Canniff reflects on first year in office, looks forward to more

Mayor Darrin Canniff, left, Tracy Callaghan and Dava Robichaud announce Loverboy as the headlining act for the Festival of Nations in June. (Photo by Michael Hugall)

One year after being sworn in, Chatham-Kent’s mayor is looking back fondly on his first year of the job.

Mayor Darrin Canniff officially took office on December 3, 2018. Twelve months later, he’s thrilled with what the municipality has been able to accomplish since then.

“It’s really become a way of life, as opposed to a job,” he said. “I’ve really blended in with it.”

Before coming into the role as mayor, Canniff was a Chatham-Kent councillor for one term. He said there were no major surprises or challenges transitioning from the role of councillor to mayor, just getting used to a higher level of community involvement and having to lead a team.

“The biggest transition is, as councillor you’re one of the many. You’ve got a full-time job so you can’t dedicate as much time as you’d like to it,” he said. “As mayor, I live and breathe it, 24/7. That’s the biggest difference.”

Canniff campaigned heavily on bringing a sense of togetherness to all the communities in Chatham-Kent. He said so far, one of the things he’s most proud of is being able to fulfill that campaign promise and work on bringing a more positive attitude to the municipality.

“The overarching, I’ll call it an accomplishment, is we’ve continued on with a changing of the attitude in Chatham-Kent. That was a major piece of what I ran on, was that we need to collectively work together,” he said. “I think a lot of people are starting to see Chatham-Kent turning the corner and realizing what a wonderful place we live in.”

One of the more specific goals that Canniff has been able to accomplish was bringing council meetings to all the different wards across the municipality. In October 2019, for the first time, a council meeting was held outside of the Civic Centre for a trial run in Tilbury. In November, council approved going forward with the initiative and holding meetings in four additional wards over the next two years.

Working with local businesses was another key piece of Canniff’s campaign and again, he’s proud of the strides that have been made so far. During the last year, Canniff said he and his team have met with 180 different service organizations and hundreds of businesses across Chatham-Kent. He said it’s part of his ambition to make residents feel that their voice is being heard and let them know that he and council are listening.

“Every time, we ask ‘what can we do to help you succeed?’ We’ve got all sorts of ideas from that,” he explained. “We’ve been working on implementing everyone we possibly can from the very small to the very large, to ensure that we’re opening the doors to getting people involved in the community. One of the things I’m proud of is how we’ve come together as a community to be business-friendly. We’ve done a lot of work eliminating red tape.”

While Canniff has remained an active presence at events across the community and continuously meets with residents to encourage growth in the municipality, he said it’s the people of Chatham-Kent that really encourage him.

“That’s why I love my job so much… They inspire me when I go out and all the things they do in the community. The thousands and thousands of volunteer hours that are put into the community by people that put the community first. Every day when I go out and I see that, it inspires me,” he said.

Although Canniff said he’s proud of what the first year has brought, he knows there’s still work that needs to be done over the next several years. He hopes to continue the strides that have been made so far and has some specific goals and visions for Chatham-Kent.

“Jobs. We need to create more quality jobs as we continue on. That stems from making it easy to do business in CK,” he said. “We need residents attraction retention. We need to continue growing the community as far as population goes, In the end, in three years, I want to see a lot more people living here than there are now.”

To reach those goals, Canniff said it’s important to provide infrastructure and attractions that will bring people to the area.

“One great example is the arena. We’ve just applied for federal and provincial funding, we’ll know in a couple of months. We’re very hopeful that we will be successful in that. It will create a facility that Chatham-Kent can be proud of and it will attract people and keep people here,” he said.

Overall, Canniff said he’s thrilled about the past year and said he’s even more excited about what’s on the horizon for Chatham-Kent.

“We’re starting to come together. We’re starting to feel collectively as one community, not 23 communities. That’s what really excites me,” he said. “We’re through one year. I’m looking forward to many years to come. I want to have a community that my kids and my grandkids want to live in and I want a lot of other people from around this planet to want to come here. I’m excited about the future.”