Our guest on this episode is Dan Gibson. He represents Ward 1 in the Ontario municipality of Guelph as a city councillor. Dan has a BSc. from Trent University and a Masters in Environmental Science from the University of Toronto. He is also a Senior Environmental Scientist and has over 15 years of public and private experience.
Chris Caputo 00:11
This is periodically political brought to you by elect stem, we bring you stories of where politics intersect science. My name is Chris Caputo, and I'll be your co host today along with Darren Anderson.
Darren Anderson 00:27
We'd like to welcome our guest today, Dan Gibson. He represents Ward one in the Ontario municipality of Guelph. As a city councilor, Dan has a BSc from Trent University and a master's in environmental science from the University of Toronto. He's also a senior environmental scientist and has over 15 years of public and private experience. So welcome to periodically political Dan,
Dan Gibson 00:48
thanks so much for having me, guys. This is terrific.
Chris Caputo 00:52
Thanks, Dan. So at elect stem, we seek stories of scientists and engineers who are actively involved in either policy or politics itself. So our first question is really what made you decide to get involved in politics in the first place?
Dan Gibson 01:09
Well that's the million dollar question? Isn’t it. So it's a long story, but I'll condense it down quite quickly. Ward one in Guelph is a very unique place extremely diverse, politically, socially, demographically, economically. The city of Guelph has set up this Ward system where Ward one encapsulates the downtown. So you've got your sort of core urban voter, you have the old, the old town neighborhood of the ward, which is sort of the original neighborhood of the ward with its own sort of voter interests and issues and concerns. You've got sort of the state Manor style neighborhoods of St. George's Park, which is a gorgeous, but you know, very mature neighborhoods, century old homes. And then what you have in the east end of the city is this rapidly growing, single, detached, townhome, semi detached home, sort of a growth Center, where if you study municipal politics and sort of property tax a lot, a lot of the new growth areas, you know, they get a lot of the new tax burdens. So you get a very similar concerns about taxation and concerns about affordability. And so when I when I was living here in the east end, I just I continued to ask questions about the representation of our Ward, I didn't have many, many major issues with the two representatives we had other than they lived closer to the downtown, one of them retired and gave up, he sort of moved off a seat. So there's a vacancy. And I just saw an opportunity to serve my community in a different way, represented the east end of the city as well as the rest of the wards, but really give a voice to the east end of our city, the east of our Ward, which really is about two thirds of the ward now. And sort of brought those sort of front door issues to the table for the east end of the city. And in that was in 14 and 2018. I didn't change my message, and we're still here. So it's going pretty good.
Chris Caputo 03:04
That's great. Yeah, just the idea of serving your community. I think it's an is a recurring theme we're getting through the podcast, which is, you know, I think probably the most important thing that a politician can do.
Dan Gibson 03:14
Well, no more no more than in municipal politics for sure. I mean, you are literally fielding phone calls about garbage. Roads, potholes, snowplows, the front door issues are front and center at the municipal level.
Chris Caputo 03:28
So you're actually the first municipal politician that we have brought on to the podcast. So we've heard about how it is to run for office, federally and provincially. But could you give us a bit of insight into what running for city council looks like?
Dan Gibson 03:44
Sure. So I guess the major difference at the municipal levels that for most municipalities, excluding Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, municipal councillors are part time. So while running for office at the municipal level, I was still working full time. So putting 35 hours a week in the office, tack on my commute, and then coming home and doing my door knocking. So it was a it's a massive commitment, if you are going to do it, right. If you're going to build that sort of support that you need, at the municipal level, you need to get to those front doors, you need to be listening to people. You know, when you first go out and start knocking you're saying I'm Dan, I'd love to serve the community in this way. But it's not until about your 1,000th or 2,000th door that you really have what is on people's mind. So you can really develop some patterns and some themes. And I think that is the mark of success at the municipal level is staying in touch with those front door issues and allowing them to motivate you and really if you get them right, and you and you're speaking the language and the concerns of the community. You're set up for success at the municipal level. I really do believe that because as long as you don't cheat on those people, you are representing them that that's the name of the game. Yeah. It's wonderful at the municipal level, because it's not an agenda driven by a provincial or federal body, like you're not part of a government, you are yourself representing municipal interests. And, and for that point, I mean, I've enjoyed the freedom of being a municipal Councillor.
