Women & Politics invited all women candidates to answer a few questions so that Londoners can get to know them better. We will be posting the answers as we receive them.
Stephanie Marentette Di Battista, Candidate for Ward 5
What would you like Londoners to know about you?
I work hard. I am not someone who does anything half-way. When I take on a project or role, I put my heart and soul into it until the job is done and done well. If I am lucky enough to be chosen by the residents of Ward 5, I would like them as well as all of London to know that I am all in.
What most influenced your decision to run?
Every time I’m asked this question I am always very worried I’m going to sound incredibly cheesy when I respond, but the honest answer is that I want to make a difference. I feel I am a very lucky person. I am 30 years old and I own my own home and my own business. I have a supportive family and beautiful Great Dane pup named Brisbane. Even though I live in a different city, I get to see my parents almost every week. I am in a position where I can participate in the things I love on the side, namely dance, and I also sit on boards of charities that are important to me. I think all these things give me a lot to be thankful for.
Being a lawyer and someone who has worked for the federal civil service, I have a special set of skills in terms of oral and written advocacy, my knowledge of the law, and my experience with public policy. I would like to put those skills to use in a positive way on behalf of my community to which I feel I owe a great debt for the opportunities I’ve had. I truly believe that if you are someone who is lucky enough to be in a position where you can offer something to your community, you absolutely should.
What do you think is the most urgent issue the City is facing?
I think we have a confidence and leadership crisis at City Hall. I could write pages and pages of all of things we can do to continue to move London forward, however, none of that matters if London residents do not have faith in us. One of the biggest complaints I have heard while door knocking has nothing to do with BRT, putting up high-rises in subdivisions or safe injection sites and everything to do with a total lack of confidence in the City’s ability to do anything. Full stop. Ward 5 residents seem to generally feel as though they are not being heard and even if they do have an opportunity to voice a concern about something, it simply doesn’t matter. I know that this is not a Ward 5 problem, but a city-wide one. That level of disenfranchisement is really disheartening, and we desperately need to do something about this. Most of the major decisions our city faces in the next five to ten years are decisions that require public consultation. We will not get it if people feel that their voice ultimately does not matter. I think it is crucial that we restore public confidence and faith in City Hall. We must get back to the business of listening to Londoners and proposing and voting on policy with a view to that feedback. In other words, step up and show some leadership!
What experience do you bring to your role?
I’ve been involved in public service in one way or another for approximately fifteen years. I started by volunteering for the Member of Parliament in the riding I grew up in and went on to participate in my undergraduate program’s co-operative education placement program, which allowed me to work for the Canadian International Development Agency, Environment Canada and Public Safety Canada. I also worked for the Minister of State (Finance) and the Government House Leader. Following my work with the federal government, I attended Western Law and then ultimately went on to open my own practice here in London after articling at a large full-service firm and practicing at a boutique insurance defence litigation firm. Since I’ve been a lawyer, I have sat on the Board of Directors of the London Chamber of Commerce and the Red Shoe Society. I have also sat on the planning committees for major fundraisers to benefit London Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Arthritis Society.
I think my experience makes me unique as a candidate for a couple of reasons. First, because I have served as both a political staffer and a civil servant, I understand the need for collaboration between the municipal civil service and Councillors. From some of the feedback I’ve received knocking on doors, I know that that has not always been the case in the past and fostering greater cooperation in that regard is something I’d hope to improve if I am elected. I also understand the need for cooperation across levels of government and across political lines. I truly believe that partisan politics has no place at City Hall and any candidate hoping for the job should check that at the door, with a view to cooperation and healthy, respectful debate with all colleagues, be they federal, provincial or municipal.
Second, I’m a litigation lawyer. It is my job to listen to concerns and ideas, facilitate meetings to resolve disputes or translate ideas into action, and, if the need arises, to stand up in court and fight for my client. I believe that being a Councillor is very similar in that you need to know how to listen to the residents of your Ward, how to translate ideas and concerns into action, when to collaborate to move something forward and when to dig in and fight for it. I feel that my professional skills would allow me to be an effective, passionate advocate on behalf of Ward 5.
What is your vision for the ward you wish to represent?
The great thing about Ward 5 is that it is comprised of a community of neighbourhoods where you feel comfortable at every life stage. While out canvassing, I’ve met university students, young professionals, young families, families with older children, and retirees, and this diversity is really wonderful. My vision for Ward 5 is to continue to build and strengthen thriving neighbourhoods where any family can thrive, whether it’s a family of friends in medical school, a young family, or soul mates living out their final years. To me, that is what Ward 5 is all about.
While compromise is important, are there any issues you wold not compromise on?
No. I don’t think that it is possible for any policy idea to push through without at least some element of compromise because no policy idea will ever be acceptable to every councillor in its inception. There will always be little tweaks needed to come up with something that the majority can support. That said, on the issues I feel strongly about or that Ward 5 residents feel strongly about, I would certainly dig in and advocate with as much strength as possible, but I also accept that it might be necessary to compromise on a couple of aspects in order to implement the policy.
How do you balance the challenges of your ward while addressing the priorities of the City as a whole?
I don’t think that those two things are necessarily incompatible. There may be different aspects of a policy proposal that may affect Wards differently, but there will always be common elements across the city in terms of the pros and cons of a particular policy proposal. Ultimately it is my belief that City Council members are first and foremost accountable to their Wards because it is the residents of each Ward who have chosen that individual to represent their views. But I think that it is important to ground decisions not just in what is best for the Ward but with a view to how it will affect the city as a whole. Take BRT for example. There are Ward-specific problems such as land expropriation and not having access to transit services, and then there are city-wide problems such as congestion, tax ramifications and the trains. It is my belief that we would need to resolve both sets of problems to come up with a workable transit plan.
London’s social housing program houses 5000+ people and women are more likely to be living in poverty. In 2015, a Facilities Commission Analysis was completed. The findings determined in excess of $200 million is needed by 2020 to keep the current stock in fair condition. What will you do to ensure this work is completed?
I agree that London faces serious poverty and housing issues. Before making any decisions on spending, I would want to ensure I had all of the information in terms of the city’s responsibilities, what work has been completed to date and what remains outstanding, but if a major part of the city’s infrastructure requires substantial work, we have to get it done. It may need to happen over a couple of years to fit within the budget, but the city must look after its infrastructure, plain and simple.
Our organization aims to promote the importance of equal representation of women in the political arena. Could you share your perspective on this issue?
As someone who has spent a long time participating in politics, I can say with certainty that good decisions cannot be reached if half of the group on whose behalf such decisions are being made are absent from the discussion. Shaping public policy for all of society without women being a part of the conversation would be a bit like writing a book review on a novel of which you’d only read every other chapter. You simply cannot form the whole picture and give an informed opinion that way. The best way to ensure that all of the evidence is available before making a decision is for women to take a seat at the table. I think it’s wonderful that your organization offers the support that it does to help encourage women to get involved and to support female candidates. It is certainly a positive step to helping more women feel comfortable getting involved!
For more information, to volunteer and donate, please go to… my Facebook page – Stephanie Marentette Di Battista or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!