When David took office last Fall, he had a vision for the kind of representative he would be for the constituents of Fredericton South. He wanted to carry his constituents’ concerns to the Legislature and truly represent their interests. In order to do this, he needed to be in close and regular touch with them. There are many ways to do this: social media, traditional media, letters, emails, personal meetings – all of which David has been actively pursuing and using.
One of the most important ways for David to do this is through community meetings. Traditionally, these would be in the Town Hall format, but David wanted to try something a bit different, something that allows everyone attending to have a voice and to be heard. With help from Dennis Atchison, an experienced facilitator of open space forums, David went with a World Café model where large groups break into smaller groups to discuss a question or topic, and then report their top three ideas to the entire group. This generates ideas from everyone and everyone gets a chance to speak. In this format, David becomes a participant on an equal footing with everyone else. He speaks with, not to, everyone present. And, most importantly, he gets to hear from a wide range of people.
There have been three such meetings so far, held in conjunction with three city councilors and their wards, giving residents access to both their Legislative and Municipal Representatives. The next and final community meeting in this series takes place this Saturday, May 23, for Stephen Chase’s ward on the Hill.
Each of the wards came up with lists of what they would improve or like to see more of in their communities, and their vision for the next four years. You can imagine how busy David and the councilors have been in following up. Many of David’s actions, including statements, questions and bills in the House, have been direct follow-ups to these meetings.
Despite the diverse locations, several common themes have come up. Below are follow-up actions addressing some of the top themes arising out of these meetings. Some of them are specific to one ward, others are issues common to all:
- Waste Management – One of the key reasons the recycling system in Fredericton falls short of expectations is cost. David will push for the province to include waste paper and packaging in their producer responsibility regulations. This would require the manufacturers to fund the recycling of these materials, much as is done for paint and motor oil. This is done in other jurisdictions and supports recycling infrastructure that is much more robust.
- Increased Youth and Citizen Engagement and Inclusion – David has established a youth round table in the riding which meets monthly. A senior’s round table is now in the works. This helps David ensure the voices of these groups gets heard in the Legislature in the same way the community meetings help him do this.
- Improved Public Transportation – This comes down to cost. David will work to ensure the provincial government does its part to increase the financial viability of public transportation. There needs to be direct support from the Province for the transit system, just as is provided by every other province in Canada. David will advocate for property taxes to be removed from transit garages, which would help improve their bottom line. Another provincial action would be to eliminate the restrictions on city transit from serving communities outside of city limits. David has proposed a pilot project to have a bus line that runs up and down Regent St. to prove that direct and efficient bus service will generate greater use of the transit system.
- Strengthening the Local Economy through Greater Self-Reliance – David’s Food Security Act was a first step in this direction. Unfortunately it was not passed. More initiatives will come to assist with the adoption of renewable energy technologies. David has been a vocal watchdog and critic whenever jobs are being outsourced, taking the government to task for outsourcing local jobs, such as NB Power contracting an Ontario company for their energy audits.
- Greater Authority for Fredericton – David has been extensively briefed by councillors and City officials and is looking forward to advocating for much needed reforms in the Legislature to ensure Fredericton has the authority it needs to better serve you.
- Government Accountability and Transparency — David has been a unique voice in the Legislature on many topics that no one else will bring up. He shines a light on issues that otherwise might never be seen. He has been a strong advocate for groups seeking greater accountability and transparency from the government, attending meetings organized by groups such as the Coalition for Seniors and the Early Childhood Care and Education New Brunswick (ECCENB).
- Residents’ Associations — One of the first actions to come out of the Skyline Acres Community Gathering was the creation of a Residents’ Association, courtesy of Dawn Gordon. At these meetings, residents were able to address NB Power officials directly about their concerns regarding power outages, tree trimming etc. David has engaged in further inquiries and actions on behalf of Skyline Acres following these meetings. Both of the other wards have established Residents’ Associations that will become more active as projects and concerns are identified through subsequent community meetings.
- More Community Meetings — David’s Constituency Office is planning follow-up community meetings for the fall. David hopes to have two community meetings per ward each year. The Skyline Acres Residents’ Association has now held two successful and well-attended community meetings.
- MLA and City Councillor Working Collaboratively — David has met numerous times with the various city councillors whose wards are in his Riding. They have been working together to address municipal issues identified at the meetings, such as the community’s relationship with student residents, recycling and waste, and transit.
- Improved Buildings and Infrastructure — David has always worked hard to promote retrofits to increase the efficiency of buildings. The province took a step back on this when it dismantled Efficiency New Brunswick. David continues to fight for what is left of it, and advocates for retrofits on all buildings. At one of the Community Gatherings, he learned about the Now House Project that retrofits entire neighbourhoods. As part of his follow up, he contacted the director of the Now House Project and is working to bring her to the province.
- A safe crossing connecting Skyline Acres with the UNB campus — At every opportunity David promotes ways to make a pedestrian crossing over Highway 8, whether through a pedestrian bridge or a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights. He has questioned both municipal and provincial officials on this and has convened meetings to tackle this issue. He has written letters of support and letters to the university Student Unions’ presidents to ask for their action and support on this.
Finally, these meetings are not just a way of letting your represented officials know what they can do for you, they are also a means of engaging community and empowering individuals and groups. Let us know if YOU have done something as a result of these meetings to move towards achieving goals or a vision you have, or if a great idea that came out of these meetings has inspired you. Like Dawn Gordon who set about organizing and running both a Facebook page and a Residents’ Association for Skyline Acres, you can make things happen too. The great thing is, you also have elected representatives in the province and city who will support you and help you all the way.