Brockville Ontario — Leigh Bursey was elected as a Brockville City Councillor in 2010 at the age of 23. Bursey hosts a civic affairs cable access show on TVCogeco Brockville called Critical Thinking where he interviews people and talks about community and politics. Bursey is also a published author, musician, concert promoter, and volunteer coordinator at the Volunteer Centre of St. Lawrence-Rideau, which expanded it’s services to the Cornwall area just last year.
Leigh Bursey answers five questions for the Seeker. This interview was conducted by Jason Setnyk.
1. What was it like running for City Council at such a young age? What is the biggest lesson you have learned participating in municipal politics?
It’s a surreal experience running against local business leaders, philanthropists, professionals, and folks two and three times your age. It’s hard not to feel inferior at the onset, but once I started knocking on doors and seeing first hand the respect and warmth citizens show to a young person excited to serve their community, it becomes addictive. There is no feeling in the world like it. I’ve been involved in an election to some capacity each year since. The biggest lesson I have learned in municipal politics is that sometimes the biggest difference you can make is not actually in the council chambers. I am now able to add weight to projects which I could not before. When your name carries merit, you can affect change throughout your community by more than just a vote. I would caution folks to be wise in picking their battles though.
2. You are an artist, and a municipal politician. How important is arts and culture for economic development in Brockville?
The creative arts economy is crucial to a community’s cultural development. If we nurture our arts (which I believe Brockville is indeed doing with the advent of an arts council, a fantastic music theatre program at our local college, a variety of performance opportunities, and venues, etc.) then over time we will reap great rewards economically and culturally through tourism, empowerment, and critical thought.
3. What has been the biggest accomplishment for the municipality, and what has been the greatest challenge for Brockville during this term?
I don’t know if I could answer that with any authority. I know since I’ve been involved, I believe we have become a more inclusive community. And I believe that our youth have a stronger voice now than they probably had before. But to some I am sure savings through an internal service delivery review or passing of an official plan may be the highlights, for others it would be a renewed interest in local developments, for others our sustainability plan. For me, I am excited that we have the lowest vacancy rate downtown that we have had in many, many years. Youth have more affordable options for play than ever before. And we are a united council, and much less divisive than past councils have been. The greatest challenge for a small community in south-eastern Ontario is always the economy. That problem is not specific to Brockville in the least. Our young people are leaving for greener pastures. As long as our economy is unbalanced and we see stagnant growth, we will eventually see that stagnant growth is not really growth at all. And in fact, if you’re not growing then you are shrinking.
4. Tell us about your television show and how people here in Cornwall could watch it?
Critical Thinking isn’t available in Cornwall yet. Maybe some day. But you can check out clips on YouTube. Now in it’s third season, it has just been picked up in Smiths Falls and Lanark. The program is a half hour weekly civic affairs and cultural talk show which has included Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, interim Liberal Party of Canada leader and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae. We’ve featured Justin Trudeau three times. Liberals Martha Hall Findlay and Gerard Kennedy, New Democrat MPs Romeo Saganash and Joe Coemartin, a variety of local advocates, activists and municipal politicians, and even former World Championship Wrestling world champion “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner who scared the hell out of me. The program continues to provide a unique outlet for area musicians and service groups. And it has become one of the gems of my adult life.
5. Do you have plans for a new book or new album?
I am always writing and making music. But I can’t say that either are top priorities for me right now. Between Critical Thinking, board positions on the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association and PFLAG Canada, municipal politics and the Brockville Youth Advisory Committee, and my job as a volunteer coordinator and youth engagement facilitator, I’m pretty busy. I would encourage people to check out the Volunteer Centre and all we have to offer though. It only takes one person to change the world! Visit: www.volunteercentre.ca
Thank you for your time Leigh, we here at the Seeker wish you all the best.