I was asked questions from the Facebook Page: Sarnia Municipal Elections that is hosted by Jay R. Peckham.
I want to thank Jay for being an engaged citizen and asking these important questions of all candidates.
- What do you think is the most pressing issue facing Sarnia-Lambton in the next four years?
My visions for the city are centered around two main themes, growth and retention. These are the most important issues our city is facing as a whole. According to the latest census data as well as the enrollment of students in our local schools, Sarnia has seen a drop in population. This drop is projected to continue over the next decade if we do not take active strides to reverse the trend. As our population decreases, so does our tax base and economic incentives with it. There are a number of ways that we can work to reverse this course. Primarily, we need to increase fiscal accountability and reframe our investment outlook to get back to basics spending serving the most pressing needs of our community such as infrastructure blight. Increasing city collaborations with city services, finding ways to improve youth/young family resources and streamlining the bureaucracy that businesses/event planners/developers have to navigate will all serve to make Sarnia a more attractive destination for business and new residents alike. While attention is being paid to attracting ‘new’ to Sarnia, it is crucial that we do not overlook the residents that do live in our city and the local businesses that have decided to open their doors here.
- What are the key initiatives that you might propose to help us solve this issue?
While I believe the general quality of life in Sarnia is good, I believe there are more ways to improve our economic and social aspects of our community. It will require opening communication channels between city hall, city services, labour groups and Sarnia citizens. I am a staunch believer in the notion that the best way to be successful in an endeavour is to consult and/or collaborate with the experts in the field. As a PhD student, I sought guidance and formed collaborations with scientists at the top of their respective fields to ensure that my research included the best methodologies and clearest analyses of my results. If I did not believe in the collaborative approach to project planning and management as well as provide resources, I would still be toiling away in a lab somewhere.
To ensure an open and collaborative dialogue, introducing ‘town hall’ type interactions will help residents feel more engaged with their city in a way an online forum cannot. Bringing residents into the conversation in the early stages of planning will help council to understand local pain points and get a better understanding of what our citizens want from their municipal government. I believe this would help us gain strong public support as we progress and allow the public to have a voice. Similar approaches can be made with city services, labour forces, city builders and developers meeting with council bi-annually or quarterly to better form a mutually beneficial relationship.
At the top of the list of things that our current populace would like addressed is infrastructure. My view is that by prioritizing key infrastructure upgrades we will also be improving local economic development. One way would be form a capital planning team including engineers and labour leaders. To that end, a committee needs to work to assess which infrastructure projects are most urgent, their cost, timeline and other factors in order to best address our deep infrastructure deficit within the limitations of our yearly budget. By focusing on our core assets (roads, bridges, outdated water delivery system, coastal management), we can look to innovative and cooperative approaches to upgrading less critical infrastructure holdings by bringing together the strengths of the public and private sectors. For example, projects such as the Germain Park arena or increasing tourism and creating revenue streams in Canatara Park. By exploring possible partnerships between the City, community groups and private-sector companies, private entities can be invited to submit detailed proposals which would undergo a competitive bidding process. This type of partnership best modeled by our Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership group has a number of benefits for the City (risk sharing, new funding source, increase efficiency of large capital projects, free public funds for core economic and social programs, ect), for the residents (access to state-of-the-art facilities, minimize impact on taxes, helps stimulate economic growth and employment), and the private sector (risk sharing, new business opportunities, contracts ensure revenue, ect.).
Other pain points for residents are ‘human infrastructure’ issues. For example, Sarnia has a mental health crisis. One way is to move forward from our current mindset of ‘passing the buck’ from one agency/treatment center to another. I would like to have representatives from mental health workers, volunteer organizations, EMS, Bluewater Health and police services to form a City Committee. These representatives are the boots on the ground experts and the city should be facilitating their collaboration to address the problems that affect the quality of life of our citizens. An added feature to this collaborative approach is the attractive nature of strong relationships between the city and its citizens is to a diverse collection of new businesses, new college students and new residents.
