During her last meeting as London city councillor, Arielle Kayabaga thanked her fellow councillors and reflected on her time as the city’s representative for Ward 13.
Councillor Kayabaga spoke at the beginning of Tuesday night’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee meeting, the night before she resigns her council seat to take up a new seat in the federal government.
This comes a week after she was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for the London West riding.
“I will forever be grateful and honoured that people here chose me through ranked ballot to represent them,” she said.
Reflecting on her journey and life experiences which lead her to where she is today, Kayabaga talked about first immigrating to Canada as a refugee from Burundi when she was 10, living in social housing, and building her career as a young single mom.
“Change has been constant and something I have embraced throughout my personal and professional lives,” she said.
Kayabaga was first elected as the first Black woman to London city council in 2018.
During her three years on council, she passed a motion to include an anti-racist lens when looking at budgets, worked with fellow councillors to approve more funding for affordable housing and in making Dundas Street London’s first flex street.
“With my team here at the City and with some fellow councillors we have been able to do some amazing work,” she said.
“Even though this country has provided so much to my family and myself, I have seen there are issues and things must change. Generational issues of racism, poverty, housing, and a climate emergency that needs to be taken more seriously.”
As she moves onto another level of government, Kayabaga spoke about the importance of collaboration between all levels of government, and her commitment to continue to work with fellow councillors to serve the London community.
“I want to make sure we can keep building a better Canada that is healthier and safer for everyone,”
In her resignation speech, Kayabaga thanked fellow councillors, city staff, and Mayor Ed Holder for their support in working to make London better.
Following her speech, Kayabaga received praise from several councillors and the mayor.
“I am so proud of what you were able to accomplish and what you have done and the hope and just the reality of what you have been able to put in the minds of young Black women and refugees,” said Ward 3 councillor Mohamed Salih.
“As a colleague who is also a refugee to see you make it to the highest levels of government in our country, knowing who you are, and the integrity you will bring forward, and knowing you continue to go to bat for Londoners and continue to be one of the strongest voices the city has ever seen,” Salih said when speaking about how proud he was.
Salih said amid the celebration it’s important to acknowledge the challenges Kayabaga faced as a Black woman. “It’s important to recognize there were still a lot of things that would not have happened if your skin colour was different if your name was different.”
Fellow councillors had similar words of praise.
“Although I am losing a colleague on council, I am gaining a colleague in Ottawa,” said Ward 11 Councillor Stephen Turner.
Turner also spoke of the importance of representation, from young Black girls being able to see someone who looks like them serving on city council and also now in parliament.
Ward 5 councillor Maureen Cassidy spoke about the importance of diversity and lived experience.
“Canada is a better place for having your voice at the at the table, at the highest level of government in this country.”
Several other councillors also had words of congratulations to share, but it was Mayor Ed Holder who finished off the speeches.
Having previously served as the Conservative MP for the London West riding for two terms, Holder has a unique perspective to share.
“You understood our municipality. To come from municipal government to a federal position is rare, so you have broken many stereotypes and you will create many opportunities for our city,” Holder said.
“You will act in the best interest of Londoners as you always have, and you will do that with tenacity, commitment and heart.”
Now that the Ward 13 seat is vacant, under the Municipal Act, council must fill said vacancy within 60 days, either by appointing someone who consents to accept the role, or by passing a bylaw to hold a by election in the ward.
According to city staff, council is required under the act to declare the vacancy at its next available council meeting, which would be Oct. 5.
After council declares the seat vacant, a report will go before the Corporate Services Committee at its Oct. 12 meeting setting out the two options for council to consider when it comes to how the vacancy should be dealt with.
— with files from Matthew Trevithick