This June, city councillor Jibs Abitoye will be competing for an opportunity to give Fort Saskatchewan a stronger voice in Ottawa.
Abitoye recently received city council’s endorsement to run in the upcoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) board of directors election. If successful, she will be the first Fort Saskatchewan official to sit on the FCM board.
The FCM, an advocacy group representing local governments from over 2000 Canadian cities, towns, counties and rural areas, negotiates with the government of Canada to make municipal interests heard in federal policy making.
“This gives us a national voice. It's not just one municipality pushing their agenda, but it's all the municipalities in Canada that come together,” Abitoye said. “And there is obviously strength in numbers. When you go have meetings with the members of Parliament, they have to listen.”
FCM rules require all board contenders to get official approval from their local government colleagues before running in the election, which takes place on the last day of the FCM's May 31 to Jun. 3 conference in Halifax. Earlier this month, city council voted in favour of supporting Abitoye’s run, with only mayor Gale Katchur and councillor Gordon Harris not ready to lend their support.
Katchur said the city is already well-represented through the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association and that Abitoye, as a new councillor, is still facing a huge learning curve. Addressing Abitoye, Katchur added, “If you're going to do this, I'd really like you to attend FCM first to see what it's all about, and then possibly next year then decide to get out there and get your name heard.”
Harris said his thoughts echoed the mayor’s.
"I think you would be a great advocate for the city of Fort Saskatchewan," he said to Abitoye. "But I'm not sure that six months of experience in a council role here ultimately gives you the best opportunity to represent the interests.” Harris said that he would offer his full support to Abitoye in next year’s election.
Abitoye agreed that the city is well-represented through the Industrial Heartland Association, but dismissed the advice to wait until 2019.
"I do not plan to be a career politician. So if someone thinks I do not have the experience and they think wait till next year, no, I do not have that time. I have today. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow?" Abitoye said later. "My point is, I've got today. I'm going to do what I can do that's best for my community today."
Speaking in support of Abitoye, councillor Ed Sperling pointed out that having a councillor on the FCM board would give Fort Saskatchewan a voice at other levels of government and help the city build partnerships in eastern Canada as well as promote the Fort Saskatchewan region.
Abitoye said that by being a board member, she could also bring the city a better understanding of how other municipalities deal with issues such as density, waste management and transit.
If Abitoye wins the election, she will attend three FCM meetings in Ottawa, B.C. and Nova Scotia during her one-year term. The city has budgeted $8000 to cover the cost of sending her to the meetings.