So you don't really have to align yourself with a particular party when you're running municipally.
No, you don't, you really don't. And my advice to people is, it's best that you don't, simply because it is it's there's a really diverse viewpoints out there politically, you have your convictions, but and people try to peg you trust me they do. But there really is no benefit. And there really is no need to align yourself with a political party simply because at times, I mean, I'm sure we've all voted here at times, you don't agree with the political party that you voted for. But you take your vote, and you place it with the party that you believe best represent your interests.
Chris Caputo 05:57
So following up on a couple of points, you touched on there, so you were employed full time while running for office? So like, if you're working 35 hours a week and commuting? How much time did you commit each week to campaigning?
Dan Gibson 06:12
That's actually one of my proud moments, because I got my family behind me, my wife was pregnant at the time with our second. I started in May, October was the election, five days a week, my wife was very supportive, she still is to this day, we've got a great thing going on here. I went out for three hours a night. So I got home around five, five till eight, I stopped ringing the doorbell after about 730 because kids go to bed at seven. And I just put in probably 15-20 hours a week of door knocking. And by the time I picked my head up, I had knocked on 7000 doors. That's the I mean, you can talk to most councillors, again, we were fairly new to Guelph. We hadn't been here for very long, we'd been here a number of years, but we hadn't been here. We didn't grow up here, I don't have family here. And so to build those connections with people, you just got to get out there and do it. And, you know, if you don't have the advantage of having a platform or having a position, which is which is a high profile position, you really do have to build that support door to door. And again, I would say that's the best way to do it. Because if you have an existing platform, I would still encourage you to go out and do the door knocking because most of the people that we see now at City Hall, when we're holding our meetings are not the people that you see on the front doors. And so you really need to get past that sort of establishment piece of City Hall and the influencers at City Hall and really get in touch with people who are perhaps less interested in politics and less interested in the city's ongoings. But want to know that they can trust the person that they're sending to city hall with their vote.
Chris Caputo 07:57
Great, thanks for that answer. And I guess the last thing I want to touch on about, you know, running for city council here is, you know, what's your favorite and least favorite part of that, you know, three hours a night campaigning was?
Dan Gibson 08:11
Yeah, that's, I love that question. Actually, that I've thought about it. There is a, there's this euphoric sort of process that you go through where you put your name forward, you go down to City Hall, you sign the papers, and your name goes in the paper, right? And they said, I've done it. I'm running for city council in 48 hours, 48 hours later, you kind of sit back, you say, What have I done? What if I embarrass myself or buy it? What if I embarrass my family? What if I What if I alienate friends, when I'm making decisions at city hall that I believe are in the best interests of the city, but they're looking on saying, Well, I don't like that decision. You know, what becomes of that. And so that fear of a fear of failure, that fear of failing to win, really, the only thing that took that away, was knocking on doors and getting in touch with people and connecting with people. And over time, that fear of failure started building into some momentum. And you started seeing people pop up positive news stories on Facebook or on Twitter or on Instagram, they start saying nice things about you. Oh, I met Dan Gibson tonight. And like those things start building and the motive and sort of the momentum starts building that was literally my favorite part of the of the election when loser draw, just knowing that I'd made those connections with people that I still, you know, I bumped into them at the grocery store. And those connections were a highlight to running. Yeah, regardless of the wind, obviously, the wind was pretty was pretty special, too. But through the I was trying to learn things through every process I go through and that was a that was a special thing. That was a special moment.
