Wilson Lo on tough questions and new ideas.
ABOVE: Councillor Wilson Lo was elected in November 2022 to represent the Ottawa Ward of Barrhaven East. (PHOTO: MCKENZIE DONOVAN)
With the addition of Ward 24 Barrhaven East Ottawa City Council has gained one additional seat. One of the largest wards by population, Barrhaven East is home to over 50,000 people living in 17,006 homes. Councillor Wilson Lo knows this because he knocked on every door in the newly established electoral district during his campaign. Ottawa Life had the opportunity to sit with Councillor Lo at his city council office to discuss his ward, the job, and the issues that matter to him.
Like many Ottawa residents his age, Lo is a first-generation Canadian with an immigrant background. He was raised in Markham, Ontario, the largest city in the York Region, north of Toronto. Lo came to Ottawa to study journalism at Carleton University in 2009. He says, “by the third year, I decided to stay, the pace of life here is nice, and it’s affordable.”
In 2013, Lo completed his degree, but instead of practicing in his field, he began working as a bus driver for OC Transpo, a position he held for six years before becoming a customer communications officer for the transit service. As a self-described frequent transit user, Lo sees this job experience as a benefit. “In many ways, I’ve experienced every aspect of public transit, and now I’m on the policy side.”
Although new to Council, Lo has been fearless in asking tough questions or going against the current, especially regarding transit-related issues. Lo was one of the few councillors to vote against the electric bus procurement program and is an active participant at the Transit Committee meetings and City Hall talks around the program.
Lo says his experience at OC Transpo gave him a different perspective from others on Council when discussing the funding of new electric buses. “Much of my insight from my days in transit and the research I had to do in that role helped with the questions I asked.” He says he’s not against the electric bus program because he’s against environmental-based policies but pointed out that “Having four buses for just a year doesn’t simulate true operating conditions.” In his opinion, the city's four-bus pilot program is not substantive enough to justify the purchase of an entirely battery-powered fleet of transit vehicles.
The councillor is concerned that if the city moves forward with the near-billion-dollar purchase, it could find itself stuck with a fleet of problem-ridden buses. Lo believes the program is moving too fast, especially given the loss of public trust in the wake of the O-Train debacle. However, Lo says that overall, OC Transpo's service has many positive attributes, but it has a long way to go to restore public trust.
Lo takes the city’s transit issue seriously not only because he was a former OC Transpo driver; he also believes that transit and transportation infrastructure are the main issues in Barrhaven East.
The ward is one of the most established in the city; there is little to no room for future development growth. Moving around within the Barrhaven East, whether in a private vehicle, by bike, or on transit, is a problem that Lo plans to focus on over the next four years.
Lo says that a lot of traffic in Ward 24 comes from outside the area and requires proactive solutions. He notes that Prince of Whales Drive has become increasingly busy due to continued development in neighbouring wards. Solutions involving road infrastructure and transit need to be implemented to alleviate the volume of cars passing through Ward 24.
As for the new Council, Lo says there’s a lot of good faith and camaraderie among the councillors. He says communication has been excellent, especially with Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, whom he describes as a consistent texter and communicator. Lo says that Council seems friendly and attributes much of the positive vibes to being back working in person and having face-to-face communication.
Despite being a relatively young 31-year-old in a new ward, Councillor Lo exudes confidence and depth of character. He doesn’t plan to be a lifer on Council but believes two or three terms will enable him to have an impact. “You need new people and new ideas to cycle in every so often.”
With Councillor Lo working hard for his ward and keeping the Transit Commission’s feet to the fire, who knows, maybe one day he’ll be ready for the city’s top job? He doesn’t engage with this idea but then says, “I have a lot of time to think about it.”