Are you up for another election?
I wonder how many people are up for another election. At the federal level, we have just finished one. It was nasty and divisive and pretty much ended up in a hung jury and a seriously divided country. As a result, we could have another national election at any time, although, in all likelihood, because political parties have to rebuild their treasure chests and get past their mutiny instincts, no one is likely to defeat the Liberal minority government for at least the next two years, and if anyone did my sense is that many of us would be severely ticked off.
Here in Huntsville, however, it could be a different matter. We could be facing a municipal election as early as this coming February—little more than a year after the last one. The reason, of course, is that Scott Aitchison, who has been our mayor for the last five years, has been elected as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. He will do well in his new position. He is a people person. He is articulate. He has years of experience in the political realm. He is well acquainted with the issues in both Muskoka and Parry Sound and during his time as mayor he has learned to be more sensitive and tolerant of the needs and priorities of others and to strongly represent their interests. He is also very aware that his job is to represent everyone, not just those who voted for him. My sense is that, barring some kind of catastrophic event, Scott Aitchison’s tenure as our MP will be a long one, consistent with many of his predecessors.
So what happens now, in terms of replacing him? On Tuesday, at a special council meeting, the office of mayor will be declared vacant. Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano will assume the position as head of council until a new mayor is either elected or appointed. The process as to how a new mayor will be selected will be decided by council at their next meeting later this month.
According to the Ontario Municipal Act, Huntsville council can call an election for mayor or they can decide to agree on an appointment. If they decide on an appointment, they have three additional options. They can appoint from the community at-large, they can appoint the runner up for mayor in the last municipal election, or they can restrict the appointment to current members of council. Of all of these options, I support an appointment restricted to the current members of council.
There are those who will argue that the only democratic process is to have a general election so that the public can decide who will fill the remainder of Scott Aitchison’s term of office. I respectfully disagree for both practical and democratic reasons.
We elect councils to make decisions on our behalf during their term of office. That is the democratic process. If we don’t like their decisions, we throw them out at the first opportunity, but their job, which is not always easy, is to make the tough choices and not fall back on the electorate to make them for them.
In this instance, the odds and the arguments are heavily in favour of an appointment from members of the current council, even if there are those who strongly disagree. Here, in my opinion, is why.
There is a high likelihood that whatever method is chosen by council, the next mayor will come from within its membership. Both Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano and District Councillor Tim Withey have indicated an interest in the job. Both, in one form or another, have a mandate from the people. It is true that in the last election cycle, Karin Terziano was acclaimed as the representative from Huntsville Ward. But in every contested municipal election she has run in, and there have been several at both the District and local levels, she has topped the polls. That may have discouraged people from running against her in Huntsville Ward, but her acclamation, nevertheless, is still a mandate. While Councillor Withey has finished third in the last two elections he has contested, because Huntsville is entitled to three District councillors plus the mayor, third still counts, so he too has a mandate from the people.
There is a possibility that there could be three council positions to be filled. If any member of council becomes mayor, their current position will have to be dealt with. If the successful candidate is a member of District council, then that position will have to be filled. If the person who takes up that District seat is an area councillor, then that is another seat that needs to be dealt with.
So do we have two standards here? Do we provide for the possibility of three elections at taxpayers’ expense or, remembering that the mayor like all other members of council, has only one vote, do we have one rule for that position and another for an appointment process for the other vacancies that may occur?
Another election for mayor at this time will cost in the neighbourhood of $100,000 which is not in any budget. Some will say that their definition of democracy trumps an expenditure of a hundred grand. I say we have democratically elected our officials to make decisions on our behalf, that the outcome would very likely be a member of council in any event, and think how many roads we can fix with the money we save.
Since the municipal election last year, until a few days ago, there have been 14 vacancies on local councils in Ontario. A number of them were the head of those bodies. Every single one of those vacancies has been filled by appointment rather than by an election at-large. So, the question must be asked, if we opt for an election for mayor and possibly other council positions, are every one of those councils that opted for the appointment process out of step, or could it possibly be us?
Surely, that is worth thinking about.
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