A Personal Note …
In some ways, this will be a difficult column for me to write because at least until later this Fall, it will be the last one that I post. I have been writing Listen Up almost every week for the past five years, with almost three of those years on Doppler. In many ways it has become a part of me; something I knew I had to have ready to post every Sunday and something I would think about for much of the preceding week. I have enjoyed writing about issues and events that were topical whether they were local, provincial, national or global. I learned that people enjoyed reading about these from a person with a deep knowledge and perspective of Huntsville and Muskoka.
Listen Up is a commentary, an opinion piece, and the last thing I wanted was for everyone to agree with what I had to say. At times, I was deliberately controversial because I felt it important to foster debate and opposing points of view. And man, did that work! Almost every issue had comments from readers, often disagreeing with each other or with what I had written, and in many instances, going at it with metaphorical fisticuffs! It has been fun to be part of it. I must also say that I am gratified by the large number of readers who click in to Listen Up every week, some from as far away as Australia and Greece!
I am also very proud of Huntsville Doppler. It was the inspiration of four of us, who have, in our individual ways, worked hard to provide a new on-line local news source to our community. We are proud that we have become a leader in our field and know that we could not have accomplished our goals without the outstanding group of people who work with us. For now, however, while I will remain a partner in Doppler, I will take a leave of absence from its day to day operations and specifically from any involvement in Doppler’s editorial and news content.
And now, you may ask why? The answer is that I have a new passion.
Barring something catastrophic taking place between now and the coming week, I intend to file my nomination papers as a candidate in the upcoming municipal election, for Chair of the District of Muskoka. What one may ask, is that? Well, until this year, the District Chair was appointed by the 22 members of the Muskoka District Council. Legislation brought in by the previous Provincial Government now requires that the head of all Regional and District governments in Ontario, be elected at large. The next District Chair will go from being an appointed official to having an elected mandate across all of Muskoka, the only municipal politician to have that distinction.
Had someone predicted a month ago that I would again seek elected office, I would have asked them what they were smoking. But then something happened. A candidate for District Chair announced that his platform would be to promote One Muskoka, a single layer of municipal governance that would eliminate Muskoka’s three towns and three townships as corporate entities. I have long been opposed to this. District Government in Muskoka as we now have it, is already out of control, in my view. To replace it with another upper tier form of governance, while eliminating local municipalities, could easily set the stage, even with the best of intentions, for something much more bureaucratic and much worse.
I have also believed for some time that District Government in Muskoka has become too fat, too remote and too unaccountable. It astounds me that they now have a staff equivalent to about 560 full-time employees and a budget of more than $160 million a year. My own view is that municipal services, wherever possible, should first and foremost be delivered at the local level where elected officials can be held most accountable and where unique local circumstances can be taken into consideration (and we have many of them in Muskoka) and where duplication can be eliminated.
For these reasons, I believe it’s important to offer a third option to voters for municipal governance in Muskoka. It would focus on services from the bottom up, rather than the top down. It would eliminate unnecessary services and duplication at the District level and significantly reduce the cost of municipal services to taxpayers. It would also reduce the number of politicians on the public payroll. I have a plan to make this happen.
I have enjoyed a successful career in both politics and business. But life is not a one way street and so I have also faced failure. One such instance, a few years ago, resulted in serious financial difficulty. While I am comfortable now, I have learned from that. I know that Muskoka is not as wealthy as some people believe. I know there are many people out there who struggle to make ends meet and I know what a terrible burden debt can be and how it can lead to depression. It is a passion of mine to help relieve that burden, if only by a little, by reducing the cost that people have to pay for municipal services and by keeping local government close to their needs and not in a distant place.
With that, I am off and running again. This municipal election has become a referendum as to how Muskoka and its six municipalities will be governed for years to come. I look forward to being part of that important debate.
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