To put it politely, council’s inaugural meeting will no doubt be the least eventful gathering the city’s new political leaders will have over the course of the next four years.
However, to the more than 700 people who filled the London Convention Centre for the meeting on Dec. 1, it represented something much more.
The inaugural, a mostly ceremonial endeavour, was filled with not only family and friends of the councillors, but also political veterans — such as past mayors Jane Bigelow (1972–1978), Dianne Haskett (1995–2000), Anne Marie DeCicco-Best (2000–2010) and Joni Baechler (2014) — community leaders, campaign supporters and numerous city staffers.
There was also greetings brought by numerous MPs and MPPs, including London North Centre MPP and Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews who said the province is committed to working with the new council. Matthews also stepped up to become the first person to name the new council, a group she pegged — perhaps with clairvoyance — as The Young and the Restless.
The first to take the oath of office was Mayor Matt Brown, who was then followed by each member of the new council. In past years, the oaths were taken in unison, but in perhaps speaking to the significance of the evening, each councillor was given their own opportunity to swear allegiance to what Brown called in his own moment, “the great city of London.”
Following the declarations of office, Brown delivered an inaugural address that while thin of many details, spoke to one priority in particular he committed to delivering within the first 100 days of taking office.
“We will also be working on a strategic plan that will reflect the hopes and expectations you shared with us over the past many months,” Brown said. “This plan will direct our work. This plan will be something we can rally around. It will focus on the big ideas and guide us through the next four years in office as we move this community forward.”
Following the meeting, the crowd joined with council in a short reception where several members reflected on the significance of the evening and the challenges that lie ahead.
Ward 4 Councillor Jesse Helmer said he felt “a sense of excitement and relief” around finally, officially, being a councillor.
Helmer also acknowledged the message he was being sent by the 700-plus people who showed the meeting.
“Subject-matter wise, this is possible the most boring council meeting you will ever see. It is the same thing over and over again with different inflection and somewhat better or worse enunciation,” Helmer said. “But people turned out for that because they're excited about what is possible in the city. I share that kind of optimism and hope for the future.”
Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner said he was “overwhelmed” by the spirit of dedication shown by the crowd, as it speaks to what all the candidates spoke to during the campaign.
“I think all of our campaigns were about community,” Turner said. “When you look at everyone across the board, there were so many grassroots campaigns and that is what this is.”
Ward 1 Councillor Michael van Holst said he was feeling pretty good about being an official councillor. He also said the turnout for “London’s largest council meeting ever” shows the public is just as excited for the future as the council is.
Although van Holst said there was no need to rush into things, council wasn’t going to waste any time either.
Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher, who was attending his fifth inauguration, said this one felt special.
Typically, Usher said, the inaugural meeting sees 90-100 people sitting in the council gallery, mostly friends and family of the councillors. However, this meeting was “special” because many in attendance took the moment personally.
“You know they came here because they wanted to experience this. They felt it was for them. And I felt that too, as I was making that oath, I felt I was delivering it to them,” Usher said. “You could hear the applause for each and every one of us and I think it was a great thing.”