Thank you for inviting me to address questions regarding the upcoming election. I look forward to working alongside and supporting Sarnia’s labour force as a city councillor.
~ Meghan Reale
- At the Sarnia and District Labour Council, we believe our city requires a forward looking City Council, focused on building Sarnia, not focused on the past. How will you ensure Sarnia isn’t held back by the past?
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 It will require a like-minded group of councilors, myself included, that will focus on moving forward from outdated plans or ‘legacy’ projects entrenched in past budgets. It will require opening communication channels between city hall, city services, labour groups and Sarnia citizens. 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 and labour forces meeting with council bi-annually or quarterly to better form a mutually beneficial relationship. For example, bringing in representatives from our labour groups to discuss upcoming city projects including our infrastructure blight. As another 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.
- Our community was built around organized Labour. With almost 17000 unionized workers in Lambton County currently, how important do you feel the Labour Movement is to our community?
In my previous role as a Canada Border Services Agent as well as in my current position as a college professor, I was (and am) fortunate to be represented by strong union leadership and representation. One of Sarnia’s great strengths is its dynamic and highly skilled labour force. Not only is it the basis for much of our city’s economic success, it is an attractive asset to be promoted as we work to attract new businesses and developers. Moreover, having a strong labour community giving voice to the interests of our skilled trades can be a basis to draw new tradesmen to live and work in Sarnia.
- Can you please describe initiatives that you have been involved with that resulted in positive change for our community?
I am currently 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). Our first big endeavour as a board was to research and publish of the history of the Sarnia Fire Department (Walking through Fire: The History of Sarnia’s Bravest). We are currently working on our second book featuring the Sarnia Police Services (Keeping the Peace: 160 years of Policing the Imperial City) and hope to document the history of the Labour movement in the near future. I have recently formed a subcommittee within the Society that has as its mission to raising public awareness and increased public involvement directed towards the preservation of the SCITS building so that it may continue to serve citizens of the city of Sarnia. The committee is composed of a group of citizens promoting a number of proposals, opportunities and potential directions recommended by local business owners, entrepreneurs and concerned citizens to repurpose the SCITS building and auditorium. As a fledgling committee, we met with and encouraged the Heritage Committee of the City of Sarnia to pursue granting heritage designation to the building as a means to encourage development of the property that will be considerate of the roots SCITS has in our city. I will also be chairing an initiative I have been advocating for since joining the board and for which we have been awarded a grant to pursue. This project will aim 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.
- What do you believe are the most important issues facing our community?
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 important that we work to address the residents that do live in our city and the local businesses that have decided to open their doors here. 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. Other pain points for residents are a) the mental health, addiction and homelessness affecting a growing number of Sarnians, b) high rate of unemployment and c) social inclusivity of groups such as LGBTQ+, immigrants, francophone. These are just some of the reason our youth are seeking opportunities elsewhere and why we have a ‘brain drain’ of bright minds we have educated at Lambton relocate after graduation.
- How would you make local government more inclusive, open and responsive?
As I mentioned previously, one of the issues concerning many Sarnians is 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. Our LGBTQ+ community have taken strides to create their own group to advocate at the local level, a movement I would like to see our city support. A significant step would be to have our city hall raise the Pride flag during Pride month.
The City of Sarnia has recently received a grant to establish an Age-Friendly Steering Committee aiming to increase accessibility and inclusivity to residents of all ages. Our city should have a committee dedicated to our youth, citizens who cannot yet vote but who are engaged and passionate about bringing social progress and representation to City Hall. Not only are they the voices of our future, they are the voices of today. Addressing responsiveness has to start with opening a channel of communication. Being a council member should be viewed as an ambassador between citizens and the cogs of government, facilitating communication and problem solving. Any candidate for council needs to give citizens the assurance that they will take the time to reach out to these groups in an effective manner.
The choice to convert our voting systems to an electronic format was done in the name of efficiency. I believe emerging technologies do play a key role in government/civic process and am eager to see how this new format performs in our city. However, many believe it compromised accessibility and sense of security without consulting the voters. According to Intellivote, the company hired by the city to run this E-election, they are currently supporting the introduction of e-voting to 30 municipalities across the province that will be providing the option of a paper ballot. Why were we, the taxpayers, denied the opportunity to be informed and provide input about these decisions? Such actions disrespect the electorate and lead to a lack of confidence in the governing process. Transparency and openness are the markers for trustworthy governance. Any candidate for council needs to give citizens the assurance that they will give citizens a chance to be part of the dialogue in an effective manner.
- If elected, what steps will you take to ensure there is ongoing dialogue with the labour movement, including timely notice on emerging issues?
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. In the case of ensuring an open and collaborative dialogue with the labour movement, I would move to establish a consortium made up of representatives of our labour forces, city engineers and council members that would meet on a bi-annual or quarterly basis. The goal of these meetings would be to talk about ongoing and up-coming projects and address concerns that are or may emerge on both sides. Sarnia is privileged to have such well-organized and productive leadership representing our labour groups. I look forward to making great progress by building bridges and forming productive partnerships with these groups.
- What infrastructure projects and municipal services do you think should be top priorities for the municipal government?
Infrastructure is the cornerstone of economic growth. We must prioritize investing in ourselves as a community before we can expect new business initiatives and potential residents to invest in our city. We have the advantage of having a strong community of local tradesmen that will be essential as we make public infrastructure a high economic policy priority. Transportation projects such as the Oversize Load Corridor is on the top of the list for Sarnia. 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.).
In regards to our human infrastructure, the core services that must be supported are the police service and fire service along with city staff that serve to support our roads, waterworks, parks and trails, ect. The most pressing issue for our city is to take the lead in promoting mental health, well-being, and transforming our response to the mental health issues in our community. This can be done by fostering a partnership between first responders and front-live service providers to improve the integration of services (crisis response, treatment, social support and education). Showing leadership and creating a united alliance with resources across the City would have a great impact on the current state of mental health in our City including reducing the stigma associated with it.