Out with the old and in with the new as the municipal election race in Barrie starts in earnest. Voters should look for consensus-building skills, strategic vision, and a focus on community when candidates come knocking
In case you missed it, and you might have, the current term of city council came to a close Monday night, not with a bang but with a good night, see you in November.
Council won’t meet again until Nov. 1, and by then it will have a caretaker, or lame duck if you prefer, status, waiting for the new council, the one elected in the Oct. 25 municipal election, to take over at the Dec. 6 inaugural meeting.
It may look very similar or it may be vastly different, depending on the whims and moods of the electorate. Only one current councillor, Jerry Moore in Ward 8, isn’t standing for re-election, but this contest has attracted an unusual number of candidates. (As well as Ward 8, things will look different in Ward 1, where incumbent Mike Ramsay is running for mayor, and in Ward 2, where Coun. Jeff Lehman is also a mayoral candidate.)
There are eight candidates for mayor, a far cry from previous elections where the call to office went unanswered and unheeded by all but the most committed few. The eight candidates for mayor are: Harry Ahmed, Dave Aspden, Rob Hamilton, Carl Hauck, Jeff R. Lehman, Mike Ramsay, Darren A. Roskam, Joe Tascona.
Historically, if three or four candidates wanted to be mayor, you’d have an exciting race. The fact that eight candidates, including the incumbent, want a shot at the big chair, not only reflects the growing importance of Barrie as a regional centre, but also the possible emergence of a cadre of professional municipal politicians.
Municipal politics is still, official, a part-time position, but increasingly a full-time job. That’s certainly true with the mayor’s office, which has morphed into a well-paid gig, at least by the standards of municipal politics. The mayor can easily make more than $100,000 when all’s said and done, with a councillor’s earnings pushing into the $35,000-a-year range.
Don’t be surprised if you see a move in the not-too-distant future to officially proclaim the role of councillor a full-time position. That will add pressure to increase compensation to attract the best and the brightest (does that ever work?), and, perhaps, the politicizing of municipal politics along party lines.
If this did happen, the Conservatives would have a huge head start given MP Patrick Brown’s continuing interest in municipal politics. The municipal Conservative ties run deep in this town.
As well as the eight candidates standing for mayor, 35 residents are running for councillor in the city’s 10 wards. They are:
• Bonnie J. Ainsworth, Kevin T. Richards in Ward 1;
• Matt Dean, Rose Romita, Lynn M. Strachan in Ward 2;
• Rodney G. Jackson, Doug Shipley in Ward 3;
• Leonard Bugeja, Patrick C. Hebert, Barry J. Ward in Ward 4;
• Patricia B. Copeland, James R. Palmer, Peter Silveira, Peter M. Rose, Michael J. Tuck, Cory W. Watkins in Ward 5;
• Martin S. Carlisle, Michael Prowse in Ward 6;
• John Brassard, Steven Mallon, Peter Tymciw, Jeffrey C. Waye in Ward 7;
• Alison Eadie, Ghulam Jilani, Don T. W. MacNeil, Don W. McLaurin, Jennifer Robinson, John S. Webb in Ward 8;
• Paolo Fabrizio, David R. Hardwick, Brian H. Jackson, Andrew J. Prince in Ward 9;
• Michael Fernandes, Alexander M.C.W. Nuttall, Alex Shevchenko in Ward 10.
Lots of choice, yes, but will the field attract more attention from the populace than in previous elections? Traditionally, three in ten eligible voters cast a ballot. So, if there are about 80,000 people in Barrie who are eligible to vote, and if historical trends hold, that means 24,000 people, or so, will vote. If the eight candidates running for election each draw an equal number of votes, which they won’t, that means you can get elected mayor in this city with a little more than 3,000 votes.
That’s one reason you see candidates attaching themselves to high-profile issues; they only need a neighbourhood’s support to push them over the top.
Largely, the municipal election gets ignored by the majority of the populace, and that’s a pity as City Hall arguably has the biggest impact on people’s lives – it sets your tax rate, decides when, or if, your street gets plowed, has sidewalks and stop signs. It establishes the level of basic services, including fire and police. It lives where you live.
So, if you are among the few who are going to vote, what qualities should you be trying to place around the council table, come Dec. 6?
• The first priority would be to elect a mayor who is a consensus builder, someone who can lead a team in setting and delivering the city’s key strategic objectives. This is a big town now, and there’s no room for fly-by-the-seat politics. Leave the lone wolves at the door.
• Strategic thinkers would also be useful councillors. Do they understand the city’s issues, and, more importantly, do they know how to address them? Will they be good representatives for your ward? Barrie is big enough now that different areas have different problems. Elect someone who knows your ward, and your city.
• Do they play well with others? The best ideas won’t go anywhere unless the one with the plan can get support from at least five others around the table. There’s that consensus-building skill again – perhaps the most important requirement in this election.
• For many, actual residency in the ward may be a sticking point. If a candidate doesn’t live in the ward in which he or she is running, he or she should at least be required to explain why they aren’t running in their home ward.
• Do they have a plan to bring City Hall closer to the people? It’s a misnomer to say residents aren’t interested in municipal politics. They are, when an issue hits close to home. From hydro poles on Prince William Way, to the redevelopment of the Allandale Train Station, people are passionately interested in their neighbourhoods. That’s when they engage City Hall, filling the council chambers to air their grievances and press their needs. More often than not, they have been ignored. Vote for people who won’t ignore you.
• Do they have a plan for providing required services while keeping a grip on taxes? Candidates should vow not to support any budget that raises taxes more than 2.5 per cent.
It would be great if the increased number of candidates in this election corresponded to more people voting. Chances are it won’t, so the rest of you will have to elect the next council. Be sure your vote is an informed one. We’re counting on you.