Over the course of Bonnie Henderson’s long career on city council, some things have changed and some have stayed the same. Her passion for accessibility and open and honest communication have remained a constant.
For the fifth time now, Henderson is throwing her name in the ring and running for city council - in this October's municipal election.
First elected in 2006, Henderson came in close to last on the ballot, just squeezing onto council. In Stratford’s last election in 2018, she came in second.
“I’m used to being seventh or eighth,” she said. “When I looked I thought ‘oh no. I didn’t make it on.’ I checked again and I went, ‘oh my gosh I came in second!”
When first elected, communication was her key issue.
“My goal when I got in was to open up communication with people and for people to feel that they could come to me, because people in the factory always came to me. No matter what the issue was, if they needed help with something … whatever it was, I would help them with it.”
And communication is not just in conversation with the community, it is how information is released to the public. One example given is was how the yearly budget used to be harder for just anyone to pick up and understand. After Henderson noticed the issue, she brought it up with staff. At one point, she recalls, she spoke with Andre Morin who wrote up the budget for the city.
“I said to him, ‘could you make the budget so that the regular Joe can understand it?’ He changed how we did it and people were saying ‘now I can understand the budget.’ So it makes sense why you would make it easier.”
Even though she is proud of the strides she has made in communication, it’s a problem that is still prevalent.
“It’s so important because I still see sometimes on Facebook people might call me about something and they still don’t really get it … There’s things that I still feel that need communicating.”
She thinks that one of the qualities that makes her a good councillor is her willingness to see both sides of an issue.
“I do want to hear both sides,” she explained. “Because sometimes there’s another way of doing it if it comes from the middle. Like ‘oh I never thought of that. Let’s try that, why not?’ As long as it’s going to work for the residents of the city, what’s the matter if it’s different from your idea?"
A lot of issues are on Henderson's mind nowadays. One particular issue, accessibility, stands out.
When first elected, Henderson served on city council's accessibility advisory committee, a committee that advises council on issues with accessibility in the city. In her first year she discovered that at the local Lion's Pool, citizens with accessibility issues had no place to change into their swimsuits. They arrived in their swimsuits and waited outside along the fence for someone to let them in. She describes the initial push back she received from Keith Culliton, a former mayor and city councillor, when she brought up a solution during a budget discussion.
"I was a new councillor so I was really nervous. I remember Keith getting up and saying ‘we’re not going to spend –’ I forget how much it was, $75,000 or something like that. I said, basically, ‘what you’re saying is we’re telling our citizens that if you want to come to our pool and you have accessibility issues you have to come with your bathing suit on, wait outside a locked gate, wait for them to open it, and then you have to drive home in a wet bathing suit.’
"We sat down and it passed. I was shaking. I was so excited … They changed it into a universal washroom with a change room.”
She clarified that once she gave her presentation, Culliton was a major supporter for the change to the Lion's Pool.
When asked why citizens should cast a vote for her, Henderson told StratfordToday that she's going to continue to advocate for them.
“I’m going to continue to advocate for them on behalf of accessibility and I’m still going to be here and communicate with them and try to be a champion for them in making our city more environmentally friendly and pushing that Grand Trunk Cooper site.”
The Grand Trunk plan is a passion project for Henderson. It involves redevelopment of the former Cooper site property in the downtown core. Henderson is hoping the provincial government can kick in some funds to offset the cost.
“I really want to see the Grand Trunk site get finished. We're getting close. The (provincial) government just got reelected. We're hoping that will be one of their projects … we need somebody to help there.”
The municipal election is slotted for Monday, Oct. 24 of this year. Anyone interested in running for this year’s election has until Aug. 19 to file their nomination.
If elected, Henderson will have served 20 years on city council at the end of the next term in 2026.