I must admit that I shudder whenever I hear candidates for ward council positions declaring that they are going to go knocking on doors during their election campaign in order to find out the priorities and concerns of local residents.
If someone is going to ask constituents to select them as their representative on city council, those candidates should already know what the concerns and priorities are.
If they have been paying attention during the past several years, and if they have been engaging with their constituents, then they would be well aware of the priorities and concerns.
My wife and I were born and raised in Greater Sudbury and have lived in Valley East since 1974. We raised our three children here. I spent most of my 28 years as a teacher in the Valley. I was the editor of our weekly community newspaper for almost 10 years. I was actively involved in pretty well all minor sports organizations as my children took part in everything they could find time for. I was the marketing manager of the Hanmer Valley Shopping Centre for five years. I have operated a private practice as a marketing consultant since 1985 and my wife and I have managed the Valley East Facebook group, which now has over 19,500 members, since January 2010.
So, you can understand why I am a firm believer that anyone who is going to serve as ward councillor should have deep and solid ties to his/her ward. As you can see from the above, I have always had comprehensive knowledge of every part of Valley East and I am well known to all residents.
The reason why I choose to run in Ward 5 is an interesting one. I retired from a career in teaching in 2001 and operated a tutoring business for several years before I decided to enter the 2010 election for a seat on the Rainbow District School Board. I was successful in being elected to serve as trustee for Zone 3, which included both Wards 5 and 6.
During the time I spent as a trustee, I gained valuable knowledge about the Sudbury portion of Ward 5. And, I must say that I absolutely fell in love with that part of the ward. The Sudbury portion of Ward 5 is as diverse as it is challenging, including people from all walks of life and all demographics.
Working with the residents of the Sudbury portion of Ward 5 gave me a whole new perspective on the needs of our city, not just the educational needs, but also with respect to social services.
When I heard Councillor Ron Dupuis had decided to vacate his Ward 5 seat as councillor to run for mayor in 2014, I decided that I could more effectively use my experience, knowledge and expertise as a member of city council. And, since Ward 5 was going to be vacant, I recognized the tremendous opportunity and put my name forward as councillor.
I was elected in 2014 and again in 2018, and I am once again seeking re-election for my third term as councillor of Ward 5. I feel that the experience I have gained over the last 12 years representing residents of Ward 5 has made me a better councillor and I want to continue to serve my constituents for at least another four years.
Although I technically live in Ward 6, I am only about two minutes away from the northern most tip of Ward 5. When I drive to Tom Davies Square along MR 80, I driving right through the middle of Ward 5 all the way to the tracks on Notre Dame. Therefore, I live in an ideal location to serve as councillor of Ward 5. I am always travelling through the ward and I regularly drive through the ward to make sure that I am aware of any physical issues or changes that are taking place.
I spend a great deal of time in Ward 5 working with neighbourhood associations, community groups and organizations, as well as community action networks, to assist in advancing their goals and objectives with respect to enhancing the general quality of life for residents living in the specific ward.
I also stay in contact with staff to ensure that day-to-day matters such as waste management, road maintenance and repair, parks, playgrounds, water/wastewater, and other municipal services are maintained and delivered to a level that is satisfactory and meets the needs of the residents of the ward. There are often major ward-level projects that are approved by council, such as the Paquette Whitson Drainage Project and the Notre Dame Bike Lane project, which I have been involved in so that I am able to answer questions from constituents.
However, constituent-level responsibilities are what I personally feel is where I am most valuable to my constituents. In my own role as councillor of Ward 5 for the past eight years, I am contacted by literally hundreds of individual constituents each year with specific residential and/or commercial concerns that need to be addressed.
As their ward councillor, it is my responsibility and, I must say, my privilege, to work with each of these constituents to better understand the nature of their concern, and then be able to provide some guidance, direction and at times strategic advocacy in order to ensure that the most satisfactory resolution is found to alleviate their particular concern.
There are times when all of my efforts along with the efforts of staff are unable to change the outcome, but it is up to me to make sure that my constituents feel confident that I have represented their best interests and that they have been given fair and just consideration. This is by far the most time consuming part of my job as ward councillor, but it is also the most satisfying part of the job.
Being available to my constituents when they need me and knowing that I have done all I could to help them with their concerns means the world to me. This, to me, is the main reason why I want to continue serving as ward councillor for Ward 5. It is all about helping people achieve their goals.
In conclusion, I believe firmly that it is crucial for a ward councillor to have intimate knowledge of all aspects of the ward they have chosen to represent. And, while it is not necessary to “technically” live within the boundaries of that particular ward, you should live close enough to the boundary to have a long standing history of being involved with the residents and organizations of that ward.
You should not need to go knocking on doors two months before an election to ask residents about their priorities. You should be well aware of the needs and concerns of your constituents just by listening, observing and being fully engaged with the residents in the years leading up to the election.
Robert Kirwan is seeking re-election to the Greater Sudbury city council seat for Ward 5 in the Oct. 24 municipal election.