Darren Anderson 09:48
When it sounds like those connections are things that you've also been able to continue to build on as you've served your community as a councillor which is got a got to feel really good as well. So you know, just kind of drawing on that. Little bit. I mean, you mentioned the time commitment when you were running, how do you manage your demands on your time today? You've been a councillor for a while. But what does it look like given that you have a full time job in and you're also a councillor, and you
Dan Gibson 10:13
guys are just pushing on those perfect buttons right now. So it's a challenge, I say to anybody know what you're getting into. Time management is critical. So as I mentioned to you, up until about 40 minutes ago, I was homeschooling staying on top of email, staying on top of meetings getting and then had half an hour to prepare for this call, but you know, living through your schedule committed, being committed to your schedule, and then putting things in their appropriate box. And it this is a struggle for a lot of political politicians, it really is because to put the political office into its appropriate box and give it the time it needs, but don't give it your entire life. When you don't, when you put it in with limitations and boundaries, you have time for the rest of your life, and you're not seeing the rest of your life being eroded. And so I have, I think I successfully I give my day job, it's time. You know, when that time clock comes, unless it's something really an emergency, I tried to put it into its box, I'll see you tomorrow. With council, it's the same thing you put in your time you put in the route with a work requirement, you ask your questions of staff, you build your consensus with your colleagues, you put that time in, but I kind of thought of something on the weekend because of my phone rang a few times on Sunday. And I almost wanted to put like a Sunday message up on my phone saying, you know, I am a million times more a dad than a councillor, and I am 999,000 times more husband that I am a councillor. So I'm sorry, I'm not getting back to you on Sundays. Like that's, that's just a boundary that I've put in place, I think people have come to respect it. And I just think that most people understand that my life is my life has to be a little bit more than just the office I'm serving for the time.
Darren Anderson 12:02
But and presumably, that helps you be I mean, helps you both be a better father, a better husband, and also be a better councillor to be able to maintain that balance, and always stay with a kind of positive outlook on the different things that you're working on.
Dan Gibson 12:17
I agree. And maybe I'll just bring it back to stem a little bit, you know, as STEM professionals, you'll know in university, our workloads through the roof, right. So if you're not, if you're not maintaining expectations, you're starting to let people down. And so when I when I take on a new challenge, like council, I really did try my best to set expectations appropriately, it takes a little bit of time to balance that out, obviously, you know, with a wife and two kids, that takes time to balance it when you take on something new. But now that we're into it, I really try and maintain those expectations. So that I'm not, I'm not, not that I'm burning bridges. But I'm not I'm not missing expectations of what people expect of me.
Darren Anderson 12:59
Now, that makes a lot of sense. So you mentioned stem training. So I'd be interested, how has your stem training influenced your work as a councillor now that you've been elected?
Dan Gibson 13:09
Right? So I credit my stem training a lot with some of the convictions that I bring to the office. So the analytical aspect of engineering and science, you know, I'm a natural scientist, I studied ecology and environmental science at university. So really looking at evidence based, evidence based decision and evidence, a weighted evidence approach, when you're making decisions. That sort of foundational piece is a really important part of politics. It allows you to make decisions and stand by your convictions because you believe that the evidence suggests this. I think a lot of politics is influenced, unfortunately. So a lot of it is there's a political influence that happens when you're representing a community provincially. And federally, a lot of that comes into politics, but I believe if you have strength of your convictions, based on something that you believe is firm, you're in a good place. The piece that they don't teach you in STEM is the interpersonal, the relationship building those soft skills that are so crucial to maintaining good relationships and getting things done building consensus, and just sort of the soft, sort of, I always think of politics as you make a decision. What happens to dominoes downstream, so what happens two degrees downstream of that decision? So who are you Who are you alienating? Or who are you making angry with that decision that you're not aware of at the beginning so you know, the easiest one to pick on and I don't mean to do this, but these is the you know, the science around environmental science and climate science. We all see the evidence and we all know what those evidence that evidence is. We have to make decisions with that as our firm, sort of conscious, firm foundation. On top of that, however, as You know, there's social impacts, there's social outfall, there's economic impact. So all those things come in after the fact, once you've got your conviction set, and those sort of pieces, as a scientist, quite often we have to get layered on and realize that, you know, if I make this decision today, this auto manufacturer is leaving, you know, this, this company is going to close the stores, I'm going to lose 500 jobs, you know, middle class jobs, we're gonna lose 5000, middle class jobs, those are the sort of soft skill decision process that you know, when that when that data comes out, as we kind of pray for wisdom, right? Because it is, is very hard. Your convictions are one thing, and then you layer on those other pieces of the decision. And, and, anyway, stem has served me well, from that perspective is having that strength of conviction.
