Advice from a young politician
By Ian McRae, Orillia Bureau Chief
Mason Ainsworth is a Lakehead student who successfully ran to represent Ward 3 on Orillia City Council in fall 2014. He is a familiar face to many around campus, a long-time supporter of the students’ union and past-president of BOSS – the Business Orillia Student Society. We sat down to chat about his first year on council.
- When you started on Council, what was it like?
It was quite the adventure – meeting different staff, the senior management team, bonding with everyone, and learning what all the city departments do. It’s one thing to know what the departments are but understanding how all the parts work together is complicated. For example, I did a presentation on municipal politics at the university and it’s interesting to talk about the different layers of bureaucracy, how they branch out and essentially affect everything we do, whether that’s driving somewhere – transit, brushing your teeth – water. It’s cool to see how it all interconnects, how the people interact and how that comes back to council.
- Being a city councillor and helping to run a city, you must be asked to weigh in on a range of issues. Could you explain what the job is like in this sense?
I would say for the most part, each day I get 10-20 emails looking for insights on issues, maybe for help on things – help with people’s organizations and help presenting ideas – or I get asked about things I’ve seen in the paper, whether it’s a local, provincial, or national issue. But that’s a good thing. That happens when you’re approachable.
- Are there any municipal projects going on right now that are particularly special to you?
A big one is what we are doing with the Transit Committee and Council. We are doing a whole new transit plan with the city. So what happens is we will be having a consultant come in and look at our routes, the time management and the effectiveness of the service. We are looking to add a 6th route to make the whole system more efficient and accessible. We’ve heard some concerns about timing and capacity, so bringing in those things and looking at our different options is the next step. It’s an exciting chance to improve our public transit.
- Is it hard being a young adult on council, considering that most of your colleagues are in their forties, fifties and sixties?
It’s not hard. I would say it’s a character building experience. It’s an opportunity to learn from different demographics, learning where they come from and representing a different demographic, being young people. And it’s about balancing that. As a councillor you represent your constituents and also bring your own experience to the table. Look at the issue of unemployment or transit. They all overlap.
- What is the future of Orillia?
We actually just had a team building exercise yesterday, with council and the mayor, and we talked about, what are the things we need in Orillia for the next 50 to 100 years? And the big idea brought forward was connectivity, which is a common idea these days: making sure our community is connected – through active transit, promotions, marketing; that all our assets are celebrated – arts culture, lakes, the university, our parks.
We have all these amazing things but we just need to make sure they are connected so when people from abroad look up Orillia, they see all these things and know what’s going on. For example, developing online virtual tours, so people can see what our trail system looks like or our new recreation center. So it’s all in one place online and in the city, and we are working together. Selling Orillia as a package is part of the idea, saying “here is Orillia, our product, and here’s what it includes.”
- How did being a student at Lakehead help you in becoming a leader in the community?
My experience taught me a few different things: to ask questions, which is what I’ve been known for on council. It also showed me through the students union, the ability to reach out and touch a whole bunch of different issues in the community, whether it’s a huge issue, like equality, or a smaller one, like transit, or even a specific case, like a person’s rental property dispute. I learned how to respect all of these things.
Actually, a big thing I got from clubs was an introduction to Roberts Rules of Order and meeting process, which has been hugely helpful. To any students, I would recommend getting involved in LUSU or on committees on campus so you can experience what it’s like being in a corporate atmosphere. In life you may get into something like managing minor hockey, or running for council, and these are skills you’ll need to do those things effectively later on.
- You were elected to city council at 22. Is this just the beginning of a career in politics?
I’d say that’s a question for the people. A big thing I learned, actually also from Lakehead and Dr. Islam specifically, is that after everything, at the end of the day, what you learn from political science – that you need to take out of it – is the question: what is politics? And the answer is: the art of getting things done. If you want to get involved in politics, you want to get stuff done. And I get things done!
- Who was your favourite prof at LU?
It’s tough, because so many have impacted my life in different ways. But I’d say, in particular, Dr. Islam. Although all of my profs were supportive of me in running for council, throughout my whole Lakehead career Dr. Islam was really excited about me getting involved in the political process. I remember when I once got a job with Elections Ontario and I told him I was going to miss his class because I working for the election. He said something like, “Mason, don’t you ever apologize for getting engaged in the political process! That is where you truly learn about politics, when you get engaged.” That was pretty powerful.
- You are on a deserted island. You can only bring three things. What are they?
Just to be clear, this is not a zombie situation?
No, nothing is coming after you.
And I’m there forever?
Well, then my blackberry and solar charger, so I can keep doing my job as an elected official. And a water filter, so I can survive.
- Any final words?
Young people often ask me why they should vote and my answer to them, as well as to any other, would be you should vote because you can change the world.