Editorial: Our Take On This Election

By John Swartz

Here we are again, voting to elect a new council and mayor. Didn’t we just do this? Most people looking in know who the candidates are because you’ve been following media coverage. Some people don’t have any idea an election is happening, who is running, much less who they’ll vote for.

Notice the contraction for they will was not they’d (they would). You are going to vote, right? As we’ve learned from the last 4 or 5 years of political instability, voting does matter and voting wisely matters more. If you didn’t think far enough ahead to keep, or can’t locate your voter notification card you can still show up at your poll with ID showing your address (driver’s license) and backup ID just in case.

It is important to vote wisely. Orillia council has a taken several steps during this past term, completion of which won’t happen until into the new council’s term, or beyond. Some of the same candidates who oppose those measures also say they are fiscally responsible, but abandoning action and money already spent won’t matter if it means a good show for the voters.

Examples of actions carrying forward are the waterfront development, the climate action plan, following through on lined up road reconstruction projects and etc.

The past council has progressively taken action to position Orillia for economic expansion. Nobody wants to move to a City to set up shop where pieces of the puzzle which make living a life enjoyable are missing. That’s why we have a modern library, two recreation facilities, a new major employer relocating to the West Ridge (Hydro One), and are engaged in building places to live and work on the waterfront and in the downtown core.

The wrong people on council can change course, write off the money spent so far, and leave Orillia stagnating as the rest of the world moves on, and some candidates would like that to happen. One can argue the merit or scope of any particular project, on the whole the totality of change so far implemented looks pretty attractive – if one is looking in from outside the community.

Case in point, there are still some in the community who think money spent on the library building was not worth it. However, the neighbourhood revitalization and thousands of people who use it every week (injecting life into the downtown), say otherwise.

Running a community is more than about singular projects. There are relationships and effects on other aspects of city life, some of which may be intangible or hard to quantify, that are intended to be improved and affected. The puzzle is not done until the last piece is laid in place, and until then all you’ve got is an organized mess.

The most important position to consider is that of who will be the next mayor. In SUNonline/Orillia’s view the play set in motion from Ken McCann, to Ron Stevens and then Steve Clarke can continue with a good choice, or it can be set back or delayed as it was during the term of Angelo Orsi.

Mayoral Candidates

One could write a book about the council races, so this is necessarily going to be a Cole’s Notes argument. There are three candidates for the mayor’s job, Mason Ainsworth, John Edward Maxwell and Don McIssac

At the only debate in late September, Ainsworth made much of making Orillia investment ready. His voting record disagrees with his stated plan. He voted against all the above mentioned projects at key stages and at this time none of them would be happening if he was on the winning side of the vote. Often he was the lone wolf, opposing the sale of Orillia Power Distribution, the Orillia Recreation Centre, the plan to assemble the land on Front Street which makes redevelopment possible, the climate action plan and several other items.

He also claims to work hard for citizens and he’s there for them, approachable, etc. Yet, his committee attendance says otherwise. In the 2014-18 term of council he was publicly called to the carpet regarding his dismal committee attendance, and not much has changed.

He says just call, we did, dozens of times and not one voice mail (or email) was responded to. We are in an election, speaking with journalists is a high priority with most candidates, but not Ainsworth. Yeah, yeah, a journalist is only one person. Let’s not forget journalists who cover politics do it so you don’t have to. You’re busy and we help organize and crystallize political happenings for you (whether you believe it or not is up to you). Speaking with journalists is tantamount to speaking to dozens, hundreds or thousands all at once. Who wouldn’t do that?

He also takes credit for a number of things he was just one of the councillors in favour of. For example his campaign literature references establishing a traffic calming reserve. If it weren’t for councillor Jay Fallis’s tenacity on this subject nothing would have changed. He also takes credit for the climate action plan and The Orillia Recreation Centre, which as stated above, he voted against.

Another area he hasn’t been helpful with is various smaller community efforts designed to improve the quality of life, or attractiveness of the city. In particular, time after time he suggested artists should just volunteer their expertise and creativity toward projects, rather than get compensated like any other person or company would working for the City. We can throw tens of thousands at consultants to sometimes tell us what we already know, or bungle their assignments, but paying a couple hundred bucks to a musician to perform, or something more for an artist to create substantial artwork – that’s too much.

Being investment ready is a nebulous concept without meaning when there is no vision of what has to happen and what it applies to and so far, we have not heard of a project or plan being investment ready applies to.

Ainsworth has also introduced elements into campaigning which are more like those our American cousins are used to. Involving elected officials from high levels of government is not part of our scene. He issued a press release, which he then made public on his own, containing so many unsubstantiated allegations typical of American mudslinging SUNonline/Orillia would not publish it.

John Maxwell, is the third candidate. He is well meaning, of that there is no doubt. He’s courageous too. Stepping forward in an election is something almost nobody else will do.

Yet, at the debate, he demonstrated he doesn’t understand even the rough points of the causes and solutions to various issues and has no alternatives to offer other than he’d change things. That unfortunately is not good enough. What needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and how it gets done are the very things which need to be articulated in an election. Sure there are voters who will join up based on a fanciful, utopian future, but most others want to know how it’s going to happen.

