and addiction, draw significantly from our social services just to survive - our EMS, the shelters, social agencies and hospitals. The invisible symptoms of homelessness comes at a HUGE cost to our city. You can find the Poverty Reduction Strategy here.
What do you think are the greatest challenges your city faces?
Right now the opioid crisis is taking over our city. Overdose calls to our EMS have multiplied significantly. This is a public health issue! The recent decision by the province to put a halt on the safe injection site program has put our community in crisis. People are dying and it's not just one demographic. The issue of poverty is another significant challenge. The child poverty rate in Thunder Bay is appalling, checking in at a whopping 21.1% (national average is 17.4%). Last but not least is the issue of racism. Indigenous people are experiencing significant barriers, violence and safety issues. The local Indigenous community has come to distrust our public institutions to the point that many people believe the deaths of several Indigenous youth, initially thought to be suicides or accidents, are actually unsolved murders. Thunder Bay has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent months. Violence, tragedy and scandal are how the province has come to know us.
Other than the official ways of communicating (minutes, municipal notes), how else will you reach out to your constituents to involve them in the decision making process?
For starters, I think City Councillors need to start with a better communication process with the community. This needs to start with being more relatable. My feeling from talking with people is that there is a real sense of disconnect - they and them vs us and we. Councillors need to be able to connect better with the community; speaking the language so to speak, being present and available in the spaces where people live. I really like the idea of a monthly "coffeehouse" with a City Councilor (that isn't held in an office building somewhere)! I also like the idea of being more accessible. Perhaps getting Councillors more tech savvy with social media. I do plan to continue my Tuesday Tabletalk with Kim Ducharme series where I initiate a chat with the community on a topic. Then, we can start the business of dialoguing about decisions: how does our community want Councillors to involve them in the decision making process?
What is your favourite thing to do in your city?
My favourite thing to do in the city is to get involved. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it's true. There are so many exciting things happening in our city, on so many levels, and so many good people doing great things! I like to support that. I like helping people, I like creating opportunities for change, I like critical dialogue and I love talking to people.
What do you cherish most about your community?
I really value our green spaces, access to water and the fact that we don't have crazy traffic jams. It's easy to get around our city! I also value the fact that there is ALWAYS something going on in our community that you can get involved in. I'm also pumped about the federal government's commitment of $5.6 million dollars in funding for a new youth inclusion program for the city of Thunder Bay.