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Four challenge Holmes in Somerset ward

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By Hanna Lange-Chenier, Centretown News

Though municipal elections are months away, candidates for Somerset ward are already in campaign mode. Denis Schryburt, Thomas McVeigh, Lili Weeman and Martin Canning have all filed nomination papers to put them in the running for the council spot currently held by incumbent and long-term councillor Diane Holmes, who filed nomination papers last week.

Both Schryburt and Canning say it is time for fresh, new leadership in Centretown.

“I think people just need to connect with someone new,” says Schryburt, a federal public servant at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “I’m a strong believer in not making politics a career, so if I’m lucky enough to be elected, I wouldn’t do more than two terms.”

As a former president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association and a member of the Ottawa Police Service GLBT liaison team, Schryburt says his focus is to make Centretown a vibrant, healthy community for citizens and businesses.

“I think Somerset ward is a great place to live, and I think it can be even better,” he says. “I want to make it more pedestrian and cycling friendly, that’s very important. Get people out, get people shopping, going to the parks, and so on.”

Canning, a local consultant and former member of the city’s environmental advisory committee, says his campaign will focus on sustainability in the downtown core. “Climate change planning in the city of Ottawa is very close to me and very important to me,” he says.

Canning says Centretown residents want to focus on a green future for the city. “The people that live in downtown Ottawa want political leadership that can lead and communicate and organize with them around that vision of urban sustainability.”

The other two challengers could not be reached by press time.

Affordable housing will be a key issue, says municipal politics expert Katherine Graham, a public policy professor at Carleton University. “Centretown is a very diverse ward in terms of the background of people there, and diverse in terms of income.”

Canning agrees there will be a lot of conversation around making downtown affordable.

“We want to make sure that students, that young professionals, that families, can all afford to work, live, and play in downtown Ottawa,” he says.

Schryburt says he’s pro-development when it’s done right. “I think we can do some good, smart development in the ward that we could bring in some good-looking buildings,” he says.

Both candidates emphasized the importance of engaging citizens in policy decisions.

“I think we need more public engagement and more consultations with the residents of the ward, especially on big-ticket items,” says Schryburt. “Definitely get people together to discuss the issues that are at hand, or the concerns that they may have.”

Canning also says he will ensure  those viewpoints are brought to council. “I think you’re going to see a lot of policy conversation around new forms of partnerships and governance in the city.”

Running against Holmes will be a challenge for her opponents, says Graham.

Holmes has represented Somerset ward on city council since 2003, winning over 60 per cent of the vote in each election.

“There is a lot of advantage to incumbency in municipal politics. And she’s certainly well known in the ward and well known in the city,” says Graham.

However, she says that the influx of candidates challenging Holmes is in response to ever-present concerns about the future in the ward.

Holmes did not respond to the request for an interview.

Graham says that with high rates of resident turnover in Centretown, it could prove to be a challenge to Holmes’ long-standing political support.

“With that influx of newcomers into the ward who are living in different circumstances, (if she) will retain her political base in the ward is an open question.”