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Refugee to rookie councillor: Nigussie settles into Ward 6 role

'I’ve learned that being a councillor is both challenging and fascinating at the same time,' says Nigussie, who emigrated from Ethiopia in 2008
Coun. Nigussie Nigussie represents Ward 6 in Barrie.

Nigussie Nigussie sees himself as an agent for change among Barrie councillors.

“As the first Black man elected to Barrie city council, I think I can make the most difference by sharing my story and being a voice for diversity and inclusion,” he said in answering email questions from BarrieToday. “I have a very unique background, as a refugee from Ethiopia, and I am proud to live in a community who’s welcomed me with open arms, and I plan to do the same for residents who may need that support.”

Nigussie was elected Ward 6 councillor last October, his first term on council.

He came to Canada in 2008, a political refugee from Ethiopia, a freelance journalist and an author.

Settling first in Regina, Sask., Nigussie has lived in Barrie for about eight years with wife Hanna, and their children, nine-year-old Abinet and seven-year-old Maya.

Nigussie says he feels honoured that Ward 6 residents put their faith in him during the municipal election.

“I don’t take that for granted,” he said. “It has been wonderful to engage with residents and use a journalistic approach when finding out what residents want to see from council over the next four years.”

Nigussie, 41, says he has learned a great deal in just a few short months on council. 

“I’ve learned that being a councillor is both challenging and fascinating at the same time,” he said. “The inner workings of municipal politics along with policies and procedures have all been great to experience on the ground level.”

Nigussie said he has great respect for his fellow councillors, and that they have worked well together thus far.

“The goal isn’t always for council to agree on everything, in fact it’s beneficial to have differing opinions and views, but we all share one common goal, which is to make … Barrie the best that it can be,” he said. “Mayor (Alex) Nuttall’s collaborative approach to leadership has been inspiring and has allowed us to stay the course with our strategic plan.”

City council developed its strategic priorities for the 2022-26 term of office late last year, identifying five goals to guide its direction during the next four years. They are affordable places to live, community safety, a thriving community, infrastructure investments, and responsible governance.

The first large challenge for Nigussie and the rest of council is approving the 2023 operating and capital budget, which sets property taxes, utility fees (water, sewer) and city service levels.

“The budget that was proposed last week, is something that council will be reviewing in more detail in the coming weeks,” he said. “Our role is to look for ways to maintain and/or improve services while keeping taxes as low as possible.

“I have plenty to learn in my new role, but I have hit the ground running with the guidance of my fellow council members, and Mayor Nuttall,” Nigussie added. “There is an incredible amount of support from city staff as well.”

Barrie councillors will begin deliberating the budget at their Feb. 8-9 general committee meeting, and city council could consider its final approval at the Feb. 15 meeting.