Another example of ‘human infrastructure’ that needs to be improved centers on the seemingly slow adaptation of our city to provide an inclusive atmosphere to the minorities in our community. This includes LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, and foreign students attending Lambton College. A step towards increasing inclusivity is for individual councilors to be more interactive with these various communities. Asking how the city can be more inclusive and open (not by online survey but face to face) would show that the city has a vested interest in making Sarnia a place they are proud to call home. It will be important for this next council to actively counter the movement of our youth are seeking opportunities elsewhere, leading to a ‘brain drain’ of skilled and well educated citizens.
- What in your own personal experience has prepared you the most to be part of this solution?
I have a unique background that would bring a fresh and novel perspective to our council. As an officer with the federal government (Canada Border Services Agency aka Customs and Immigration), I ensured compliance with legislated customs regulations and the immigration laws of Canada. I worked both independently and collaboratively in teams to analyze data and information, managing conflict resolution while interacting with people from all walks of life. A critical skill developed during my years as an officer was active listening and concise communication skills. These are what made me a great collaborator as a researcher and effective teacher of complex biological concepts to my students.
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of candidates having STEM/science backgrounds running for
office. A key advantage of being a science-minded individual (Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology) is that I am pragmatic, objective in data analyses and am an effective critical thinker. A lesser known attribute of science researchers is that we are fiscally accountable as well as fiscally conservative. Research funding is based on grants, which are themselves based on results and productivity of the scientist. For those reasons, money must be practically allocated to projects that advance our scientific knowledge. Add to that the numerous ethical policies and legal regulation governing researchers’ protocols and experiments conducted (institutional, provincial/state, federal), scientists have more in common with politicians than most voters realize.
I currently teach biological sciences at the college level to students who will soon join the frontlines of our healthcare system. Being an educator requires you to be adaptable to the varied learning styles of the students that enter your classroom each term as well as to the evolution of educational technology and teaching resources. I attribute my adaptability to being a continuous learner who is always looking to expand my knowledge base to maintain an innovative and effective learning/working environment.
When I’m not teaching, I enjoy my role as a board member of the Sarnia Historical Society, a collective whose mission is to promote the preservation of local history and artifacts. Over the past three years, we have worked to present the history of Sarnia through the internet and social media (www.sarniahistoricalsociety.com). As a board member, I am chairing an initiative that aims to create an interactive educational curriculum based on local history available free of charge to our schools. I have already gathered interest from volunteers in both the French and English school boards, the Aamjiwnaang community as well as the nature conservationists to develop an effective program that will serve the youth of our city. With everything that we do, our intentions are to promote the history of our great city, nurture and encourage the curiosity of our citizens to learn about our past and inspire cultural tourism to visitors and residents alike. By sharing our local history, we aim to inspire a shared sense of community pride in our heritage.
- We are currently in a global crisis, with a media-worthy lack of competent political leadership. Here at home, over the past four years in Sarnia, we have also seen our share of political turmoil. If you are elected, how do you think you might help positively influence this negative trend?
Our story should not be one of a community at odds with one another. Resolving past issues and moving forward is what our citizens deserve of their elected leaders. There are many issues that are pain points for our citizens, issues they are hoping to see addressed by the new council. These matters deserve a forum for open discussion and debate, where disagreements are all but expected. It would be idealistic to state that this new council will always be in agreement on all matters. Especially given that we will be representing a constituency that has a diverse voice that will want to be heard and experts in the matters being considered. I have great respect those with differing opinions and viewpoints. I strongly believe that by listening and understanding all viewpoints and opposing arguments, we are best equipped to make the best decisions for Sarnia. Positive and progressive leaders know that disagreements do not need to lead to a breakdown in civility or contempt for those having opposing views. They are distractions from real progress and changes being made to our city.
This election cycle is unlike any previously seen in Sarnia. In campaigning, I aim to keep my message positive and listen to the concerns of my fellow citizens. Please feel free to reach out anytime at [email protected]. To my fellow candidates (some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting), I wish you good luck and happy campaigning.
Si vous avez des questions concernant la communauté francophone en Sarnia ou vous aimerez plus d’information concernant ma candidature, veuillez me recontacter par email([email protected])