Don McIsaac is the clear choice. He brings extensive corporate (which also means bureaucratic) experience to the applicant process. We found him to more knowledgeable of how the municipal system works than most candidates who have never held office usually have. We think he can read the room and respect past action before taking new or different action.

His career background is exactly the kind of thing we need at this time when political instability is rampant and the economic outlook murky. Much of what needs fixing here in Orillia is beyond the control of the municipal government. That means dealing with a provincial government that operates on whim, not evidence, and a federal government that moves at a sluggish pace. A calm, researched and reasoned approach McIsaac seems to possess will do this community good. One can find fault with some of his positions, but one must also acknowledge he will listen to others who think differently, and even modify his thought if one makes a strong case.

The Ward Races

Turning to the wards. Some people advocate throwing the whole council out and replacing them with fresh blood across the board. It sounds good on paper, but it’s totally unworkable. One does not change generals or the officer class in the middle of battle, unless you are Vladimir Putin, and we can all see how well that’s working.

For that reason, David Campbell needs to be returned to council in Ward One. There are other reasons. He continually asks good questions in debate. He has the career knowledge in the digital world this City has to have. At times he brings up points for consideration that few others even notice. 

Rob Kloostra is an enigma. He has said so little at council during his two terms it’s hard to get a read of what drives him to vote the way he does. Granted, most of the time he’s on board, but not always. We’ve been trying to think of a single issue he brought to the discussion, a new idea or proposal, and can’t come up with anything.

Of the other candidates in Ward One, Matt Lund has political and business experience, which could benefit. He’s been immersed in politics at higher levels for many years which is a quality we’re going to need solving the housing crisis here at home and getting a new hospital back on track.

The other candidates have various qualities which might be attractive, however being new to the municipal scene, maybe next time around will be the trick for them.

In Ward Two there is no question of where Ralph Cipolla’s loyalties lie. If you don’t know, it’s for the betterment of Orillia. He’s progressive, but tempered with a reluctance to spend money and often not for change for change’s sake. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes not. He has ideas too. Of all the councillors we’ve had during the past two terms he has proposed more initiatives that have been enacted than others have.  And, he’s like a dog on a bone with some of them, sometimes taking a year or more to convince the others to see things his way.

This ward has a number of reasonable second choices. Gilles Depratto, Brian Hare stand out as potential councillors, though some of the others are a close call. Gilles’s career was all about investigating and seeing the facts, before acting and it’s hard to argue we couldn’t use more of that. Brian has served this community for many years in a voluntary capacity. He is knowledgeable of the course of events and in our experience a good sponge for taking on information. He has put in the effort to make Orillia better in many ways not entirely visible. Either of these two candidates would be a good addition to council.

Ward Three has incumbent Jay Fallis in the mix. Despite recent legal decisions about his conduct during the waterfront deliberations (in which a court decided municipal councillors do not have the right to legal counsel in all matters, a notion we don’t agree with) he has shown to be a thoughtful councillor. Maybe getting a little too far into the weeds sometimes, but at times that mindset has changed the discussion. Of all the councillors he has successfully taken up the battle for issues specific to his ward more than the others.

The next choice seems obvious to us. Elizabeth Van Houtte’s opinions on many of the issues voters are concerned with have been public knowledge for years. She has been a candidate for higher office more than once, and if this wasn’t a solid conservative riding she would be our MPP. Again, the issues to be solved voters most want action on are out the municipality’s hands. Her knowledge of provincial policy and current directionlessness regarding housing and mental health will be invaluable to the City of Orillia.

In Ward Four Tim Lauer is making his we-lost-count run for a council seat. There has been nobody on council during the last 20 years displaying the wisdom he brings to discussions. He is usually the one asking questions about key points no one else is noticing. His institutional knowledge of how City Hall works will be invaluable for new councillors. And let’s not forget when the Community Centre was unceremoniously and unexpectedly closed, he jumped into action and led the whole team toward getting Rotary Place built in record time. In short he has a clear vision of this City’s pressing needs, and when it’s not clear asking the right questions to define the objective and action.

Janet-Lynne Durnford stands above a strong field of candidates in Ward Four. If it weren’t for her, advocating for a candidate in this ward would be a very difficult task. Janet-Lynne has stood for higher office and holds a leadership position in the education system. She’s not ignorant of how bureaucracy can work, or fail. She’s maybe the most progressive candidate of all wards, and her focus on the various aspects and parts of climate change and the City’s action plan, along with knowledge of provincial policy on housing and a commitment to spurring housing action locally will be of benefit to the community.

This might be helpful for you to make a choice on Monday and there are probably many who disagree with this editorial, but let’s keep in mind what we all want a great city. There aren’t dozens of paths toward the goal, just a very few. What is important is to want to be better and choose the horses to get us there. We want more housing, less crime – which is related to mental health and drug addiction, better roads and the lowest taxes this side of Norway. There is nothing there an abundance of good jobs can’t solve, and many of the positions taken by this list of choices also acknowledge our economy needs boosting in one way or another. Many of their positions, though not necessarily stated here, come with a side plate of how will these things help attract new jobs.

Voting day is tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is one voting place in each ward and they are: Ward One – the Masonic Building, 24 James St. E.; Ward 2 – the Orillia Recreation Centre, 255 West St. S.; Ward 3 – Rotary Place, 100 University Ave. Ward 4 – Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School, 15 Commerce Rd.

(Image Supplied)


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