Chris Caputo 15:49
You know, you highlight your convictions as a stem trained professional. How would you? Or how would having more stem trained elected officials impacting our political system? And how decisions get made as I presume you may be one of just a few and in your council, but what if there were more?
Dan Gibson 16:10
Yeah. So I don't mean to pick on anyone who's not a stem trained politician. But I will say that, you know, strength is strength of conviction means a lot to in politics, I really do believe that I am, anyone who's going into politics, assuming that they're going to be in politics forever, is, is probably a bad presumption from the outset. Because really, what we need is, is we need more conviction, we need people who are willing to win or lose on their convictions. And when your time is up, your time is up, unfortunately. And, and so having more people with sort of that baseline understanding of, I shouldn't say baseline, extending the baseline training, of evidence based decision making, and then understanding that maybe I'll go back one step here. One of the goals that I've had from the beginning, I'll bring it into a personal, a personal reflection rather than a group reflection. Okay, stop cut, we'll start over. I'm kidding. The, maybe Yeah, a personal reflection when it comes to stem training is that that personal conviction that rubs off on people. So when you are making decisions that are shown to be systematic in their approach, and you come to a decision, you can literally turn to people in the community and say, you know, I hope, if you don't appreciate or respect my decision, at least, you can respect my process. And, and really over time, you know, I have I have, I believe I have supporters from a very wide spectrum of, of politics. And in, I'd like to think that even when they don't agree with me, they can respect my approach respect my arguments in respect my decision making, maybe a great example of this is a huge decision our community made just a few months ago, around a library downtown. So originally, you know, the library was set to be about $42 million, that that grew to 67, settled in at 62. And there were a lot of pressures from people to say, if you don't support this, you don't support libraries. And when I came to my final decision, I walked people through my process. And I had a lot of people that didn't appreciate the fact that I did not support $67 million for a new library. But at the end of the day, after the battle was fought, and the vote was taken, and we were all moving on as a city, I had people reach out to me saying, Dan, I didn't agree with your vote, but boy that I ever agree with your process. You know, I'm happy you lost, but I've gained a new, I have a new respect. You know, thank you for your positive dialogue. Thank you for the way you engaged on this. Move on, let's build a library. And that type of I think that type of understanding of process and trust, you're working on that trust level with your community, that even if they don't agree with you, they're going to respect your process. And I I'm hoping we'll see. But I'm hoping that leads to a bit more longevity in politics, too, that you can agree to disagree, and that your relationship can get past disagreements. A lot of the times with, say this more career oriented politicians, it's more, what is the most what is the most popular decision at the moment at the time and input that I don't believe that leads to longevity? I really don't.
Chris Caputo 19:37
Yeah, the idea of applying the rigorous kind of decision making process and outlining all the evidence is very scientific. And it's, it's great to hear that, you know, the feedback from the community is very positive on that.
Dan Gibson 19:50
Right. Yeah, you can make decisions. That's right.
Chris Caputo 19:54
On that note, I guess the follow up question to that is in your opinion, how do you I think we can engage more scientists and engineers in politics in general.
