Guelph resident highlights accomplishments of David Johnston

Guelph resident highlights accomplishments of David Johnston

Op-Ed written by Guelph resident Michael Strickland:

I’m looking for Guelph’s answer to David Johnston.

To be fair, that’s a bit unfair of me. Few people will ever be named Governor General of Canada. Rarer still is a Harper appointee largely accepted as the best choice by the opposition, national media and other critics. Just ask current Supreme Court appointee, Justice Marc Nadon.

I have no problem admitting I’m a bit of a GG fanboy, though maybe fanman is more appropriate. That’s all too common with people lucky enough to have worked for him; he’d say with him. I was in media relations at the University of Waterloo for his last four years as president, and I sat through many meetings were business executives, elected officials, donors and other leaders were all to happy to offer their support.

Mercury readers will be familiar with some of Waterloo’s community projects. But here are three worth highlighting:

I first heard about Waterloo’s need for a research and technology park while writing an article on economic development in 1996. The first anchor tenant broke ground on the first building of the University of Waterloo R+T Park in 2002, three years after David became UW president. His efforts to develop Waterloo Region’s tech sector were officially recognized in 2011, when the park was renamed after him.

In 2007, the Intelligent Community Forum named the City of Waterloo the World’s Top Intelligent Community. The award is the result of a community-wide effort, led by David, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran and Jim Balsillie, then co-CEO of Research In Motion.

One year earlier, in an address to the Chamber of Commerce, David outlined the 10 goals he thought Waterloo would need to achieve if it wanted to be the knowledge capital of Canada. Some goals were predictable, involving more education and smart tech infrastructure. But he also argued for a reduction in poverty and support for a vibrant culture.

He then challenged Waterloo Region to suggest its own goals and the Record (sister newspaper to this one) offered to run suggestions in a special letters-to-the-editor’s section. I recall reading close to 50 letters in print, online and in private, with only a couple suggesting one or two different goals. Dozens of others endorsed David’s 10.

I’m looking to support the same sort of initiatives in my new community. Having seen the impact of Waterloo’s R&T park, I’m excited by the idea of turning the former Guelph Correctional Centre into an innovation and research hub. I would, likewise, support a community wide initiative – perhaps led by our mayor, the new president of the University of Guelph, and a leading local CEO – to see Guelph recognized for the thing we do best. And I would dearly love to hear from the person in Guelph who could present 10 community goals and receive near unanimous support. Right now, Police Chief Bryan Larkin is my top contender.

We should support and celebrate such leaders, which was His Excellency’s 10th goal. He asked that the region celebrate its collective accomplishments, and proposed a barn builders award, reflective of Waterloo’s Mennonite roots. Today, the Waterloo Region Record Barnraiser Award recognizes an individual or group following the tradition of working collaboratively to effect change without personal gain.

I think Guelph needs its own award, one not tied to barn building, but rather appropriate for our area’s particular strengths. It should reflect some initiative that was or is important to us. My first thought is something related to the Community Wellbeing Initiative, perhaps recognizing a person or group selflessly and effectively working to improve things in one or more of the eight areas (from education and environment to community vitality and time use) that CWI calls domains.

That’s just my two cents worth. Others may well have better ideas. I have no notions about being the same sort of community leader as our current Governor General. I simply lack such illusions of grandeur.

But I do hope to play a small part in making my new community a better place to live, by supporting those who represent the best in community building. And an important first step is identifying the people and projects in Guelph that can inspire us all.

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