It may have been one of the worst kept secrets in the neighborhood, but Jeff Leiper, the former president of the Hintonburg Community Association and former race director of the Hintonburg 5K, has officially declared his intent to run in the municipal election.
Leiper, who also recently stepped down from the board of Newswest, is currently working as chief policy advisor at the Information and Communications Technology Council.
Representing Kitchissippi ward would actually mean a cut in pay and a hiatus from a successful career.
“This is not where I thought I would be, even a year ago,” says Leiper. “Professionally I’m in a wonderful place to do the kind of work I want to do. I think it’s important work, and it’s fun work, and I do well by it.”
The decision to run was made five months ago. He was part of a group of people charged with the task of finding a candidate to run against Councillor Hobbs.
“We identified a number of candidates but at that point my preference would have been not to run. I’ve had a good career in communications policy. I’ve spent ten years doing analysis into communications policy, spent five at the CRTC, and I’m at an NGO right now where I have a lot of freedom,” says Leiper.
Leiper, who lives in Hintonburg with his partner Natalie Hanson (former executive director of the Westboro Business Improvement Area) and their son Nicholas, says it was a tough decision to run.
“I had a choice to make. I could continue to work with the community on an ad hoc basis to do what I wanted to accomplish and never quite having enough time to do it,” says Leiper. “Or I could proceed, and go in whole hog and say – between this exciting work I’m doing professionally and the really strong passion I feel about community issues – I’m jumping in.”
Community collaboration is a central tenet for Leiper, and he trusts he’s heading out on the campaign trail with the advantage of a “pre-existing and strong network of people who are engaged with their community.”
Key issues for him include local economic development, safety and security, housing diversity, transit, and planning. Recent posts on his blog (jeffleiper.ca/tags/jeffblog), for example, are about the rerouting of buses on to Scott Street and local development matters.
“Planning issues are what have tipped me over the edge with respect to needing change,” says Leiper. “The community’s voice has been lost in a discussion of how the built form of our community is going to develop. And the built form of our community is going to affect our quality of life, it’s going to affect how tightly knit our community is.”
He acknowledges that the next 10 months aren’t going to be easy.
“I don’t want to underestimate the difficulty of challenging Katherine Hobbs. She’s an incumbent; we’re already seeing a lot of spin from her with respect to what she considers to be her accomplishments,” says Leiper. He’s confident however, that his “good reputation, and profile in the community” give him an edge.
In the coming months he will be taking his campaign door to door, but there are challenges here as well.
“The most important thing in this campaign is to remember that a lot of us are really engaged in the issues, but most people, as they should be, have just been living their lives. They haven’t necessarily paid attention to the politics of City Hall,” says Leiper.
“The most important thing I can do over the course of the next ten months is to make sure that I’m talking to people at the door, in person, about what I’m trying to achieve.”
According to Leiper, the support he’s received so far has been overwhelming.
“It’s a lot more than I would have expected,” he says. “Every day I’m getting some validation that this was the right decision. It’s been humbling and it’s been gratifying.”