Even the most ambitious and fantastic intents can be implemented in Canada. It is a good example to follow

Oksana Derkach

Poltava City Council Secretary

Interviewed by Iryna Dudka – the Regional Coordinator of PLEDDG Project in Poltava region

In June 2016 a study tour was organized within the framework of PLEDDG project to visit a few Canadian provinces. Oksana Derkach was one of the visiting guests-representatives of partner cities in her capacity as the Secretary of Poltava City Council. We were lucky to get a chance to talk to Oksana and get her feedback about the trip given her busy schedule even in summertime.

– What were you impressed most with during this study tour and more importantly, what things are implementable here?

– Honestly, I am overwhelmed with impressions and will willingly share them with you, however I’ve realized I need time to process and perceive everything myself. I must admit we are very different from Canada, which I consider to be a phenomenal country. We had a lot of meetings by areas of activity in different cities of Ontario and Manitoba provinces. The way things are organized there could not but inspire me to try and apply similar approaches and practices in terms of challenge response, joint community and government work especially at the time of complex decision making.

I should begin by saying that our initial contact with each municipality began with presentation of their community development strategy. They have an approved development plan supplemented with its implementation stages, detailed actions of the city council to meet specific goals, which are absolutely achievable, I hasten to add, even if an objective seems to be totally unrealistic.

For example, one of the goals set for the city of Vaughan was to double its population, which begs a question ‘Why’? The answer is as simple as that – the town can count on extra federal funds provided its population grows. I believe similar requirement would have probably been greeted with certain skepticism be it in Ukraine, since it’s unrealistic, too ambitious and mission impossible. But Vaughan proved us wrong! By attracting young people to the city it was possible to reach certain figures in terms of population growth. Young people were offered access to educational institutions, comfortable living conditions, entertainment and recreational facilities for families with children, sporting facilities.

– Poltava is a relatively small city. Did you have meetings in cites similar to Poltava in terms of population and line of development? Surely, we cannot apply all practices locally.

– We visited four different cities with the population of between 40 thousand and 2.6 million people. Although the population figures are rather different municipality management principles remain the same. For instance, members of the local council are elected based on majority election system whereas politics remains in the domain of provinces and the Parliament. Every city hires a city manages who is in charge of city operations. This person is awarded 3-4 times higher salary than the mayor and their candidacy is affirmed by the municipal council. If city manager proves to be inefficient, his employment is terminated.

I also liked the fact that different associations, the Chambers of Commerce as well as non-governmental organizations provide good-quality services and support to business activity. The funds to support this initiative are allocated from federal, municipal and province budget.

Every Canadian city is trying to find its distinctive feature, its highlight to attract tourists, including domestic ones. For example, Winnipeg, which is located in quite rigorous climate, features restaurants built on the ice.

All cities maintain their individual style including such aglomerations as Toronto.

Each city is working on introducing alternative sources of energy.

Cities facilitate business development with substantial support from the government, of course. Companies supplying manufacturing equipment are tax exempt, since they create jobs and contribute to self-employment.

– Have you had a chance to meet representatives of Ukrainian community in Canada who are known to be quite powerful lobby for Ukraine in the world?

– Yes, those meetings were very special! I wish I could share my story about each of them since Ukrainian traditions have been fondly cherished by Ukrainian descendants for generations. Several generations of Ukrainians were raised in Canada thousands of miles away from their cradleland but their hearts remain where their nest once used to be. Even though we were far from Ukraine we felt at home in Canada.

It could take me hours to share my stories about Ukrainians in Canada. For example, Stephen Juba – the mayor of Winnipeg of 1957-1977 – was of Ukrainian descent. The wife of current mayor of Winnipeg also comes from Ukrainian family. Our delegation was honored to meet and talk with Nick Kravets, a man who filed a petition to introduce visa waiver program for Ukrainians travelling to Canada.

Ukrainian community in Canada is well established and has long history. They are also very influential in terms of political decision making. We all remember that Canada was one of the first countries to recognize Ukrainian Independence in 1991. It has been actively involved in providing support to Ukraine throughout its history especially during the most turbulent years.

When we get to know the history of Ukrainian settlements in Canada as well as their present life we will understand how much we have in common and how big is our potential in relationship building between the two countries. Those who are trying to put our failures down to our attitudes and way of thinking should take a better look at Ukrainians in Canada. If you ask me, it’s not the mentality that’s responsible, it’s rather law-abidingness.

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the Project “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance” for the opportunity to see and learn the best practices of democratic governance, strategic planning and municipal marketing. The shared knowledge is invaluable and will be used to implement democratic governance transition, ensure transparent work of the government in order to increase its efficiency.