In the gym at the Rockaway Centre in Kitchener –- normally reserved for recreation for senior citizens -- bout 50 people gathered on a September evening for a very different activity. They were trying to decide what issues and which candidates might shape the 2014 municipal elections in Waterloo Region.
The gathering was part of an initiative called Better Choices Waterloo Region, spurred by the local labour council. The group is part of the Canadian Labour Congress’ (CLC) nationwide Municipalities Matter campaign.
The campaign, which identifies and endorses a slate of progressive candidates in municipal elections, was created to help guide CLC members’ votes.
"We have 3.2 million members across Canada and they all live and work in cities and communities," explained Gogi Bhandal, a CLC Ontario regional representative. "Our members are consumers of the growing list of municipal services, therefore local politics is equally important as the provincial and federal."
While originally conceived to support candidates friendly to labour issues, the CLC and its regional partners realized that by creating partnerships with like-minded community organizations, they could reach a larger number of progressive individuals.
Marc Xuereb, president of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council and one of the organizers of the Better Choices campaign, explained that coalition-building in the region will make their campaign stronger.
"These candidates are not only people that union leaders thought were good candidates, but that people in the community that are from all kind of different walks of life [selected them]…that will have more resonance," Xuereb said.
The meeting at Rockaway Centre was the second of two local gatherings; the first took place in Cambridge a few nights earlier. Attendance at both exceeded organizers’ expectations, with about 50 people attending the Kitchener meeting.
The interests represented were diverse, including people concerned about transportation, poverty, disability and accessibility, LGBTQ issues and social planning, as well as a healthy sprinkling of representatives from local union chapters.
At one point, participants were asked to put together a list of issues that matter to them. Everything from better passenger train service to admirable personality traits was mentioned.
"Are they Mayor Nenshi?" asked one woman, noting that she hoped Better Choices could find representatives that inspire as much confidence as Calgary’s mayor.
In the coming weeks, Better Choices hopes to assemble a team that will identify the positions at the various municipal councils and school boards that could be challenged by their progressive candidates. A great deal of planning will go into choosing the best races to run candidates.
"We want to have a good shot at having municipal issues passed that we believe are progressive," said Bobbi Stewart, another one of the organizers behind the Better Choices campaign. People that want to run under the Better Choices banner will be able to use their branding and access candidate training through the CLC.
The campaign has proved successful in the past across Ontario, with just over 70 per cent of endorsed candidates -- including school board trustees -- elected in 2010. The campaign plans to announce their slate of candidates to the region Jan. 6, 2014 – the first day people can register to run in municipal elections in Ontario.
This article originally appeared in The Cord and is reprinted with permission.
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