Winders: Election results are a matter possibilities, not politics or policy, for students

Paul Mayne // Western News

Just like the university itself, Western News continues to evolve under editor Jason Winders to the point where it now distributes campus news on eight different platforms, including the familiar print edition available in boxes on campus, free of charge in London public libraries, and distributed to larger, outside news organizations which use it as a generator of story ideas.

Trust me, these moments don’t come around often.

I have covered 50-plus elections, hundreds of campaigns and maybe thousands of races, and what I saw transpire in London Monday night was among the strangest of the lot. Some pundits have called it a ‘generational shift’ – but generational shifts don’t necessarily happen every generation at the municipal level. They are muddied and sluggish – a councillor or two is defeated this round, perhaps a couple more the next. There has been a ‘dinosaur’ on every city council I have ever covered.

Generational shifts are supposed to be glacial in pace, right?

Well, London voters saw to speeding up the process this week.

Listen to these stats: Five incumbents were defeated on Election Night; six others didn’t seek reelection. The entire ‘Fontana 8’ were ushered out of office in one evening. In all, City Hall will feature a new mayor and 11 new councillors out of 14.

That story would be revolutionary enough. But look at the saplings taking over the Forest City.

Including the mayor, the median age of the council is 41. Mayor-elect Matt Brown is right on that number. Seven of 15 members are under 40. Jared Zaifman and Mo Salih are the youngest at 27 and 28, respectively. Those are amazing numbers for a city this size and, shall we say, proclivity to cling to the past.

Now, you’ll hear a lot of grumbling (What? In London?) over the next few months about the age and inexperience of the council. That’s to be expected.

As for inexperience, that is not a challenge. City staff runs the day-to-day operations. What a good council does is set a strategy; task staff with fulfilling that strategy; ask hard questions of them; hold them accountable to actions; and vote on clear direction. It’s not that difficult for new councillors, especially ones previously engaged with the city, to pick up.

As for age, that’s the exciting opportunity for this city – and this university.

What we’re seeing isn’t a matter of politics or policy, but of possibilities.

Certainly, youth, energy and engagement are great, but they are by no means a guarantee of success. There is a lot of work to be done. But a willingness to work together is the key to our future.

And we are going to start seeing more and more of that in the future out of the city. If not, London voters have shown a willingness to move on from disappointing leaders – quickly.

I hope our students realize the opportunity presented to them today. This is the kind of rapid generational shift that only occurs in small, progressive university towns in the States, and rarely in large, conservative cities like London. Combined with the growing support infrastructure offered to them by the university – everything from entrepreneurial training and startup support to new graduate transition assistance and continued connections to their alma mater – students are well-positioned for local success.

We are often pressed about keeping graduates in the city – traditionally a difficult sell for us. However, perhaps we have something to work with now. If a student ever wanted to have an immediate impact on a city, here is their chance. Toronto still may be a sexier draw, but they’ll be waiting on the sidelines for some time. If they want to make an immediate mark, the opportunity in London is dawning.

And the university is well positioned to help them – and itself – do just that.

Although Western’s Strategic Plan, Achieving Excellence on the World Stage, focuses much of its attention internationally, its third pillar, Reaching Beyond Campus, calls for work to be done closer to home. A section entitled, Contributing to London’s social, cultural and economic development, reads, in part:

“Western will continue to explore with the City of London, and other community organizations, mutually beneficial initiatives that contribute to the city’s quality of life and advance the teaching and research mission of the university.”

Sounds like a plan. Now, let’s double-down on that idea.

These moments don’t come around often. And when they do, it’s nice to know you’re well-positioned to take advantage of them.