'Old Grey Mayors' Podcast with Rob Deutschmann and Guest Brenda Halloran

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Old Grey Mayors is a bit misleading as a podcast title. Only the host Rob Deutschmann is always old, grey and a mayor – the guests are varied! The podcast features Rob sitting down and talking with community and civic leaders, and other community members who’ve made a lasting impact on life in the Region.

He explores their stories, how they got where they did, what changes they’ve made, lessons they’ve learned and how we can apply all of that to the issues we face today. Rob and his guests have discussed everything from gravel pits to chairing the Region for 25 years.

Brenda Halloran, perhaps best known as former Mayor of the City of Waterloo, sat down with Rob in December to discuss how her life experiences drove her to run for mayor and influenced her guiding principle of listening to the community and allowing citizen opinions to guide political decision making.

Brenda began her life in Waterloo and trained as nurse at Conestoga College. Her career took her to Florida and back, settling as a single mother in Kitchener, then finally back to her hometown Waterloo. She has worked as a nurse, for the Canada Revenue Service as a dispute resolution advisor and mediator, she was a mayor for two terms, and today runs her own consulting firm focusing on businesses conflict management and leadership coaching. She is active on countless Boards including Start-Up Canada, and many community groups. Her focus is community engagement, encouraging entrepreneurial efforts, and women.

Brenda began her ‘career’ in public engagement early on. When she moved to Kitchener, she settled in the Ralgreen Crescent area. It was the long and costly battle that she fought first with the municipality then the bank that made her wish government worked for individuals not against them. Her Ralgreen Crescent home had been built on a former toxic waste garbage dump and she and her neighbours had toxic gas and water in their basements and yards. She became the group’s spokesperson. They needed help. As time passed, she became enraged at the attitude of secrecy, double standards, and lack of integrity being shown by government. After years of fighting for help then launching a lawsuit, some of her neighbours were finally offered financial settlements but she was not.

Brenda eventually was forced to abandon her home and move back to Waterloo with her parents. Her now worthless and contaminated home was put up for power of sale and the bank sued her. She fought the bank alone in court and litigation went on for years. This experience steeled her nerve and informed her decision to run for mayor in her hometown. She didn’t want anyone else to be treated the way she had been by government. Until she lost her home, she had lived under the illusion that the government existed to help citizens, and to treat them well and fairly on a personal level.

Brenda was passionate in her belief things needed to change and she ran for mayor. During her campaign she rang thousands of doorbells. She had a budget that was a small fraction of her opponents. She knew that the time had come for change and that she could be the change. She listened to people and what their real concerns were. Brenda didn’t hear anyone else talking about environment or social justice issues. The citizens were. She won the election with 50% of the vote.

Now she got to work to change the system. Big issues and small issues, she listened to the citizens. On matters that she thought were too big for council to determine alone (RIM Park, fluoridation of water) she pushed for referendums. Brenda firmly believes that it isn’t up to government and a small group of elected individuals to make all the decisions. She has a passion for letting people have their choice believing that politicians have a duty not only to listen to people but to act in a manner consistent with what they want. Brenda thinks that our cynical belief that politicians do what they want comes directly from politicians’ lack of attention to what people want and the knowledge they hold. 

Rob and Brenda explore a wide range of issues in the podcast. It’s worth looking it up and having a listen to how she shaped Waterloo of today, and what lessons were learned. You can listen to all the podcasts online by searching for Old Grey Mayors and pressing play. Here is the link to the interview with Brenda Halloran.