By Eric Shih
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s a rite of passage for many new municipal politicians.
The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association conference, held in Thunder Bay this week, was the first since last October’s municipal election meaning many attendees took part for the first-time.
Reece Van Breda, a rookie councillor from Sioux Lookout, said the conference sparked some ideas and got gears flowing and he’s excited to share that with council.
“Honestly, it’s actually been great to mix and mingle with a couple of other council members and also mayors from the region just so that you can put a face to the name,” he said. “Also to meet with a lot of the delegates as well who come here from the different organizations. It’s good because it’s nice to know that there are options for the municipality that are within our own backyard. We don’t have to look far.”
Van Breda said since he’s a new to the whole political game, he’s trying to learn to be efficient and, “ensure that we are representing the people as effectively as possible. So that we’re able to deliver what we promised, easier, faster and better.”
Kenora’s Lindsay Koch, who is also a first-time councillor, said making connections is really important, especially with the turnover on many councils in the region.
“ I’m really looking forward to being able to spend time getting to know some of the people even in the Thunder Bay District or the Rainy River District who are not so close to home,” she said.
Koch said she appreciated the panel that discussed working with Indigenous communities and how to strengthen those relationships.
“That’s super important to me personally, as well as with the work we’re doing on council.,” she said. “There’s a lot of things in the air that we’re working on with our local first nations and so it was really insightful to hear. I think I was just nodding the whole time.”
She also said it was good having a discussion on support for women and young people in politics, as she sometimes feels out of place.
“The energy surrounding just the support for encouraging younger generations to get involved has been really motivating to continue and to make sure we hold the door open behind us,” she said.
This was the first NOMA conference for Dryden Mayor Jack Harrison, as it’s the first time he’s held any elected position.
“I think it’s very beneficial just to network with other mayors and councillors, to cooperate together, learn from each other, share good ideas,” he said. “I mean, there’s no competition among us. We need to cooperate and, and share the good things that are happening. I really enjoy that part and they brought some really good speakers in to help us to educate us and inform us.”
He said found it very informational learning about the role of council versus staff.
This was one of the points NOMA president Wendy Landry thought would be useful to re-emphasize.
“A lot of people forget that it’s governance versus operations,” she said. “The common thread to the entire three days was exactly that, learning the differences between a CAO and a mayor, learning the differences of responsibilities.”
Landry said it was good to bring everybody together to have a conversation for the newly-elected first-timers to hear from some of veterans who have been in the ditches grinding away and to learn they’re not alone and they share many issues in common.
“The least we can do is have conversations and sometimes bringing that other viewpoint to the table, makes people think differently too,” she said. “Perspectives are good.”
Landry, who was selected to continue as president of NOMA, said she’s looking forward to planning for next year’s conference, which will also be in Thunder Bay.
Eric Shihé Local Journalism Initiative ReporteréTHUNDER BAY SOURCE