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‘Truly awesome’: What the first months on Victoria council have been like

Councillors reflect on what they’ve learned so far about public office and each other

By Shannon Waters
December 29, 2022
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘Truly awesome’: What the first months on Victoria council have been like

Councillors reflect on what they’ve learned so far about public office and each other

By Shannon Waters
Dec 29, 2022
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘Truly awesome’: What the first months on Victoria council have been like

Councillors reflect on what they’ve learned so far about public office and each other

By Shannon Waters
December 29, 2022
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‘Truly awesome’: What the first months on Victoria council have been like
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

“Interesting. Fascinating. Different.”

“Truly awesome.”

“A lot of learning and a lot of emails.”

Those are some of the ways members of Victoria City Council described their first months at City Hall. With the new year about to arrive, Capital Daily invited the eight city councillors to share their reflections on their terms in public office to date. We heard back from seven and have compiled their comments below, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Due to time constraints, Couns. Jeremy Caradonna and Dave Thompson provided their responses by email.

How would you describe your first few weeks on council? What were some of the highlights?

Matt Dell: The first few weeks for me have been truly awesome. It's just been an absolute dream, to be elected and to be working with the other councillors that have been elected.

The first two months have been really busy but also enjoyable and manageable, and I think it set us up very well for what's going to be an incredibly busy New Year and the next four years. 

Some people wanted us to act faster…passing huge motions and major changes in our first meetings. Frankly, I don't think any of us were really experienced enough with the procedural side to do that, nor did we know all the senior staff [and] what was happening behind the scenes and so the first two months have been a great learning experience.

Chris Coleman: I’m a rookie again!

Victoria has a brand new council in 2022 [and] I'm a rookie—I've got lots of history, but there is none of the old council there but for the mayor, and she is in a brand new position so she's on a learning curve too.

We're still in discernment. We're not into decision-making mode.

Coleman told Capital Daily he would like to see the new council spend up to four months learning the intricacies and realities of municipal services and policy, including workshops led by experts on specific topics and visits to various city service providers

It might sound like a lot of time—it takes you to the end of February—but it happens to be 8% of this term and it sets you up for the next 92% where you actually understand the interplay between things.

[But] I don't think we're going to adhere to my Pollyannish approach because a month into it people were getting antsy—’I want to run fast!’— which is fine. That's perfectly understandable.

Jeremy Caradonna: The highlights were getting to know our extremely talented and devoted staff, making new connections with my colleagues on council, and learning more about how the city actually works. 

I’m really pleased to be the neighbourhood liaison for James Bay and Vic West. 

There are opportunities to do good for the community every single day, and that’s certainly a highlight.

Marg Gardiner: A lot of it is learning. Not even the policy issues and what's going on in the city as much as how paper and communications move within city hall. We're all getting used to new devices [and] emails started coming in before we came in as councillors—therefore, you start with a backlog of a few hundred emails.

So I think it’s not going to be six weeks [of orientation]—it's going to be three months as we get going on that part of our new world.

Dave Thompson: [The highlight has been] meeting with residents, business owners, service providers, and others, and having them generously provide their ideas and time in many conversations.

Stephen Hammond: We've had relatively light sessions, thus far for meetings. It's like we've had our training wheels on.

I've enjoyed it and I like the other councillors.

Hammond told Capital Daily his Dec. 8 motion was the result of not quite understanding what a “rise and report” after an in camera discussion entails. Hammond said he’s prepared to admit ignorance as he learns the ins and outs of council proceedings.

I'm a guy who speaks up. I'm a guy who's not afraid to look like a dummy and say, “I don't know what that is.”

Susan Kim: I really don't feel like we've had enough time to work on a whole lot or to have too much to reflect on. So I guess my thoughts about the first few weeks are let's get into 2023 and actually tackle some stuff!

Couns. Marg Gardiner, Matt Dell, Chris Coleman, and Jeremy Caradona at the inaugural Victoria city council meeting. Photo: Shannon Waters / Capital Daily

What has it been like getting to know your fellow council members after the election campaign this fall?

Dell: We just have a really great group of people. I've gotten to know everybody and I think all of us are just so thrilled with the collegiality that's happening right now. Regardless of political opinions on issues, we've been really kind of great friends, just enjoying being in one another's company and learning from one another.

Coleman: The organization has evolved, it's changed [since 2018]. So people are saying, “Oh, it's so great, you have all this knowledge.” And, yeah, I have a lot of history but we move in a different direction and a different way now so I have to learn again.

[Mayor] Marianne [Alto] is a very good mentor, saying, “Here's what the system looks like,” and if you watch it, there's lots of learning opportunities. But there's a whole bunch of data coming down the pipe at us that is very much a fire hose.

I hear a lot of idealistic dreams, which are great—they're absolutely fabulous—but tell me how you fund them and fund them for the long term, not the short term.

Caradonna: It’s been a fantastic experience. A few of the councillors I knew ahead of time, but most I knew about only via their campaigns or community work. 

It’s very refreshing to set aside the competitiveness of the campaign and shift into a collaborative work environment. Every single person on council has the community’s best interests at heart, and we share in our commitments to improve the lives of Victorians.

Gardiner: We're just really getting to know each other.

A council shouldn't be a full team because we want to bring different perspectives. That's very important to realize—you don't want groupthink, you want different perspectives coming to the table no matter what the topic is. 

I think that this council has a really quite a wide range of perspectives from that because we have very different backgrounds, a lot of us. I'm hoping we will never become a groupthink team. I don't want that.

Thompson: It’s been excellent, as expected—friendly, collegial and collaborative.

Hammond: It's a good group of people and we're very nice and friendly with one another. That will be good when really important issues or contentious issues come about and we will be on different sides or for different things.  

I'm very convinced that it won't get personal or won’t get nasty…I just don't see that with our crowd. I mean anything can happen, but I don't see that. 

Even if we come at policies from a different standpoint, we all—I know this might sound corny—but we all have the best interests of the city at heart.

Kim: Part of the public narrative that exists out there is that it's spicy, it's interesting, there's acrimony, but there's really not. I think that the results of the election show that folks really want to have a council that can get along and it's not to say that previous councils didn't, but I do feel a sense of collegiality straight off the bat with the current council members and the mayor…There's just something really sweet and personal about everyone. 

It's so nice to be at the point now, where it's not a campaign—we're here to work together and part of that is to get to know one another and be humans and humanize. It's just really lovely.

Part of that collegiality is understanding that there will be disagreements in the chambers, but then as soon as we go back into our offices, we're joking and laughing.

There is proof that councillors are game for a little friendly competition, Kim told Capital Daily.

There was a competition between Councillors Hammond and Thompson for who could come up with the best baked goods at the last meeting. Hammond’s partner [Jack] baked a lot of goodies and had them brought over and then Dave Thompson made cookies too. It was a tough call but there was a clear winner!

Capital Daily asked Coun. Hammond about the competition. Here is his response:

There was really no competition and Dave Thompson knows it…Dave even conceded that it wasn't even close. His cookies were lovely, mind you, and I don't get credit for it. I just happen to be married to a baker and a cooker and a really good one.

Capital Daily also asked councillors about their priorities and expectations for 2023. We will be publishing their answers on Saturday.

Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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