Dan Gibson 20:06
It's a great question. I'm not gonna say anything about the generals, the standard engineer, the standard scientists, because you really, there's a very diverse personalities there as well. If you have an interest in serving in your community, beyond your, your household, so if you're, if you're coaching sports, if you're coaching dance, if you're coaching piano, or you're teaching lessons, or you're involved in that community, just if that is something that motivates you, and it gives you some sort of fulfillment, just keep following that path. Keep walking down the hallway, walk through every door that gets opened, I wouldn't suggest waking up one morning and deciding I'm going to run for council like that, it's a big step. And unless you have some real supports around you, it's a very difficult task to take on. But again, if you are motivated, by connecting with your community, those are types of things that sort of lead you towards running for a municipal or provincial or federal seat. So if your background is in science, I would encourage you to or in engineering, I would encourage you to take a good hard look at it. Because we do need sound decision making strong evidence based decision making. That is that will stand through that sort of strength of conviction to make the good to make the good decisions. And then allow those sort of connections with your community sort of soften your soften your lenses and see all the different ramifications of decision making, that can really start molding you into a terrific decision maker. And really, you are you're representing the community, but you are you're making decisions and good batter or are ugly. And our guests
Darren Anderson 21:52
so far have pretty consistently said when we've asked them that question that I mean, the Canadian political system, and the opportunities to engage in a spirit of public service are really pretty accessible. Here in Canada, they are not true everywhere. But it certainly seems is true here. And so everyone is given us some variety of that message about go out and get involved in your community in some way and try it on for size, see if it's something that you enjoy. And that motivates you and formed part of that core of who you want to be or who you are. And if it does, then it's something that you can really pursue. I agree when you hear the stories about provincial or federal politicians, they come they come from all walks of life, there's no oligarchy, or there's no sort of ruling class in this country. They can be anybody that steps forward. And the stories that you hear about personal stories or backgrounds is is terrific. It's a it's a good nod to our Canadian political system where it really is a representative government. Yeah, that's awesome. So turning your attention a little bit to your to what being a councillor looks like. So what do you what is your day to day look like? What do you spend your time on?
Dan Gibson 23:05
Good question. So, in a week, where we have a meeting, I will put time in studying my reports, getting in touch with staff if need be calling other councillors seeing where they sit on things. Speaking to the mayor a fair bit, the mayor is a I would call him a close friend. So just again, understanding the business of the city, what's going on, your email boxes always filling up. So I have a development application, a few blocks away from my house that I didn't see as a huge hot button issue. But in the last week and a half, I've probably had four dozen people individually call or write me expressing concerns about that development. So that's going to take some time. I've got my questions written out and I'm ready to go next week. But the day to day, I would say People sometimes ask me, what's your time commitment for council, and I would say probably about 15 to 20 hours a week is on average, a lot of that time is spent on the phone. So I spent in to my commute earlier today. So my afternoon commute is quite oftentimes, you know, Bluetooth, talking to people on the way home getting that out of the way. And then when the kids go down if I need to respond to some email or, or sort of digest the report. That's what I'm doing. On Saturdays, I really try to take the time away and just be in the community. So if I used to say to my wife, we're going to try and do for community events a month. At this point, my community events, our hockey rink, hockey rink, baseball, Diamond, and baseball, to kids and everything. But you know, just being out in the community and then on Sundays, obviously I try and shut things down and just recharge for Monday.
Darren Anderson 24:49
Okay, well this has been this has been really interesting. We want to turn it over to you a little bit and ask you if there's something that you're excited about either local initiative or something going on. The eastern part of that you want to highlight to our politics, curious listeners?
Dan Gibson 25:05
Yeah, that's a great question. And he may have it, you may get a different question from, you know, upper levels of government at the municipal level. I, the same things that motivated me six years ago, seven years ago are still motivated me today. So through this year's budget process, I was able to get some money accounted for, for splashpad at a park, a few blocks away. Again, geography in the city is what it is, we've got massive amounts of growth here in the east end of the city, but we don't have a lot of the amenities that the rest of the city has. So just getting that sort of design work into the budget, I'm really excited for the families and community out here just to have that sort of attraction in this idea of the city. The second piece, again, not not a lot of glitz and glam, but we have one of the worst roads, in my ward, York road, a top five every year ca wrote rated for in terms of condition. In 2014, I ran on getting that rebuilt. And now finally, we're starting to see phase one and phase two being reconstructed in the downtown and making its way out to this end of the city. So again, the same things that sort of motivated me before, these are things that people care about they do they you know, if the garbage gets missed, they want to know that the city's coming back to pick it up. If their street hasn't been plowed in 48 hours, they'd like to know where the plow is. Those are things that, that when you when you sit on the front door, and you sort of get away from the rigmarole of policymaking at City Hall, those things that really matters to people. And it really, you know, it sets you in good standing, to make decisions on their behalf when you're taking care of those small things for them as well.
