Redman ramping up for new role as chair of regional council

Currently a regional councillor, Karen Redman takes the chair when a new group is sworn in next month. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

When a new council is sworn in next month, Waterloo Region will have a new chair for the first time in more than three decades. Karen Redman handily won the race to replace Ken Seiling, who retires at the end of this term.

Redman amassed 62 per cent of the total votes, beating out lawyer and former North Dumfries mayor Robert Deutschmann, who had approximately 19 per cent,  followed by business executive Jan d’Ailly with around 10 per cent, and then business owner Jay Aissa with nine per cent.

“I was very gratified to see that I had support throughout the region,” said Redman of the election results. “Because I think all parts of the region are very important. We worked hard and had a great team; it’s a nice result, and definitely a reflection of how hard we worked.”

Redman identified the protection of the countryside line, a boundary that protects farmland from the pressures of urban sprawl, as a key issue for the region’s rural townships. Her other focus issues include pushing the province for all-day GO Transit service and a solutions to the opioid crisis.

“I’d like to continue to be progressive as we look to the future because it’s a very changing landscape,” said Redman. “Attracting investment, talent and manufacturing will continue to be a competition for Waterloo Region to shine in.”

Yet to be sworn in as chair, Redman continues just now in her role as a regional councillor, meeting with her colleagues to prepare for next month’s transition.

Seiling chose to retire this year, after serving as regional chair for 33 years. He has seen, and participated in, plenty of changes to the region in that time, such as the integration of the “no smoking” ban in public places, creating a Waterloo Regional Arts Fund that supports artistic individuals and groups, and large-scale population growth.

“I think we’re maintaining a lot of what has always been important and essential for the people of this region,” said Seiling. “At the same time, I think we’re managing the growth that’s taking place. I think by and large the community still has the feel it had many years ago – of connectedness, community work, and knowing people.”

He admits that managing the demand for affordable housing is a real challenge, as there is constantly a need for it. Overall, he is optimistic about the future of the Waterloo Region.

“I have great confidence in Karen to carry on,” said Seiling. “She has lots of experience, both locally and federally. We also have a pretty strong regional council right now. I think that a new chair who has been on council, and a council that has some new blood but lots of continuity, I think that bodes well.”

Indeed, there will be new faces joining the regional council next month following the results of the municipal election, such as new Cambridge mayor in Kathryn McGarry.

The new council will also be mixed with familiar members, including incumbent Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz and Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak.

“Karen has a collaborative style, and I found her very open to considering the needs of the townships. For example, she supported the roundabout in Wellesley,” said Shantz of an example where support from urban councillors helped override staff opposition to rural intersection improvements.

Citing that example, Nowak pointed out other occasions where Redman supported rural issues.

“As CEO for Habitat for Humanity, she was instrumental in bringing the first Habitat build to Wellesley Township,” said Nowak. “Her dedication to that cause was obvious, and her ability to work with community members in bringing that project to fruition is, I think, a good indication of how she will manage the affairs of Waterloo Region with compassion and dedication.”

Redman brings decades of political experience to the table, having previously served as a member of Parliament for Kitchener Centre, a Kitchener city councillor, and regional councillor.

Aside from political roles, Redman most recently served as CEO for Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region for seven years and chair of the Independent Living Centre board.  She has a degree in English and a master’s degree in political science.

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