City Councillor Jim Neill announced via Twitter and Facebook on Monday, June 15, 2020 that he will not run again in the Williamsville District, hoping to make way for greater diversity on Kingston City Council.
“We need greater gender balance! I’ll support any progressive woman who runs in Williamsville!” his announcement read. Neill elaborated on his statement in an interview with the Kingstonist.
“If you look at Council, does it reflect our community?” he asked. “It’s a lot of old white men like me.” Kingston’s council consists of 12 councillors plus the mayor. Three councillors are women, and no councillor is a member of a visible minority.
“We have a growing Indigenous population in Kingston. We have growing ethnic diversity with more and more people moving to Kingston,” he said.
He noted that previous immigration waves in the 70s, 80s and 90s brought a large number of Eastern Europeans to Kingston. Now, “we’re having a greater number of new Canadians that come from Africa, the Carribean, Asia… Council should reflect the community and I’m not sure that it does,” he said.
Neill said the community response to his announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. “Lots of really really positive comments, and lots of ‘likes.’ I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all of that,” he said.
A few women from different areas of Kingston have already reached out to him to express their interest in running for council and getting his advice. Though technically a part-time job, he said serving council can consume sometimes 35 or 40 hours a week. He said the pay has improved over his years in the position, and that “not every councillor works as much as others.”
In his 16 years on council, spread over nearly two decades, Neill said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented one of the greatest challenges. Neill sits on the public health board as a council representative, which he said takes up a lot of time.
Pre-pandemic, he identifies the climate crisis and affordable housing as some of the greatest challenges facing the city.
“I think we have a really good set of council priorities at this time,” he said. “They’ve been somewhat derailed by the pandemic. Declaring a climate emergency, identifying the need for affordable housing and working towards addressing those [issues], I think those are moving forward.”
He described city councillors as “pothole politicians,” who must deal with small day-to-day tasks on a weekly basis in order to establish themselves with their constituents, and gain the political capital required to make greater change.
“I’m quite proud of the fact that the very first bike lane in Kingston went from main campus to west campus on Union street, and that it was a motion that I took forward back in the 90s. I had to fight like crazy because a lot of people don’t like to lose their parking,” he said.
“I took a lot of flack for pushing [that], but in the end, I think it was the right thing to do. And now, we routinely add bike lanes to our infrastructure. It has just become a given.”
Neill retired from his full-time job as a teacher six years ago. When his term at council ends, he said he plans to spend time with his infant grandson, working on his garden and pursuing his love of photography. He also hopes to visit family on the west coast, when travel restrictions lift.
When asked what advice he would give to his successor, he replied: “We need progressive candidate, that is my political leaning.”
“I think that we need to have representatives that are forward-thinking… and not totally risk-averse. Those are qualities that I appreciate in elected officials,” he said.