Kitchissippi has just started talking to itself.
Making good a campaign promise, Coun. Jeff Leiper brought the first town hall to the ward on Jan.17. Over 120 residents packed the room to voice their concerns, leaving only standing room for late arrivals. MP Paul Dewar was among those joining the councillor to hear from the ward.
The afternoon began with updates from community associations about new projects and issues, followed by an open forum. It was a sonorous event. Bell rings meant your time was up, and soft “hear, hear’s” from the audience meant speakers were preaching to the choir. The proceedings often broke into applause or laughter (at Lorne Cutler of the Hampton Iona Community Group’s expense – a self-depreciating “I am standing!” when asked to rise). Cutler went on to discuss the importance of these forums.
“We’re very glad to see these meetings. We know we don’t represent everybody,” he said.
The disconnect between community associations and residents can be harmful to the progress of the ward, says Leiper. “When all they’re focused on is their neighbourhood, their effectiveness is limited.”
“Our effectiveness is going to depend on our talking to each other and coming to certain unified agreements. Maybe not consensus, but a general sense of how the ward should evolve.”
Karen Large of the “2,500 Buses A Day” committee echoed this sentiment when discussing the challenges that Light Rail Transit presents to the ward.
“We are behind you. We are stronger together,” she told the room. [story continues below photo]
Disagreements, however, did emerge on how best to tackle these challenges. Leiper sees the last hour of the town hall – a chance to mingle and discuss without chairs or formal quorum – as the time these issues can be hashed out.
“On the disagreements, nothing substitutes face-to-face discussions… When you can read peoples body language, you can see how they’re reacting to what you’re saying,” he says.
The town hall confirmed how issues in the ward seem to be interconnected. Traffic on the streets of Kitchissippi is overwhelming – public transit isn’t doing its part. The development of the LRT is disruptive to neighbourhoods – the ward needs to be brought to the table with the NCC on these matters. Trees and green-space need to be made a priority – and the LRT is threatening to remove them. There’s no guarantee that Leiper or Dewar can solve all of these problems, but at least now there is an open, public forum to discuss them.
“The election campaign is a great chance to hear from politicians. These forums are an excellent opportunity for politicians to hear from residents,” says Leiper.
Leiper sees room for improvement, however. Finding a way for more residents to speak and extending invitations to any who weren’t represented are priorities for him.
Once the formal event had finished and residents said their goodbyes, many came to the councillor to thank him for arranging these town halls.
“The feedback has been really gratifying. People want this opportunity,” he says.
The next town hall forum will be in three months, this time with a few more chairs.