Well, it’s started. The candidates have paid their fee and signed up their supporters, and now we’ll be faced with a plethora of election signs and flyers for the next three months. There are four people trying to become Mayor of North Grenville, and a sizeable crop of eight running for council in the municipality. That compares to four running for Mayor in Merrickville-Wolford, and eight going for council. Quite a coincidence: equal numbers in both communities.
Much will be said and written about all of these men and women over the coming weeks, but for now the focus is on us, the residents and voters. Somehow, from that list of candidates, we have to pick who to vote for in October. In North Grenville, we get to vote for one of the mayoral candidates, but we have up to four choices when it comes to Councillor. You can vote for one, two, three, or even four of them, if you can find a reason to. For Mayor, we have the incumbent, David Gordon, going for a third term (although he did say he’d only stay for two when he got elected). And we have current member of council, Jim Bertram, who, in spite of major health issues, has been more productive than almost any councillor since amalgamation. Nancy Peckford has more than enough experience of political life from her time heading Equal Voice, and politics runs in her family. Woody Armour tried out for council last time, and now he’s going for the big chair. What might be called a diamond in the rough, there’s no-one who knows more about rural issues, if he can manage to get on with his colleagues.
The contest for a Council seat will be really interesting. Two incumbents face off against six challengers, and incumbents start with an advantage in these events. According to statistics, 75% of incumbents in Ontario municipal elections manage to be returned, compared to only 25% of challengers. The interesting thing now is that there are two council seats available, even if both incumbents are returned, which is actually unlikely this time around. Frank Onasanya has not made an impression in his four years on council, and Barb Tobin has been around since 2006. Time, perhaps, to give someone else an opportunity.
The challengers are an interesting lot. Craig McCormick knows the community very well indeed from his time as OPP Sergeant, and Jim McManaman, likewise, has had a long career in business in the community and is a well-known figure. Both Deron Johnston and John Barclay have given up paid jobs in order to run for Council this time, Deron has cut ties with the Times, and John has been forced to, as he says, “interrupt” his job as Executive Director of the Kemptville BIA.
Kristin Strackerjan and Doreen O’Sullivan are not as well know in the community, but both have shown their willingness to get involved in issues and events around North Grenville. It is true of them, as of all the candidates, that they have gone out on a limb to present themselves to the voters for consideration. That, I think, demands both respect, and a willingness on our part as citizens to listen to what they have to say and evaluate their suitability for the role of Councillor.
One of the most serious problems which has faced the Municipality, and especially the CAO and some senior managers, is the failure of the majority of the current council to adequately tackle the political side of their responsibilities. There has been an unwillingness, I would say an inability, to properly research issues and come to informed decisions facing Council. This has meant that a greater burden has fallen on administrative staff than should be the case in a properly-functioning system. We have the opportunity to fix that problem by choosing the right people for the next four years. That is not an easy task: especially with challengers, it is very hard to know how they would perform if elected. The incumbents have a track record which can be evaluated and judged, newcomers do not have that (dis)advantage.
Over the coming months, we hope to provide citizens with as much information as possible concerning the candidates. Interviews with each one will be offered and posted on our website, with excerpts printed in the paper. If you have a question you would like put to any or all of them, send it in and it will be used.
One threatening cloud on the horizon at the moment is the fear that the atmosphere in which this campaign will be fought may become too negative, too personal. It has already been the case that misleading comments about some candidates have been posted on Facebook, for example, and it is all too easy for rumours and innuendo to be presented as fact in social media. Perhaps that is one of the criteria that can be used to judge potential councillors: how do they conduct themselves in relation to other candidates? What is the tone of their comments on social media and in the press? What we certainly do not need is a fractious, divided council for the next four years. We’ve had them in the past, and there is nothing good to be said about them. So, the candidates have put themselves forward in an act of bravery and commitment. Now we need to do our part and give them a fair hearing and an informed vote, for or against. It has started.