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Navigating New Waters with Councillor Orientations

Every four years or so, Canadians participate in the most direct form of democracy we have—municipal elections. Newly elected municipal councillors step into positions that demand more than good intentions. They require a nuanced understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and the community they serve. While enthusiasm and dedication are necessary, they’re insufficient to navigate the complexities of municipal governance. That’s where an effective councillor orientation program can help. 

 

An orientation serves as a compass, guiding councillors through the maze of municipal procedures, regulations, and protocols. Each carries its own set of rules and processes, from budget allocations to zoning regulations. Many new councillors arrive ready to “manage” the community when, in fact, their role is to set policy and leave the managing to the managers – the CAOs and senior administration. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, councillors risk making poor decisions or inadvertently violating legislation, undermining their own effectiveness and eroding public trust. 

 

Candidates run for municipal government for all sorts of reasons—some productive, some not so much. But most run for reasons from their own life experience. Municipalities have diverse residents with distinct challenges and aspirations. An orientation provides new councillors with invaluable insights into their community's varied needs and dynamics. By familiarizing themselves with local demographics, economic trends, and historical contexts, new councillors can better tailor policies and initiatives to address the needs of all of their constituents.  

 

An effective council is built on collaboration and cohesion among councillors. Municipal councils are often comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds and ideologies, demanding an intentional effort to find common ground and work towards shared goals. Effective orientations, through team-building exercises and interactive workshops, provide councillors with opportunities to forge relationships, build trust, and cultivate a spirit of cooperation. This not only enhances the functioning of the council but also sets a positive precedent for inclusive and collaborative governance. 

 

Finally, in an era marked by unprecedented connectivity and information overload, an orientation should equip councillors with the tools and resources necessary to engage with their constituents effectively. Social media, community forums, and public consultations offer platforms for councillors to interact with constituents and gather feedback. Sadly, they increasingly provide venues for harassment and abuse. By providing training in communication strategies, conflict resolution, and community outreach, orientations empower councillors, amplifying their positive impact and accessibility. 

 

An orientation lays the foundation for long-term success and resilience in municipal governance. By instilling a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, orientations prepare councillors to navigate the evolving landscape of local governance with confidence and agility. Councillors equipped with the knowledge and skills acquired during a good orientation process are better positioned to lead effectively and uphold public trust. They’re also more likely to forge a positive path forward for those following in their footsteps. In the end, it’s all about leaving things better than we found them. 

 

At Strategic Steps we provide a range of orientation options as well as mid-term refreshers designed to help new and experienced councillors drive success. Reach out to me at craig@strategicsteps.ca or 709-728-0065.


Let’s build great governance together. 

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