Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thoughts of a Departing Councillor

As the terms of the first four-year Councillors in Ontario history wind down there is a changing of the guard in towns small and cities large across the province.

While eager newcomers join long time-experienced veterans many dedicated Councillors chose to pursue other interests or have had that choice made for them by voters.

I heard one of those who was volunteering to pursue new interests speak earlier this year and thought she had some interesting things to say.

Susan Eagle, was first elected to London (ON) Council in 1997. Ms. Eagle, who grew up in Toronto the daughter of a minister, didn’t have a clear career path to municipal politics. She started as a minister.

According to a story by Kenzie Love in the Internet paper The Reporter, Eagle wasn’t terribly interested in traditional ministry but did have a passion for feminist and liberation theology. Ordained in 1977 by 1984 she was quite involved in tenant issues through the outreach work she was engaged in with her London church. She saw a way that she could pursue this outreach work in municipal politics and was elected in 1997 as a Councillor on London’s southwest side.

When I heard Eagle earlier this year she was reflecting on 13 years at City Hall.

While municipalities don’t have the powers that she believed they had when she arrived at City Hall Eagle has determined that “you make change by being on the inside not outside.” So, it was worth the effort.

Achieving change though can be “frustrating, time consuming and glacial” but by building partnerships and “broadening the base of an issue” you can get results.

Ms. Eagle noted that general media indifference to a social justice agenda exists even as demand for services outstrips the capacities of cities.

The City has become a “safety net” for some citizens so municipalities (like hers) have moved into what she calls “soft services” such as transit subsidies and landlord licensing.

Ms. Eagle offered encouragement for social justice activists and other progressive types.

Don’t give up. Turn up at public meetings.

“A full public gallery changes entrenched votes,” she asserted.

Susan Eagle is now moving to full time work as a Minister at Grace United Church in Barrie.

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