Something happened last week in our municipal elections, we’re just not sure yet what it was. There was a fear in some quarters that the decision to have just one polling station – at the Municipal Centre – would have a negative effect on voting this time. Would people who would have normally voted in the hamlets make the effort to get to Kemptville to vote? In the event, the overall vote was up this year, but that is hardly something to talk about. 47% of eligible voters cast their ballots this time, which meant that 53% didn’t.
Still, that was better than 2014, when the figure was 42% turnout, but you really have to wonder. The results we got were really something to talk about: a clean sweep, mayor and the entire council replaced by newcomers to municipal governance. The odd thing is that the same thing happened in Merrickville-Wolford, a clean sweep there, too. Have we become a community of revolutionaries? Here in North Grenville, there was a clear sense of people feeling they’d had enough. Enough secrecy, enough of gag orders, and a wish to see a new approach, a new team.
But it was still a shock to see some of the results that came in. I think the failure of people to support Deron Johnston was truly shocking. After all the anger that was caused when he was passed over for the vacant seat following the resignation of Tim Sutton; after all the work he had put into the community for more than four years; it just seemed deeply unjust that others were elected who had no record whatsoever in community activism, no involvement in this municipality at all until the election was called. Democracy, the worst of all systems except for all the others, can sometimes be cruel and unfair.
There are so many challenges facing this new council, as well as enormous opportunities. It would have been better if we had more people on the new council with some awareness and experience in identifying and dealing with them. The challenges include making the Kemptville Campus pay its way, setting up the new not-for-profit organisation charged with making that happen. The best buildings have already been cherry-picked by the school boards there: will the remaining parts of the property be sufficiently attractive and useful to the kind of tenants that are being sought?
There is major issues that has been ignored before now, but which will need some urgent review. The lack of recycling for thousands of heavy plastic bags has been brought to the attention of the public in the past months, but nothing is being done to find a solution. The contract for recycling in North Grenville is coming up for renewal, and the terms must be changed to prevent hundreds of thousands of these heavy plastic bags from being sent to landfill.
What is the state of the water supply in Kemptville? A report a few years ago warned of a lack of capacity, and yet hundreds of new homes have been approved for building. What will that do to the level and quality of water supplies in Kemptville? Then there’s County Road 43. We all know the problems that face that stretch of highway every morning and evening. When will the funds be available to widen the road to four lanes? What can be done to avoid the chaos that could ensue when it is dug up and under construction, when a new bridge has to be built over the South Branch? How are we to deal with the dreadful mess that is the Planning Department? These, and so many other joys, are going to face the new team.
But, and this is vital to remember, we have a tremendous number of assets available to them also. The greatest, by far, are the people who voted them into office last week. The citizens of this community are a huge, and largely untapped, resource, one that has proved itself again and again to be ready, willing and more than able to join whatever initiative there may arise to improve their community and help it grow in a genuinely green and sustainable manner.
I have often talked about The Bubble, that phenomenon that can, and usually does, overtake councils and mayors sooner or later. New arrivals are particularly vulnerable to The Bubble. They come to learn about the confidential things, the things which have been only talked about in closed meetings of council, the things that either frighten them or make them feel part of the initiated.
They come to believe that they know things that we don’t, and that makes them feel that only they really and truly understand. We, the average citizen, must be protected, kept in happy innocence. This is the road to arrogance, condescension and a “them and us” approach to the community which has so plagued North Grenville for so long. This is also why there was a clean sweep of those “insiders” this time around.
So, we ask the new mayor and council to let us in. We know there are things which cannot legally be discussed in public. We know there is a Municipal Act that imposes limits and restrictions on you. But we are relying on you to learn from your predecessors and remember, every day for the next four years, that we are really all on the same side, and we, too, have things to offer in making North Grenville our home.