I was sworn in as the city councillor for Ward 4 on 1 December 2014 and I'm serving my first term on city council. In addition to serving on city council, I'm a consultant at Groundforce Digital, a company that designs and produces web sites and trains people how to use digital tools effectively.
As a city councillor representing Ward 4, my job has several distinct aspects:
- Legislator: along with my colleagues, and with the advice of city staff (provided through reports and at meetings) and residents (often shared via email or at meetings), we work in standing committees and as a council to consider, debate and pass bylaws regulating a wide range of activity in our city, including, for example, parking, trees, land use planning, taxation, business licensing and animal protection.
- Resource allocator: we work as a council to set the City of London's operating budget ($804,418,000 in 2015) and capital budget ($129,900,000 in 2015) and allocate funding to the various services provided by the city (roads, snow removal, fire and police services, homelessness prevention, affordable housing, parks and recreation, etc). The city also funds agencies, boards and commissions, such as the library, London Transit and the public health unit, and some non-profit organizations.
- Helping residents navigate the bureaucracy at city hall and connect with the right city staff person to resolve issues. Our excellent four-person staff team in the Councillors' Office, which works with all fourteen councillors, does a lot of this work.
- Listening, connecting, advocating and informing: within our wards, the broader city and outside the city, councillors learn a lot about what's happening in the city and play a connecting role between residents and various businesses, nonprofits and other levels of government. Councillors also share information with residents about what's happening at city hall.
As a councillor, I serve on the following committees, boards and commissions (attendance record in %):
- Civic Works (Chair) (96%)
- Planning & Environment (98%)
- Strategic Priorities & Policy (98%)
- London Transit Commission (100%)
- Middlesex-London Health Unit (Chair) (89% board of health; 80% finance & facilities committee; 67% governance committee)
- Lake Huron Primary Ward Board (75%)
- Old East Village BIA (86%)
All of the meetings that I have missed for the health unit and the Old East Village BIA have conflicted with council or committee meetings, primarily because of the more frequent meetings related to the City of London's strategic plan and budget in January and February 2015. I missed three meetings (one planning and environment, one civic works and one Lake Huron water board) during a June 2015 trip to the Canadian Urban Transit Association conference in Winnipeg and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Edmonton. I missed a Lake Huron water board meeting in June 2016 because I was attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Winnipeg.
I also attend meetings of committees of which I am not a member (audit, 73%; community and protective services, 100%; corporate services, 96%).
My overall participation for meetings of council, committees, boards and commissions is 95% (312/329 meetings) as of 31 July 2016. See this Google sheet for details.
Disclosures of pecuniary interest
My company, Groundforce Digital, works with a variety of clients in North America. Some of those clients are in London, so there is a possibility that I will have a pecuniary interest in a matter that comes before city council that affects one of those clients.
My wife, Adina, works at Canada Post. I will declare an indirect pecuniary interest in matters relating to Canada Post that come before city council.
My father, Alan Helmer, was the general manager of South Muskoka Curling & Golf Club in Bracebridge for the first 17 months that I served on council (Dec 2014 - April 2016) and I declared an indirect pecuniary interest in matters relating to the City of London's golf courses during that time period.
Disclosure of expenses
Each councillor has a maximum budget of $15,000 for expenses. Reports on our expenditures are published every three months on the City of London web site.
- Q4 2014: $0 spent of $1,250 budget. See page nine of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
- Q1 2015: $2,649.90 spent of $15,000 budget (17.7%). See page five of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
- Q2 2015: $2,158.17 spent of $15,000 budget (14.4%). See page six of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses. Reduction from Q1 total is primarily a result of a refund from cancelling AMO workshops.
- Q3 2015: $2,892.39 spent of $15,000 budget (19.3%). See page eight of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
Q4 2015: $2,973.75 spent of $15,000 budget (19.9%). See page ten of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
- Q1 2016: $3,799.51 spent of $15,000 budget (25.3%). See page five of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
- Q2 2016: $4,814.40 spent of $15,000 budget (32.0%). See page nine of the consolidated report on all councillors' expenses.
I usually attend the following conferences: Association of Municipalities of Ontario (August), Federation of Canadian Municipalities (June), FCM Sustainable Communities Conference (February), Ontario Good Roads Association (February), and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (May or June).
