Out of the frying pan into the fire: Ian Arthur reflects on a decade of change

Click to play video: 'A look back at 2019 with Ian Arthur' A look back at 2019 with Ian Arthur
Ian Arthur, MPP for Kingston and the Islands, sat down with Julie Brown to reflect on the last year, and talk about his hopes for the year ahead – Dec 24, 2019

As Ian Arthur put it, his life changed overnight on June 7, 2018, when he was elected member of provincial parliament for Kingston and the Islands in Ontario’s election.

Prior to that, the Kingston native worked as executive chef at one of the city’s most popular and well-established restaurants, Chez Piggy.

READ MORE: NDP candidate Ian Arthur wins Kingston and the Islands

After a year and a half in parliament working as the NDP’s environment critic, Arthur is reflecting on the journey that brought him to provincial politics and looking forward to the needs of his region in the upcoming decade, like affordable housing and the climate crisis.

Q: What were you doing in 2010?

A: 2010 was the year that I was really given the opportunity to help run Chez Piggy’s kitchen. The restaurant had just turned 30, whereas I had just celebrated my 25th birthday. While I had already worked there for a number of years, I was very aware of the history of the restaurant. It was a Kingston institution that had earned its reputation while I was just coming into the world. I knew that I had my work cut out for me. Expectations were high and the opportunity for failure was as great as the opportunity for success.

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I had a bit of fortune on my side, though. My mom had worked at Chez Piggy as a server when I was a kid and she had brought home Chez Piggy’s first cookbook. That self-published, little black-and-white book quickly turned into the cornerstone of the kitchen I grew up in. By the time I started at “the Pig,” I already knew so many of the recipes and how to make them. It was a gift I am still thankful for.

Q: How were you hoping things might shape up in your community over the decade?

A: At the beginning of the decade, Kingston was still in a rough spot and slowly recovering from the recession of 2008. I remember going down the main strip on Princess Street and counting all the businesses that had closed, the empty store-fronts saying so much. It was a challenging time working in Chez Piggy as tourism clientele were (and are) instrumental to the success of any restaurant in Kingston. I was hoping that we would see the sort of economic recovery that would allow the amazing businesses and communities we have to flourish and grow again.

Click to play video: 'Kingston tourism off to strong start' Kingston tourism off to strong start
Kingston tourism off to strong start – Mar 27, 2019

Q:  Where you right, or wrong? If you were wrong, how so?

A: I was somewhat right in that some people and many institutions recovered. After several years, tourism began to pick up. There were many institutions that failed and I know the long-term effects of the recession are still being felt today. Businesses are only just now reaching the levels of success from before the recession. Young families and people of my generation continue to have difficulties in starting careers out of school, in saving money due to their student debt loads and in breaking into the housing market.

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Q: What is the single biggest change that has happened in the Kingston region over the past 10 years that has been a game-changer?

A: The opening of the cultural and sport-related venues has done tremendous things for the city. The (now) Leon’s Centre, although finished in 2008, has made such an impact over the last 10 years, including acting as the venue for Gord Downie’s last show with The Tragically Hip. It was a night to remember and the second most-watched TV broadcast in Canada’s history. The amazing space at the Isabel Bader is also host to many, many fantastic events, all of which make our community better.

READ MORE: Kingston’s K-Rock Centre could be renamed Leon’s Centre, mayor says

Q: What has been your biggest win?

A: Definitely winning the 2018 provincial election. It changed my life overnight. I went from being a chef with an avid interest in politics to being in the legislature working to stop the Ford government’s worst policy changes in a matter of weeks. It has been one of the most challenging and empowering experiences of my life. I am so thankful for the communities it has brought me to, from those in our own city to my incredible NDP caucus.

Q: What has been your biggest disappointment or miss? What did you learn from it?

A: I have been blessed with amazing opportunities throughout my life. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had returned for more schooling immediately after my undergrad. But then I would never have ended up the incredible institution that is Chez Piggy. Hey, no regrets.

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Q: What was the biggest story, from an MPP’s point of view, of the last decade in Kingston? Why?

A: The housing crisis continues to be a massive story for the city. We have the lowest vacancy rate in Ontario and over the last two decades have not seen the kinds of investments needed to deal with the problem. It is an ongoing and profound issue that has far-reaching ramifications for so many. Worst of all, many of those most affected are our most vulnerable.

READ MORE: Rental vacancy in Kingston 0.6%, lowest in Ontario, says survey

Q: What’s your biggest hope for the region for the upcoming decade?

A: My biggest hope for the region is that we are able to grow and develop policies that focus on the needs of the region as a whole. Governments established for example in Niagara and Peel have led to remarkable outcomes. It is a potential avenue for overcoming some of the partisanship that can bog us down. Let’s recognize that we need to work together in a way that understands our differences and benefits from our commonalities

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Kingston over the next decade?

A: We are facing some monumental challenges. The city is in the midst of a housing crisis with no easy answers and we are tasked with solving this while we face the ongoing climate crisis. We need to mobilize on a scale we have not seen for a long time to deal with these crises. The aspect of the climate crisis that is the most difficult to plan for is how much more difficult the delivery of some many other services are in a changing climate.

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Infrastructure funding will need to be increased due to flooding, energy costs will go up as we have hotter days in the summer and colder in the winter. It will lead to increases in the public health care funding needed, which are already increasing with an aging population. We will need big answers and leadership that matches the scale of the issues we face.

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