Darren Anderson 26:49
The fact that these things are so tangible is gonna make it very rewarding to be seeing progress made on them.
Dan Gibson 26:55
Absolutely. When a crosswalk goes in, I get a photo, like I don't do a ribbon cutting, I'm not that bad. But I'll put a photo up and say, you know what we heard you and I were listening, and we're trying to work for these things. Those are really important issues for people. Even when a new asphalt layer goes down or a new bike lanes or something goes in that special in the neighborhood, you make sure that you you remind people that that's what we're working towards. That's what and you're hearing their concerns, and you're getting them done. So. Yeah. But again, I think that that is probably a huge motivation for me is just getting things done for people.
Chris Caputo 27:32
Awesome. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Dan, for that. And your insights have been quite revealing, especially given this is the first municipal discussion we've had. So thank you, no problem. I want to zoom out a little bit for the last segment and really go to more high level policy for this. Where's the most important piece of science and politics, you know, over the next 50 years?
Dan Gibson 27:57
Oh, great question. I think if we're relying on if we're relying on status quo, in terms of our standard of living in this country, we really do need to embrace technology. And we do really need to do to embrace the idea of, you know, Science, Science, and Technology kind of got us into this problem in science and technology to kind of going to get us out of it. If you believe in the status quo, I don't know that that's the accepted theory anymore. I'd like to believe that my children's lives are going to be better than mine, if not, from a materialism perspective, from an overall health and well being perspective. And so embracing the idea of technology, technological supports, not turning your backs on them, but embracing them, I think is an important is an important understanding and acknowledgement in society that, you know, you can speak about, well, anything that you touch on when it comes to population growth, or, or immigration, there's immediate labels placed on the whole conversation. And so we just have to be, again, self self. atonement, self attainments, self direction in life, is really what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms sort of speaks to. I think, if we're marrying scientific technology with that, I think that will be I think that will be fine.
Darren Anderson 29:18
It's funny, Dan, that you mentioned that because, you know, I've done a little bit of reflecting over what motivates me and what's exciting for me and what gets me up. And what makes me want to contribute to organizations like like stem or what I do for my day job. And really what it comes down to is, I believe science kind of writ broadly, science and technology has been a good thing. And to your point, it's meant that our generation has so many more opportunities available to us than we did 100 years ago, and I want to see science be able to continue to make that contribution to society.
Dan Gibson 29:53
I agree. And again, I'll bring it back. even further, I mean, 100 years ago. I have like a small, sort of, I have a small surgery that I'm waiting on COVID is impacting that surgery, it's not overly health related. It's just a very small elective surgery that I probably need to get done 100 years ago, I would just be with me for the rest of my life with besides technology that's going to repair my body. And, and it's going to be something that probably gives me you know, if you projected over the course of a lifetime may allow me to live another 15 years. So it's those are the types of things I mean, longevity and life expectancy are a great dictator of how science and technology have really helped us along the way. So
Darren Anderson 30:41
it's good Awesome.
Darren Anderson 30:43
you Dan, for spending time with us today on periodically political It was a pleasure and we really appreciate the insight you've given our politics curious listeners.
Dan Gibson 30:52
Sure. I love the name by the way periodically political. That's terrific.
Darren Anderson 30:56
Dan Gibson 30:56
I happen to be periodical political to so thanks so much for having me.
Darren Anderson 31:02
It was our pleasure. And for our listeners. If you'd like this episode, we encourage you to rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts really helps new listeners. Discover the show