Gower: The upside of being an Ottawa city councilor

Last week, I was asked: ‘Why would you want to run for office … again?’ Here’s why.

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Last week, a woman at the door asked me: “Why would you want to run for office … again?” She wondered why anyone would want the job, with all the emergencies (pandemic, occupation, storm, etc.); with all the backlash on social media; and with all the disagreement between councilors.

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Her question caught me by surprise, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Here’s why.

It’s because despite all of the difficulties an elected official may face, as a councilor there is an incredible opportunity to make a difference and help out in my community. Yes, we spend an awful lot of time on zoom, and sometimes (though not very often) those meetings can get heated. But politics is only a small part of what we do as councilors every day.

I’m lucky to spend most of my time in my community, meeting residents when they have a problem that needs solved, or when they’re hosting a street barbecue.

I love the 10-minute bike ride to my ward office and all the people I get to wave “hello” to as I ride by on the Trans Canada Trail.

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I enjoy meeting new Canadians and hearing about their family’s journey, and their hopes in their new country. (New immigrants are usually the most appreciative of what Ottawa offers: good schools, parks and green space, community connections, and a safe place to live).

I get to meet with entrepreneurs seeking advice and support as they prepare to launch a new restaurant or business in our community.

My incredible team and I get to help people navigate their way through municipal government. They might be having problems finding an answer due to language, age, or ability; whatever the reason, we’re there to advocate for them and take a bit of stress or confusion out of their lives.

I am supported by an incredible team at city hall. Staff are professional, talented and care deeply about their responsibility to ensure that Ottawa remains a great place to live.

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The best part of my job is working with community organizations on projects that are important to them. Almost every day, I get to meet people from across the city who are working hard to make Ottawa a better place to live. As councilors we can provide support to overcome obstacles and make their goals a reality. Groups such as the Stittsville Muslim Association, who hope to establish a new mosque soon. Or a new group we’ve just established to create more affordable housing in Stittsville.

Social media does have a mute button, a block button, and even an off button if things get really out of hand. Something I realized early on is that municipal discussions on Twitter and Facebook rarely match the reality of what’s happening on the ground at the local level.

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Each week, I write an email newsletter and on Saturday mornings I share a live video with updates about our community. It takes time and resources but I don’t consider it a chore at all. Thousands of residents take the time to read or watch, and stay engaged with what’s happening in their neighborhood. Engagement and involvement are the foundation of a healthy community.

Councilors have to make incredibly tough decisions sometimes and bear the brunt of criticism, online and offline. To me that’s a small trade-off for the community building that we get to be a part of every single day. Who wouldn’t want this job?

Glen Gower is running for re-election in Stittsville, ward six.

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