The Cathedral neighbourhood is unique compared to many in Regina, with its small shops and a village like feel. At the heart of the neighbourhood is 13th Avenue which is line with a number of shops and restaurants, including one which has been a staple in the neighbourhood the 13th Avenue Coffee House. And on this Friday morning, it is where Andrew Stevens, business professor at the University of Regina’s and city councillor for Ward 3, can be found.
Stevens is hard at work marking papers, we are several weeks into the semester so it’s a busy time for students and professors alike. However not many other professors have to balance teaching and family with the duties of representing a ward with lots of variety and lots of different concerns.
Stevens won election to council in a convincing fashion, capturing 65 per cent of the vote, he credits his victory to what most observers would call a strong “ground game.”
“I started early, I put a lot of thought into running, I started from a set of convictions and principles and I was working with a really good team,” he said.
Stevens credits the volunteers he assembled with creating a progressive platform which he campaigned on.
He sums up his formula for electoral success by emphasizing three specific pillars.
“It was the team, the work and the engagement with the public,” he said.
With his strong team, doing lots of research and helping to craft the campaigns winning message, Stevens was able to develop what he called a technocratic approach.
“The general attitude about working with people, evidence, data, it’s how you use it, so how do you take a certain piece of information and translate it in such a way that everyone can understand,” he said.
This approach can be traced back to the earlier years of Steven’s academic career, at Queens University in Kingston Ont where he helped to unionize teaching assistants in 2003-2004. Which they had been asking for since the 1980’s.
Success didn’t come early he said. “My introduction to grad school was labour organization and socialist politics and (the first) campaign failed for procedural reasons, we had another one and it didn’t succeed.”
Stevens said these failures led organizers to look at different approaches to be use in the future.
They shifted from trying to organize under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which brought a change in how their cause was marketed and brought in organizers who were much more knowledgeable about labour laws.
“A lot of it was a different approach to managing a union-organizing campaign and just being more participatory with the community of people you’re trying to serve.”
This approach was successful and teaching assistants voted to unionize in 2010. Stevens said the experience of organizing and being a part of the team effort is something that remains with him to this day.
“For me, from a professional, academic standpoint, I know that field so much better because I was actually a participant in it.”
Stevens added that the lessons he learned went beyond the actual act of organizing.
“You learn about labour law; you learn about why people say no when you try to get them to sign a labour card or why people embrace it.”
Stevens said the experience gave him the chance to interact with people from a number of different backgrounds and he learned that people tend to share many of the same goals about social justice and other issues.
These lessons were adopted for his campaign, and led to Stevens joining Regina city council along with four other new councillors.
Lori Bresciani was also elected for the first time in ward four, in the city’s east end.
She says she’s impressed with the new counselor.
Referring to Stevens she said, “He has done a lot of work to find out and meet with lots of different people, to find out how they are feeling.”
Bresciani observed that during his brief time in office Stevens has already met with a variety of people to talk about issues.
“He’s met with the chief of police, the fire chief,” she said, “anytime we have a presentation, he goes out and above.”
Back at the coffee shop Stevens brushes off the idea of seeking a higher office.
“No, I am pretty happy right where I am at,” he said “for me at this juncture is the highest office I am willing to seek.”
it appears with his attitude the constituents of Ward 3 can look forward to Stevens representing them for a time to come.