September 15, 2021
PuslinchToday has offered space free of charge for all federal party candidates to introduce themselves to our community. This article has been posted unedited, exactly as received from the candidate. One article will be posted per weekday from Sept 9th through Sept 15th.
Hello everyone. I’m Melanie Lang, and I’m running as the Liberal candidate here in Wellington–Halton Hills.
While The COVID-19 pandemic left no one unaffected, it also exposed existing gaps in our society. As a candidate, and as your MP, my main focus will be working to close those gaps, with measures like affordable daycare, access to rural high-speed Internet and rural transit, combating climate change while adapting to its effects, and making sure our post-pandemic economy is progressive, fair, and sustainable.
I’m a community advocate, volunteer, consultant, and researcher. I’m also a mother of two girls, and while myself and my husband Paul have lived in the Guelph and Fergus area for 23 years, we were both raised in a small rural community in western Quebec.
You never forget where you came from, and whenever I come to the Puslinch area, and others like it across our riding, it always feels very familiar.
By that, I don’t just mean the rural and small-town landscape; beautiful and peaceful though it is. Rather, I mean the feelings that arise when you come to a place and understand that people there share, deeply, the kind of values that were instilled in you in your own childhood.
What values are those? Not only the sense of belonging to a close-knit community, but also a drive to service: the understanding that, when you reside in a community, you are part of a diverse group who often come together to help that community. That not only means looking after your neighbours, but working together with them on the challenges facing us all.
Growing up, I had an excellent example of those values to follow. My dad, Eddie McCann, served as a multiple-term mayor and councillor of Pontiac, Quebec. He also ran for MP for the Liberal Party in 2013. Those commitments to public service and community have been my guiding principles when I decided to run myself, in the current election.
But even before running for office was even a possibility, those values of service and working with others to solve problems were already entrenched, and they guided not only my career, but the volunteer and consulting work I’ve done in Guelph and Wellington County since moving here more than two decades ago.
This is a wonderful place to live, work, and raise my children. Our riding is a collective of small communities and growing cities, and while we may share similar dynamics and challenges with neighbouring communities, we also foster pride for volunteerism and a deep commitment to community engagement. From very early on, and in an attempt to develop my own personal and professional development, I’ve sought out opportunities to bring my interests, skills and expertise to the table in an effort to do my part.
To that end, I’ve served on boards of directors with the Centre Wellington Community Foundation, IMPACT! The Co-operators Youth Program for Sustainability Leadership, 4H Ontario, and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, where I was also a member of the executive and board chair. Along with others in those groups, I helped design financial and social structures, developed employment opportunities, as well as created local business development initiatives. While this may sound like a lot of boards and buzzwords, what this means in practice is this: bringing people with various expertise together, figuring out the source of a problem, and working out how to solve it or at least make it better, while partnering with the government when possible. All of this results in real-world impacts.
One example to help highlight how volunteers operationalize service programs would be the Centre-Wellington Community Foundation’s Vital Signs project. While I was a board member, the foundation decided to conduct an assessment of Centre Wellington using a selected list of themes and evaluative variables. It was an excellent way for residents, organizations and businesses to be provided a focus for community philanthropy. Since then, the CW Community Foundation underwent a second Vital Signs project that captured community identified needs and opportunities for investments.
While working at the University of Guelph, I was part of a business advisory committee brought together by the City of Guelph and County of Wellington to support the many streams of their Our Food Future program focussed on addressing challenges within the circular food economy. One thing that might surprise people about the Guelph-Wellington region is that one in six families experience food insecurity. Nourishing and healthy food is expensive, and it’s becoming more costly. At the same time, as much as half of the food we produce goes to waste.
The project was a perfect example of a systems approach to working on strategy, business planning and implementation – or, simply put, figuring out what to do, how to do it, and who to involve. The various work streams were led by city staff to help identify and grow the number of businesses and groups that would participate in the program and thus benefit from the circular food economy, with regular communication between various stakeholders and city council.
While everyone involved can attest to the depths of preparedness needed when designing any new program, over time, seeing the real-world impact and benefit of the work is what makes the details worthwhile. More businesses are contributing to the circular food economy, more people are able to access healthy food, with less food going to waste.
My involvement in these projects are examples of what I’m most proud of in my career and years of volunteering. An additional aspect of that drive and commitment to service is a sense of awareness of the world around you, and knowing collaborations and interactions have an impact on those outside of our own social circles. I think most people want to leave the world a better place than they found it, and that’s definitely true of young people – something I’ve seen first hand, and often, at the University of Guelph.
Aside from my PhD studies and lecturing, I was also the founding executive director of the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise at the University of Guelph. For more than a decade, we offered an incubator for early stage startups, a business consulting training program where senior students helped address business challenges with local organizations and businesses, and created design thinking and entrepreneurial programming for faculty and students across a number of disciplines.
While my team and I worked with these entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial-thinkers, we tried our best to teach them to hold themselves to the highest standards of economic, environmental and social responsibility. We often relied on design thinking strategies, innovative processes and sustainable development goals when creating these initiatives.
It is my belief that our youth have an entrenched sense of community engagement, citizenship and are deeply committed to social responsibility. When they go out into the business world, whatever they end up going into, I like to think they’ll be the kind of entrepreneurs who’ll balance business profits with societal benefit. Community building qualities that I believe will be needed now more than ever going forward.
The future of our riding will require us to bolster our traditional business practices by incorporating environmental stewardship and social progressiveness to ensure sustainability for current and future generations. Beyond climate change, rural and small-town Canada has to change the way it does business. And while there will be challenges, we need to be leading the way forward as there will be immense opportunities for all of us to capitalize on and benefit from.
I grew up in a rural area, and through my life and work experiences, I have grown to appreciate the varied and dispersed needs of rural communities. This has led me to pursue a PhD as a mature student in the Rural Studies program at the University of Guelph. While attending a recent webinar on rural issues, one of the panelists spoke about our regions’ multiple communities with multiple interests. It struck me that while we may have diverse environmental, social and financial concerns across the riding, the opportunity today lies in how we creatively customize and implement solutions for everyone to ensure our small towns and growing cities across the riding continue to thrive. We need to tap into our existing, and invaluable, social and human capital, while leaning on programs and investments that will help us to operationalize policies.
I will proudly represent the multiple communities of Wellington–Halton Hills in Ottawa by relying on the small-town values that have guided my decision making, driven my professional career and led my personal development over my more than two decades of living in the area.
Understanding the needs of everyone in our riding will help us all move forward and face future challenges together. In the meantime, visit https://melanielang.liberal.ca/ to learn more.