Much has already been said about the large number of candidates running for Council in next week’s Ward 12 by-election. Choosing from 31 names is certainly daunting, but fortunately there are some quality candidates to consider. Irfan Chaudhry has run a solid campaign and would bring a strong focus on diversity and inclusion to Council. I continue to be impressed by Lincoln Ho‘s passion for Edmonton and his thoughtful ideas. Moe Banga would bring solid credentials in addressing crime & safety. But there’s one candidate who I believe stands out as the right choice for Ward 12. And that’s Danisha Bhaloo.
After receiving her BA in Criminology from the University of Alberta, Danisha went on to become Alberta’s youngest Probation Officer. She made the move to the not-for-profit sector shortly thereafter and for the last few years has been the Manager of Fund Development with Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton. BGCBigs is an organization Danisha has a lot of history with. “My teenage years were difficult,” she wrote in 2013, but thankfully her mother enrolled her in the Big Sisters program. Danisha credits the experience with helping her overcome the challenges she was facing at the time.
Danisha’s experience has fueled her committment to improving the lives of Edmonton’s children and families ever since. I first got to know Danisha when she was the President of the Youth Restorative Action Project and Director of the Inner City Children’s Project. I found her to be very driven and compassionate. She has continued to make important community contributions in the years since, joining the Edmonton John Howard Society board, the Edmonton Opera board, and the University of Alberta Senate, among many others. The common thread throughout her work has been a focus on community and ensuring others have the support and opportunities they need to lead happy, healthy lives here in Edmonton.
Along the way, Danisha has earned a number of awards and honors. In 2009 she was chosen to receive the Distinguished Nominee for the Ron Wiebe Restorative Justice Award by Correctional Services of Canada. She was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 and one of Edmonton’s Sizzling 20 under 30 in 2013. And in 2014 she recieved the Alumni Horizon Award recognizing “the outstanding achievements of University of Alberta alumni early in their careers.” This is just a small snapshot of the recognition she has received.
“My life, both professionally and personally, centers around improving the lives of children and families in our community. That’s what keeps me motivated,” she said in a 2014 interview.
I think Danisha has run a solid campaign. She has heard from residents about the need for crime prevention and community safety and she understands that different parts of the ward experience these issues differently. Danisha is supportive of building LRT and of ensuring that Ward 12 has great connections to the Valley Line. She’d also like to review DATS and has spoken about the important work of the Transit Strategy review that the City is currently conducting. She views the cultural diversity of Ward 12 as an asset and something to be celebrated. She is supportive of the service review that Council has asked for, but understands the need for balance.
I really like Danisha’s position on public engagement and the fact that she has joined one of the working groups as part of the Council Initiative on Public Engagement. “We need to be as diverse in how we connect with Edmontonians to reflect the diversity of Edmontonians themselves,” she wrote in response to my survey on the issue.
Her position on women’s issues is also encouraging. She agrees with many of us who feel that we need more women in leadership positions throughout the city and her approach to achieving that is focused on mentorship and leadership. “I will look for ways to ensure we are asking the tough questions of ourselves for the agencies and boards to which we appoint Edmontonians,” she responded, “where we have opportunities in the City to mentor strong female leaders, and set a good example of leadership on this issue for members and organizations in our community.”
I don’t agree with Danisha on everything. She’s a little more sympathetic to the taxi industry than I am, and I don’t think she’s tough enough on the issue of police spending. But what’s important is that she is able to have a healthy, constructive debate about these and other issues. Danisha is open to new ideas and information, and she’s willing to consider alternative perspectives. These are important skills and attributes that any City Councillor needs to have in order to work collaboratively to get things done for Edmontonians.
It’s true that Danisha does not live in Ward 12. She did grow up in the ward and does still own property there, however. I asked Danisha about this and her position was that the ward is very diverse, so living in one neighbourhood doesn’t mean you automatically understand the needs and challenges of the others. Whether you live in the ward or not, you’re going to have to work hard to represent your constituents effectively. My preference is definitely for a Councillor to live in the ward that he or she represents, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. What’s more important is, can they do the job and are they willing to put in the work? I think the answer for Danisha is a clear yes.
I believe Danisha is in this race for the right reasons. She’s running to contribute to her community and to help move Edmonton forward. The reason that Danisha was first to announce her candidacy was because this is not a decision she made on a whim. This is not just a stepping stone for her. This is a logical step forward in a career built on public service.
I do think increasing the cultural and gender diversity of City Council would be a good thing, but I don’t believe we should accept candidates less suited to the role just to achieve that. Fortunately with Danisha, that’s not an issue.
Amarjeet Sohi represented Ward 12 very effectively during his time on Council. He brought important leadership and perspective to the table, both for his constituents and for all Edmontonians. No candidate should seek to fill his shoes, but should instead bring their own ideas, strengths, and abilities to the table. I know that Danisha will do all of that and that Ward 12 residents would be very well represented if they chose her as their Councillor. I also know that like Amarjeet Sohi, Danisha will consider the bigger picture in serving as a member of City Council.
If I were voting in Monday’s election, I’d be voting for Danisha Bhaloo.