For this assignment I chose an event I attended previously, as my attendance there was specifically for the purposes of networking. Because a key deliverable of my role is networking with elected officials and stakeholders in the communities my team serves, every year, pre-pandemic, I attend the annual conference for Rural Ontario Municipal Association. This conference (called ROMA conference) brings together elected municipal officials from across Ontario, particularly those serving in rural and remote communities, which are specific targets for my organization. Also, there is attendance by members of provincial parliament, including a ministers session, with ministers from the various ministries in the provincial government, and keynote speeches from ministers, from the official opposition leader and the Premier. You can see why this is a very important event for me to be at! In the picture above, if it had been one more person to the right, you would have seen me. The dark haired woman in the far right, wearing a white shirt with black circular pattern is my colleague and friend Trish, whom I was sitting next to.
The conference is traditionally held in Toronto in January. I last attended in January 2020, along with some of my colleagues, who represent other regions of the province. Because I am there solely to connect with municipal officials in the communities within my region of Southwestern Ontario, I choose which sessions too attend based more on who is presenting than the topic itself. I focus on those who come from the communities I need to connect with . This actually serves a dual purpose of allowing me to not just meet individuals from the communities, but also know what they are concerned about, what issues matter to them, which can then help guide my partnership development with them.
By meeting them at the ROMA conference, I am able to set follow up meetings in the communities. I use the topics presented at ROMA to instigate a conversation and discuss how the services of my organization can help support the goals of the municipality.
I also never miss a keynote speech by a provincial parliamentarian. As another part of my role is to maintain positive relationships with MPPs, it is vitally important for me to also know the priorities and goals of various ministries within our government. Even if the particular speaker’s riding is not within my region, I find referring to their talk whilst meeting with another politician can be a great way to connect. I also can pass on info to my colleagues who do work with those particular politicians, and vice versa, supporting our goal of ensuring that we have a positive and supportive relationship with provincially elected officials.
As someone who works for an organization that focuses on access to online education, the main thing I learned was the increased focus on bringing reliable broadband service to remote communities. While this has always been an issue over the years, it has really moved to the forefront as a key service that remote municipalities need.
The event is always full of different messages and quotable quotes. I always find it interesting to listen to the rebuttals the leader of the opposition makes. At this particular ROMA conference in 2020, in response to the Premier mentioning Parry Sound several times, Andrea Horvath, in her speech, mentioned that the NDP know that there is more Ontario north of Parry Sound! As someone who works for an organization founded in Northern Ontario, and who was born in and has family in Parry Sound, I found this to be a particularly poignant comment, as well as being funny. Many people in southern Ontario view Parry Sound as being northern, while many people in northern Ontario view Parry Sound as being southern. It can really be a cut off for services in rural and remote communities, with increasing challenges accessing services outside of urban areas, which become fewer and far between as you move north. I think it is a very good sign that the government is starting to look beyond Parry Sound in the past year, and are working to find ways to bring their services, particularly internet access, up to speed.
Will I attend ROMA again? Absolutely! I can’t wait until I can be back there in person. The virtual event is not as useful for me, because of the fact that I attend solely for networking, but as soon as it is back as a live event, I will be there as well!