Irek Kusmierczyk has a problem not every city councillor is facing: growth.
A massive nine acre development is planned in ward seven, bringing with it cause for joy, and concern.
“This area is growing by leaps and bounds…not every area of the city deals with this,” he said, noting the challenge is to ensure both new development and residents have access to the same amenities and infrastructure as their neighbours.
Balancing existing suburban infrastructure which was primarily more car centric with the desires for more progressive urban planning, namely walkable neighbourhoods, is a big priority and challenge.
Constituents are also nervous. Memories of the 2016 and 2017 floods are still fresh, and residents want a guarantee new development won’t overwhelm existing infrastructure or impact traffic.
Kusmierczyk, whether or not intentionally, casts himself as a dealmaker politician, able to balance constituent needs against those of the developers. He co-hosted a community meeting with the developers and after working with city administration, a decision was made that issuing permits and groundbreaking ceremonies would be held off until the issues of flooding and traffic were addressed.
Throughout the term, Kusmierczyk has followed through on a commitment of transparency, and most notably, he’s listed all council votes on his website, along with an explanation for what he considers his most contentious votes.
“[It’s] one of the things I’m really proud of,” he boasts, stressing that published votes should be standard practice for all city councillors. “I invite any resident [to] take a look [at my votes]…my hope is folks may not agree with how I voted on an issue, but I hope they understand my thought process.”
When it comes to voting, Kusmierczyk relies on the knowledge that he’s “not the smartest person in the room” and he goes out of his way to talk to “folks that know a thing, about a thing or two”.
“You have to make sure you’re getting all the info you possibly can, from the ground floor experts,” he stressed. “You have to understand you don’t have all the answers, you yourself have blind spots you need to fill with good information to get the best outcomes.”
While transparency itself can bring about risk, the councillor explained that on his first day as an elected official at council he learned from Councillor Marra an important lesson: “Process. It’s huge…transparency, accountability, feedback from residents. It’s so critical.”
“You’re not always going to get everybody on board a decision…[but] if you feel that the process was legitimate, solid, authentic, then even the folks that don’t agree with the decision, they feel like their voice was heard, that they had an impact on the process and the process was fair.”
Looking back on his first full term in office, Kusmierczyk marvels at the thousands of votes cast across a diversity of issues, and how relatively non contentious they were overall.
“The truth is those contentious issues were literally in the context of two thousand decisions that were made over the course of three years. That’s the thing that blows me away….”
The most contentious issue for Kusmierczyk looking back on the past council term unsurprisingly centres around two recurring themes: accountability and transparency.
“I’m proud I supported, voted, and advocated for an AG,” he said, referencing the failed bid to reinstate the role of an independent auditor general. “…an AG will look at investments and say whether it’s a good or bad investment…are you getting the right ROI?”
Not only would Kusmierczyk vote yes again if the issue came before a new council, but he thinks each council should vote on the issue until the role is reinstated.
“I think it should be an issue that every new council should discuss…have the opportunity to make that vote,” he said.
Similar to the failed AG vote, Kusmierczyk stressed that those seeking to influence council shouldn’t give up if they fail the first time.
“On some issues you may lose the first round, but that doesn’t mean you walk away…keep advocating and bringing new information to the table.”
Kusmierczyk lists WIFF funding and alley lighting inclusion in the enhanced capital budget as wins transformed from losses.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back to take a step forward,” he said. “Reengage, find another avenue or angle…get back in the ring…there’s no such thing as a final match.”
And don’t bother bringing up the six to four divide, because he doesn’t buy it. In fact, he’ll rebut that he’s voted both with and against every member of council.
“I don’t care where a good idea originates from…I’ll support it and carry the water for it,” says Kusmierczyk. “It’s a healthy thing when you have vigorous debate on council. It’s important to have different viewpoints.”