Let me deal with something right off the top. Most people know that both Scott Aitchison and I were candidates for Mayor of Huntsville in the last municipal election. He won and I lost. When I made my decision to run,, Scott was not in the race and in fact had told me he would not be. But he ran and he won and believe it or not, I was happy for him.
Becoming Mayor of Huntsville is something Scott Aitchison dreamed of since he was a teenager. He is one of the most personable people I know. I believed when I first met him that he had great potential and I still do. When I was Mayor and we were first on Council together, he looked to me for mentoring and I was happy to provide it. I was also happy to bring him into our communications business on a part time basis, so that he could gain experience and continue his education. There were disappointments but there were also moments of real achievement And so, when I say now, that I am disappointed in Scott’s first seven months as Mayor, it is not through any sense of sour grapes that he is Mayor and not me. I am well over that and perfectly content with what I am doing. It is however, with a sense of regret and frustration that during the first half of this year, as Huntsville has faced several challenges, I have seen little visible leadership from our Mayor. I expected better .He has always talked the talk but when is he going to walk the walk?
Our Hospital is a case in point. It is not something that is within Council’s jurisdiction, but it is an issue that desperately requires municipal leadership. Since the Hospital Board has announced its recommendation for a single site hospital in Muskoka, we have seen next to no leadership from Mayor Aitchison. He continues to advocate, along with Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith for two acute care hospitals in Muskoka even though that horse has left the barn. That may be good politics but the reality of it actually happening at this point, is at best, a very long shot. Meanwhile, Mayor Smith has hedged his bet with an optional site on Highway 11 in Bracebridge to “serve all of Muskoka”.
The reality is that plans are moving forward for a single site hospital to serve Muskoka and East Parry Sound. MAHC is about to appoint a site committee with specific criteria for selecting a location. The Hospital cannot advocate for a site in Huntsville. Only our municipal leaders can and that starts with the Mayor.
It is still possible to have an effect on the criteria that MAHC will provide to the Site Selection Committee. Huntsville should seek to meet with the Hospital Board to have input into this criteria, emphasizing the importance of accessible hospital care to people in East Parry Sound and Algonquin Park. This can be done now. Is it being done?
Even more important is the necessity of having a comprehensive and effective proposal ready to present to the Site Committee. Their current mandate is to look for and to choose a single site, not two sites. We need to be ready to address that reality in a winning way. It is by far, the most important issue facing Huntsville today. I understand that the Mayor does not believe that the municipality needs to engage professional services to develop a plan. That is fair enough. But then, it is also fair enough to ask him, what is his plan? Our community has a right to know. We need an advocate who will speak loudly and clearly about why a single site hospital for Muskoka should be located in Huntsville, without double speak and without equivocation and without delay. That would be you, Mr. Mayor.
Another important area where leadership is needed is fiscal restraint.The Mayor campaigned on it and a few weeks ago, Council held a strategic planning session from which emerged six or seven ‘strategic initiatives’, the first of which is indeed, Fiscal Restraint. What a good idea!. Bur when you look at the record of the past seven months, the many spending initiatives, the lack of visible concern by the Mayor about three million dollars of unfunded liabilities and the recent statement of the Town’s Treasurer that given commitments already made by Council, the 2016 budget is already, (only half way through 2015) showing an increase north of 6%, one can only wonder, if it is all just talk. And so, if it’s not just talk, if he really means it, it is time for the Mayor to walk the walk. Freeze spending.
It is an important part of leadership in my view, for the Mayor to have the respect of his Council and for the Mayor to have respect for them. As I watched Council proceedings on Monday night, I had some concerns. When the issue of selling the train station was being discussed, Councillor Brian Thompson pointed out that both he and the Mayor were Real Estate agents and questioned whether they had a conflict of interest. Instead of answering, the Mayor simply told Thompson that if he felt he had a conflict he should leave the room. Brian deserved more respect than that. Later in the meeting, it was pretty clear that the Mayor simply wanted the meeting to end. He began asking Council to vote on motions he did not actually read. He simply said, ‘it’s just like the last one, so all in favour?’…… The result was that at least two Councillors who had earlier in the evening voted against the Green Bug Energy hydro-electric proposal at the Brunel Locks, voted in favour of the by-law to enable it, arguably,because the motion was not read. A day or so later, at a meeting of General Committee, Councillor Nancy Alcock asked if there was not a problem with deciding at Monday’s Council meeting not to lease the train station to the Chamber for a nominal amount and then deciding at this meeting, to lease space to Club 55 for two dollars a year. The Mayor’s curt response was “We aren’t going there”. It was a fair question to which there was a fair answer. Councillor Alcock deserved the courtesy of hearing it.This early in the term, I am sure that the Mayor still has the respect of his Council. However, flippancy,arrogance and a casual approach to the work and concerns of his entire Council is a sure path to losing it.
I thought long and hard about writing this article and in fact, I wrote it twice and scrapped it once. I know there are those that would have liked me to scrap it a second time. At the end of the day however, I love this Town and I like Scott Aitchison. I think he has the capacity to be a very good Mayor and I was disturbed by a comment from a person that I respect, that he was heading in the opposite direction. Our Mayor has lots of time to create his legacy but his leadership is needed now. I believe he has it in him. Please let us see it.