A Talk with City Councilor Diane Deans

 

Diane Deans 2011 cropped

 

 

“You have to be a decision maker; you can't waffle because you can't have a referendum on everything! You have to be a strong person, but an open and warm one too.”

 

Diane Deans is the City Councilor of the Gloucester-Southgate Ward in Ottawa. She’s done an excellent job of serving the community for over 18 years. Dancing Owl spoke to her about her career and how she feels about the impact she’s had on others’ lives.

 

Councilor Deans, what made you decide to run for City Council?

 

I first ran for Ottawa City Council in 1994. At the time, I was a stay at home mother and I was very interested in the community. When you have small children, you want services and community centres in the neighbourhood. In particular, I got involved in a drive to build a library here in this area, which as you can see is right beside us now! There was a bit of an opening because the City Councilor before me, Joan O’Neil, was moving on to a mayoral race. Sometimes it’s a combination of opportunity and interest and for me, that’s what it was.

 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

 

If I were to chose one, it would be the difference that you can make at the local level. Beverly is my executive assistant. She’s worked with me for the last 18 years and when we look around this community we see the difference that we have made everywhere. For example, we’re sitting in a building right now that probably wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t on Council today.

 

That’s wonderful. Please tell us about some of the city projects and community events that you have participated in.

 

Obviously, over my municipal political career, there’s been quite a few projects. In terms of change, moving the yardstick for local residents, I would say the City Council’s decision to implement the smoke-free bylaws was huge. At the time, people were smoking everywhere; shopping centres, restaurants and bars were all full of smoke. And Ottawa City Council, the council I was on, made a decision to eliminate smoking in public places and workplaces in Ottawa.

 

That has a high impact.

Yes, in some ways, we were the trail-blazers. Now, pretty much all municipalities in North America have banned smoking in restaurants and public places but we were one of the first! And passing the law was not easy because there was a lot of opposition! All the bar owners and businesses said that we were going to put them out of business… A meeting went on one day at City Council for 12 hours with people coming and just giving it to Council! At the end of the day, however, Council voted unanimously. And we have never looked back. So I would say that’s probably one of the most significant… I’m also the Chair of the Transit Commission so I’ve been very involved in building light rapid transit in Ottawa. And as you probably know, we’re just about to tunnel under the downtown core and build the first leg of LRT. That’s a change project. It will forever change the face of Ottawa into the future. I’m pretty proud of that. In terms of the difference one can make on a larger scale, I think those are some of the more significant issues I’ve dealt with. In terms of events, I’ve been fortunate enough to be the honourary co-chair of the United Way campaign for the City of Ottawa and I got the City Managers Award for Leadership for that. I’ll also tell you about the skateboard park we opened here in the neighbourhood since you’re focused on young people.

Yes, I’m curious.

The challenge with things like skateboard parks is finding the right location. If they are too close to homes, it can be a noisy nuisance. But you don't want it too far away because you want young people to able to get there. So we put it on Conroy road. It's been perfect, really. That’s one of the many things that we've done.

What is the most challenging part of being on City Council?

I would say the most challenging is that you want to do everything! You have so many demands on your time and so many diverse interests that there's just not enough hours in the day to do everything that you want to do.

What makes a good City Councilor?

I think you have to be a good listener, for sure. To be a doer, you have to be a leader. You have to be a decision maker; you can't waffle because you can't have a referendum on everything! You have to be the one ultimately to make the decision and to defend it. So you have to be a strong person, but an open and warm one too.

 

What particular career path did you take to get to where you are today?

I became interested in politics at a young age; my mother was a Trudeau maniac! When I got to university, there was a very small issue that I got involved in. Once I got involved in that, the president of the student association at the university asked me to run for student council, which I did. I got involved in student politics and after I graduated from university I went to work for the Canadian Federation of Students which brought me here to Ottawa. Then I went to work on Parliament Hill as a researcher and Parliamentary assistant. I think that those years, working on campaigns and in political office, whet my appetite for a political career.

 

And you've had a very interesting career. What is your typical day like?

My typical day is hectic. When I wake up, I usually start with a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, scan the social media feeds to see what's going on, listen to the radio…basically I take in all the news that you may have missed in the last few hours! Then I generally go into my office, either here or the downtown office, and I participate in a whole variety of meetings. Being the Chair of the Transit Commission is a particularly time-consuming task. So a lot of my time is spent trying to find the right path for public transit and guiding the implementation of the presto smart card, which is the fare card. I also sit on the transportation committee and the Fedco committee which is the Finance and Economic Development Committee. So there is a lot of committee work and of course City Council meets every second Wednesday and there is a lot of preparation time. I also get a lot of invitations. Right now I'm preparing for a speech to an engineering group. I also do a lot of media. Seldom a day goes by that I don't have a media call or multiple media calls to deal with. And then in the evenings, I have community association meetings, and meetings about zoning bylaws and events.

That's quite a hectic schedule. What do you do in your spare time?

Sleep!

Yes, it sounds like your schedule is quite busy!

I have a cottage and I play golf and do some sports. I try to spend some time with my family. I enjoy having time with them, as little as there seems to be.

What advice do you have for teens who want to contribute to their communities and have their voices heard in the political process?

I would say get involved! Community associations, community centres, student councils and other volunteering activities in the neighbourhood are all great options. Do things that interest you.

So try a bunch of different things?

Yes, try lots of things. Networking is also very important, so get to know people. I think it would help young people to ask the people they meet about careers: how rewarding they are, what they like about their career, what they don't like about it! It all helps to focus for the future.

Thank you Councilor Deans for this interesting and informative interview!

This transcript has been abridged and edited slightly to improve readability.