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Metro's London panel #9: Do we really know the new city council?

Who knows more about the issues facing London than a group of, well, Londoners? 

Each week, Metro’s pulling together some of the most community-minded and involved people to get a deeper perspective on the stories that are making headlines — or, better yet, the ones that aren’t.

There’s a somewhat upbeat mood these days in London. And, it’s about the future of a place that’s seen its fair share of doom and gloom in the last four years.

We’re talking about city hall, about to welcome 11 new city councillors on Dec. 1.

Voters learned a lot about the fresh-faced politicians during the election run-up. They’re all young, seemingly eager and full of ideas for making London a better place.

But, do we really know what we’re in for? And, how much does our attitude toward the newcomers play a role in what happens?

Interesting times could be ahead, some say, with a few unexpected twists and turns.

Mike Moffatt, assistant professor of business, economics and public policy at Western University’s Ivey business school
 @MikePMoffatt

 Mike Moffatt (Courtesy of ivey.uwo.ca)

Mike Moffatt (Courtesy of ivey.uwo.ca)

To this point, the councillors-elect have largely been painted with the same brush — lumped under the same ideological umbrella that some say doesn’t necessarily represent the whole of London.

That, Moffatt says, is a “massively overstated” line of thought.

“I suspect when we get in there and people start discussing and voting and forming various coalitions that there are going to be more centre-right voices than people expect,” he said.

It’s happened in the past, he notes: Councillors who were elected as progressives start voting the “other way” a few years into their terms.

“It’s going to be interesting to watch,” Moffatt said. “There’s this idea that (the new) councillors are all progressive, and they’re going to try to out-progressive each other.

“I think we will see people sort fall into different roles,” he said. “Group dynamics are always a funny thing that way, where people can end up taking a role they may not have expected just because there’s an opening there.”

Dharshi Lacey, head of Immigrant and Ethno-Cultural Programs at London InterCommunity Health Centre

 Dharshi Lacey (Metro)

Dharshi Lacey (Metro)

And, with all that hanging in the balance, there's a chance people won't get what they're expecting.

Initially, through, Londoners are looking for cohesion, and Lacey thinks the councillors-elect will deliver — at least for a little while.

"You might have a little bit of ‘What that guy said,’ just to make that point," she said. "Maybe in a couple of years, as people figure out what they’re doing, what they’re going to do for the next election, then they’ll start distinguishing themselves.

"It is inevitable that there will be disappointment, because how do you and I define what is a good decision?"

To criticize the new councillors now though isn't fair, she said. If we do, we're "actually criticizing the people who voted."

Lincoln McCardle, self-described “political outsider” and “people’s champ” who’s deeply involved in community @Canucklehead_ca

 Lincoln McCardle (Metro)

Lincoln McCardle (Metro)

Good point, McCardle said, promoting the idea that we absolutely must give the new gang a fair shake.

"Let’s not write these guys off yet. Let’s at least give them Day 1 before we start tearing them apart," he said.

And, on that note, London needs to support them as well — something McCardle's already seen happen via social media with people saying they plan to put their names in the hat for various committees and advisory boards.

"I think going into this council, people have expectations of how every vote is going to go," he said. "I think it will be an interesting litmus test when the vote doesn’t go the way people might expect.

"Are people going to feel duped or tricked, or are they going to take the time to try to find out why a decision was made, or are councillors going to be proactive in explaining their (decisions)?"

Adam Fearnall, governance and policy consultant with London Youth Advisory Council, former Western University student council president
@adamfearnall 

 Adam Fearnall (Metro)

Adam Fearnall (Metro)

With so much up in the air, Fearnall has a suggestion for where things might start.

He'd like each councillor to spend some time writing a job description of sorts — figuring out how they'll structure their role and responsibilities to voters.

"I don’t mean (set) priorities. I mean figuring out what does it actually mean to be a councillor," he said, noting the official job description on file doesn't say much. "It doesn’t give you any indication of what an acceptable level of commitment to your constituents is."

It's something that could hit a lot of the incoming faces hard.

"They’ve been killing themselves for eight months running for council and you can do that when you see that goal post … now that you’re there you almost have to continue to do that same level commitment above and beyond what a normal human would do," Fearnall said. "If we haven’t had any kind of (community) discussion about what we expect them to do a ... it’s quite possible they will disappoint us."

Shawna Lewkowitz, founder of London’s Women & Politics 
@ShawnaLewk

 Shawna Lewkowitz (Metro)

Shawna Lewkowitz (Metro)

Not knowing what exactly to expect is part of the beauty of municipal politics, Lewkowtiz said.

"Because there is no party system we assume a lot of things about people, that they hold certain political viewpoints just because of perhaps certain things they say or expressed during their campaign," she said. "And most people, to get elected, will go the centre route.

"But I think once they’re in there you’ll start to see the differences reflected in their ideologies."

Supporting the new group will be key to their success, she said, agreeing with McCardle.

"People often try to live up to the expectations that you have of them. So, if we expect a lot and we expect that these are smart, inclusive, intelligent people who are going to make good decisions for our city and are going to be thoughtful about it and consider different opinions … I think they will be," she said.

"But I think if we already start to turn the tide on them and think ‘OK, now prove yourself to us,’ I think we’ll get less."

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