On election night, Martin Ritsma sat by himself in his house.
While celebrations were taking place downtown at the University of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business and at his barn, Ritsma took some time to let the world slow down around him – inadvertently being one of the last people to know he was the new mayor of Stratford.
“I could tell by her face that the result was positive,” Ritsma told StratfordToday, alluding to his wife Kathryn Ritsma, updating him on the good news. “But then she said ‘where have you been? We're waiting for you."
Ritsma sat in quiet contemplation, getting prepared for the result.
The official results have Ritsma as Stratford’s mayor-elect, beating out runner-up Robert Ritz by only 345 votes. Ritsma had 4,350 votes, Ritz had 4,005 and Kathy Vassilakos 3,166 votes.
Ritsma sat down with StratfordToday to talk about his campaign, his win, and the road ahead.
One thing which he stressed was just how surreal it's been looking back on his life and how he got here.
Ritsma is from a family of 11 kids. After his mother passed away from ALS, Children’s Aid Society became involved and his family split up. Despite many hardships, Ritsma takes a positive outlook, saying that everyone has their fair share of issues.
The Ritsmas bought the farm that she grew up on when they were very young. Ritsma went from farming to teaching to administration and finally to municipal office, where he served on city council for 12 years, eight of those years in the deputy mayor post.
All the while, Ritsma served on various boards, committees, and organizations - United Way, Shelterlink and L’Arche, among others, he named, as organizations near and dear to his heart.
Ritsma compares the issues facing Stratford as a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece is important, but there are key priorities heading into his term as mayor.
Housing is the biggest issue for him and for his constituents, as he discovered on the campaign trail. A big concern is housing affordability and diversity.
Ritsma has started to talk with MP John Nater and MPP Matthew Rae regarding housing. It's a nation-wide problem and will require all levels of government to work together, he said. Ritsma is mayor in a new look city council with six first-term councillors, joining four incumbents.
The Grand Trunk Block is another priority. Ritsma believes the City of Stratford is in a far better spot than they were 12 years ago when first elected. But there is still much more work to be done – especially since council does not want it to impact the tax levy.
Open communication is another priority. Recently, a report from Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little & Bonham LLP, who reviwed closed doors meetings, or in-camera meetings, found that there was confusion involving city council and city staff in respect to the exceptions to open meetings.
The City has committed to training and Ritsma is fully supportive. Furthermore, he indicated that current council will give direction on how to address the report and the training.
RItsma wants to ensure taxpayers that their money is precious to him. He recalled when he was younger when there wasn’t enough money at the end of a month to do what needed to be done. Going into the 2023 budget, he wants to be mindful and respectful of Stratford citizens’ tax shares.
Ritsma commended Ritz and Vassilakos on tremendous campaigns. He saw just how hard they worked to better Stratford by running, and knew first-hand how difficult that can be. Ritsma takes over from Mayor Dan Mathieson on Nov. 15 when the new term begins. Mathieson previously served in the role for 20 years. He gave Ritsma some topical advice, post-win.
Mathieson encouraged Ritsma to take the initiative and contact various groups and start the transition of power. Ritsma has reached out to the CAO’s office, the clerk’s office, and the mayor’s office.
“That transition is so valuable to ensure that you don’t miss out on things and it moves forward in a good fashion.”