I usually do not charge per diems, home office internet, tickets to attend community events, or pay for advertising that is self-promotional. I do not claim a travel allowance, as I am able to travel quickly from City Hall to locations in my ward on my bike or on the bus, which is very inexpensive.
Statement of Remuneration
In addition to quarterly disclosure of our office expenses, city staff report annually on the overall remuneration for each councillor. This report includes compensation, benefits and and stipends or expenses paid for as a result of our service on agencies, boards and commissions. Page one of the report for 2015 shows $33,427.91 in compensation (keep in mind that 1/3 of that is not taxable), $10,166.26 in benefits and $1,754.03 in expenses not included in my general expense account (for a tour of rapid transit projects in Ontario and attending the CUTA conference in Winnipeg).
tl;dr: see my LinkedIn profile.
I believe politics can be a force for good in our community. I’ve been involved in politics since I was a teenager as a member of several political parties, as a student journalist covering politics and as an elected student representative. I was honoured to serve as a councillor representing arts co-op students at University of Waterloo, on the board of directors of the student union, on the Senate of the university and as president of the student newspaper. I learned that to be an effective elected representative, you need to be inclusive, transparent, responsive to your constituents and able to disagree respectfully with your fellow representatives (we're not going to agree on everything!). I’ve also worked as a volunteer on local, provincial and national political campaigns.
Curious by nature, I enjoy asking questions, learning about issues and bringing people together to figure out how we can innovate to solve problems. Recently, I led a team of grassroots Liberals who championed the idea of a basic income pilot to dramatically reduce poverty in Canada, reaching out directly to Members of Parliament, policy experts and Canadians more broadly. We were thrilled when the idea was adopted as party policy at the national convention. I also facilitated the Emerging Leaders working group on economic prosperity, which recommended at London X that we invest in a municipal fibre optic network to make affordable high speed internet more widely available to Londoners and to provide an economic advantage to London businesses.
Because I believe that Londoners are experts on their own lives and often have very good ideas on how to make our city a better place to live and work, I started Better London a couple of years ago to provide Londoners with a platform to share their ideas, get their neighbours to contribute, and create a better community and city together. Now in the capable hands of Michael McAlpine, Better London has helped in a small way to support the campaign to Save Lorne Ave, to bring food trucks to London and to encourage people to opt-out of the Yellow Pages.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life, and with the help of my parents, student loans and a bursary, I earned a Master of Public Administration from Queen’s University, where I focused on the non-profit sector and international trade. I then joined the staff of the Loran Scholar program in Toronto, where I worked with a great team of colleagues and volunteers to raise over $20 million from business and community leaders that we invested in hundreds of young Canadians all over the country who demonstrate outstanding character, service and leadership potential.
Through my work and volunteer experience I've helped to develop or overseen budgets ranging from several hundred thousand dollars (student newspaper) to several million dollars (at the scholarship foundation, the student union and on the Senate of the university). I have some experience asking uncomfortable questions about budgets (ask me about the time the now Governor General yelled at me in a Senate meeting).
For over 20 years, my Dad was a branch manager for TD Canada Trust, which meant our family moved every few years to a new community in Ontario. Moving got harder as we all got older and our family eventually settled in Bracebridge, where I attended high school and worked part-time as a crew coordinator at the local McDonald’s and as a cook at Santa’s Village. I spent a lot of time riding my motorcycle, shooting pool and playing golf. These days I’m riding a bicycle, but you’ll still find me on the course at Fanshawe Park or River Road.
It was through volunteering at the student newspaper that I met my wife, Adina, who grew up in London and attended Knollwood Park, Lorne Ave and Central. Adina works as a casual postal clerk at Canada Post. After living in Kitchener-Waterloo, Kingston and Toronto, we moved to London in 2008 to be closer to Adina’s side of the family. We didn’t have a car, so we rented an apartment on Proudfoot Lane to be close to a grocery store and bus routes while staying within cycling distance of the train station. I kept working a couple of days a week in Toronto, so I’ve taken a lot of trips on Via Rail. We bought our first house six years ago in Huron Heights.