BLOG #674: In a city which seeks to retain young people, only one of the 15 members of city council is younger than 40; five of them are older than 60. It’s not that older people are incapable of making good decisions but council is not reflective of the kind of city our leaders say we need to become.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
For a city which wants so desperately to retain young people, city council certainly is not reflective of the demographic. Of the 15 elected members, only one can be considered part of the young potential leadership of this community – Matt Brown in Ward 7.
Not that age should be any barrier to public office but five members, including Mayor Joe Fontana, are over age 60; the rest are in their late 40s and 50s. Baby boomers all, except for young Mr. Brown.
Meantime, though, this council has continued the resolution of the last one in trying to encourage young Londoners both to choose this city as their permanent home and to get involved in public affairs.
In fact, council has actively tried to find ways young people can assume leadership positions on the various boards and commissions to which it makes appointments. But making room for them in the Big House? Not so accommodating.
Council’s efforts to attract and retain young people are largely funnelled through an organization called Emerging Leaders which fosters “retention, development and engagement of emerging talent as a means to a more vibrant, inclusive and dynamic London community for the future.”
Although not officially affiliated with the city, Emerging Leaders has acted as a conduit to placing young people under age 40 on various non-profit boards. And if you have an opening, right now the organization has dozens of responsible, educated and energetic young leaders keen to help you out.
There are other groups, less well organized but just as keen to be recognized. All of them share a fondness for and an expertise in social media. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
On the plus side, most of them pack a digital contact list that can draw a crowd with less than 140 key strokes. On the downside, though, the resulting gathering is more likely to want to chug designer beer and talk about how hard it is to break through in London than to do anything about it.
This is the long way around describing an event that took place Tuesday night at the Morrissey House, a bar on Dundas St. near Waterloo. Headlined as a night of Pints and Politics, it drew a crowd of 30 or so young people (and a few old farts like myself and Glen Pearson) to drink and debate what’s up with London.
The cause of the day is citizen engagement. It just so happens that Mr. Pearson, former controller and fellow blogger Gina Barber, and I are part of a presentation on the subject Thursday, May 24, 7 p.m., Wolf Performance Hall at the Central Library. Free admission.
That plug out of the way, the conversation at the table I shared turned to how voters can ensure city council understands and delivers on citizen engagement. You have to vote out those council members who aren’t with the program. And that would certainly start with providing some age appropriate company for Councillor Matt.
Many of the current council gang started their political careers in their 30s. Seven of them have served longer than two terms; Bud Polhill of Ward 1 has been on council for more than 25 years.
This doesn’t suggest for a moment older Londoners are incapable of making appropriate decisions in critical situations. What it does suggest is that a city which craves an image as a young, hip, with it community needs to walk the talk.
Naheed Nenshi, a fresh political face and now the mayor of Calgary, a city three times our size and chock full of energy, just turned 40; our mayor, a former city councillor and long-time member of Parliament, just turned 62.
But Emerging Leaders and their many unofficial like-minded social mediums shouldn’t expect to move to the Big House simply by standing around thumbing their Blackberries or fingering their iPhones.
Winning elections is a grinding exercise; it’s time for London’s next generation to holster the smart phones and start knocking on doors rather than sit around quaffing pints talking about it.
UPDATE ON THE MAYOR’S EXPENSES – City Clerk Cathy Saunders said late Tuesday she has no current plans to issue a corrected version of the mayor’s 2011 expenses. Jennifer Buchanan, the mayor’s executive assistant, says she will have a corrected version available before next Tuesday’s council meeting “and I will ask the clerk to approve them.”