Waterloo Region Votes: 5 Questions for Kitchener's Berry Vrbanovic

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo asked every mayoral candidate in the region five questions. Today we hear from Berry Vrbanovic, running for mayor of Kitchener.
Berry Vrbanovic is running for mayor of Kitchener. (Courtesy Berry Vrbanovic)

Municipal elections in Waterloo Region will be held on October 27. With half a year to go until ballots are cast, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo has reached out to every mayoral candidate in the region who has officially filed to run.

Each candidate has answered the same five questions, and their replies will be reproduced. Today we speak to Berry Vrbanovic, one of two candidates registered to run for mayor of Kitchener.

1. What's the most important issue in your city for the next council term?

Ensuring that we avoid big city challenges while maintaining the momentum which will come from growth in our local economy and population in the coming years, is the most important issue facing our city in the next council term. It will be about finding the right balance which welcomes some of the benefits of a larger community, while protecting and celebrating the mid-sized, close knit feel of the community we all value and love. In short, it’s about ensuring that strong neighbourhoods and a growing economy ultimately lead to a better Kitchener.

One of the best ways of tackling the challenges of a growing city is by taking our city’s strengths and refocusing them down to the neighbourhood level. It’s about creating a strong, inter-­connected network of dynamic, sustainable and unique neighbourhoods throughout our city. It’s about helping build community between neighbours and neighbourhoods. It’s about managing growth and ensuring we are also investing in the amenities residents need to live, work and play within their neighbourhoods as much as possible. And it’s important to ensure we provide for a safe, healthy and modern system of transportation infrastructure which not only provides for those who use automobiles and public transit but also for those making active transportation choices like walking and cycling.

Strong neighbourhoods require a growing economy. For that reason, we must live within our economic means and ensure good job opportunities and a strong financial foundation for today and for tomorrow. Going forward, we must continue to build on the successes of recent years that have come from diversifying our local economy into areas like high-tech and digital media. But we must also refocus our efforts in areas like advanced manufacturing to support those who have worked in this traditional cluster within our community. In addition, we must support the growth of small business, work with other governments to ensure ongoing investments in retraining programs and we must be even more aggressive in our pursuit of new entrepreneurs, companies and talent to come to Kitchener and Waterloo Region.

I believe that strong neighbourhoods and a growing economy will lead to a better Kitchener. The path to that better Kitchener must be built on five core principles of governance – improved customer service, efficient and effective services, a commitment to accountability – especially online, openness and fiscal responsibility which includes property tax increases in line with the rate of inflation.

2. Voter turnout is notoriously low, especially in municipal politics.  How will you engage voters?

My record on council demonstrates an open and engaged style of leadership built on listening, creative problem solving and consensus building. In my view this is core to ensuring that residents and businesses have trust in their local government to hear their concerns and make the best possible decisions, not only for today but for the long-term as well. Over the years, I have engaged with residents in a variety of ways that include newspaper columns, community meetings, and more recently a strong and growing presence on social media.

I have also had among the highest levels of involvement from elected officials in terms of my participation at community events, not only in the ward that I represent but throughout the city. I believe this is an important way to hear from all segments of our community about what is going well, and what is not going so well. 

During the campaign I plan to not only engage with voters one-on-one by going door-to-door as much as possible and at all-candidates meetings, but also online, through the use of technology and participation in other community building gatherings.

After the election, it would be my plan to work together with the newly elected Council to begin a series of community strengthening gatherings throughout all neighbourhoods in the city. I would also investigate some of the best practices evolving in communities across Canada on improving citizen engagement including participatory budgeting, telephone town halls, and the further use of technology through things like online town halls and more.

3. What would you say is your biggest weakness?

I would say my biggest weakness is trying to get too much done at times – with not enough hours in the day to accomplish it all.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with great colleagues and friends who remind me from time to time that there are only 24 hours in the day and provide the encouragement and support to stay balanced and focused on my main community priorities.

4. Who is your political role model, and why?

I didn’t need to think about this one very long. The first person I volunteered for in politics was the late John Sweeney, who served for many years as the MPP for Kitchener‐Wilmot as well as Minister of Community and Social Services.

As a young and naïve 15-year­‐old becoming engaged in the political process, I quickly came to admire John’s intelligence, thoughtfulness, values, genuine respect for individuals and his desire to find consensus­‐built solutions that looked after all those in our community - from those dealing with the greatest challenges to those who were more fortunate.

John was someone I talked to in making my decision to enter politics and at various points during my political career, until he passed away.

5. 40 years from now, how do you picture your municipality?

40 years from now, I see our city being a small big city, with the quality of life amenities of a big city while maintaining the feel, charm and closeness of a small town. It will be a vibrant, safe and sustainable community with a strong system of inter-­connected neighbourhoods. We will have a diverse economy and one of the highest qualities of life, not only in Canada but throughout North America as well.

Kitchener will continue to strongly support our network of neighbourhood associations and our commitment to neighbourhood focused gathering spaces like our community centres, libraries, soccer fields, hockey arenas and swimming pools.  We will also continue to build upon our commitment to playgrounds, parks, trails and natural spaces in our neighbourhoods  completing the missing links to connect each of our neighbourhoods to one another, to promote walkability, cycling, environmental sustainability, and to provide residents with places to come together and spend quality time with one another – with their family and their friends.