Monday, October 22 is municipal election day, and I have heard some folks express a desire to see Meaford elect the 'right council' for this municipality. While I agree with the sentiment, I would suggest that in a democracy like ours, whoever is elected on Monday will be the 'right council' for this municipality, as it will be the desire of a majority of voters.
That said, what is the 'right council' for Meaford? Ask a dozen people and I suspect you will hear a dozen different responses, with some common threads running through many of the responses.
From my perspective the right council for Meaford will have a heavy focus on the daunting infrastructure funding deficit facing this and virtually all municipalities now and in the years to come, but I'm not looking for a slash and burn style of council. It would be a shame to sacrifice the 'frills', as some people call them, that make our municipality a livable community.
My 'right council' will understand that they are to be advised but not directed by municipal staff. We are electing our representatives, we expect them to represent us, not simply bow to staff recommendations. That said, advice from staff is valuable and it should be taken seriously, but not at the expense of the desires of the community.
A 'right council' for Meaford from my perspective would ensure that all areas of this very large municipality are treated equally and fairly, and would continue the work that this current council has undertaken over the past four years to try to bridge the urban-rural divides to unite us as one community.
While we all have our own special areas of interest, the 'right council' for me will ensure that our arena, parks, community centres, and public swimming pool, along with Meaford Hall and a number of other municipal service areas are maintained and even improved when possible. Those structures and activities are part of what makes this municipality a community, even if we don't use many or any of them ourselves, and I think it important to maintain the sense of community in every way possible.
But back to infrastructure (and here is where I will lose, if not anger, some of you), the 'right council' for me will be brave enough to come to the realization that perhaps we have been living beyond our means when it comes to infrastructure, and it is quite possible that some of it will need to be downgraded or eliminated in the decades to come – and that's okay.
Let's not forget, that all of the decades-old roads and bridges, not to mention the pipes in the ground, that we all rely on every day have brought us to the point where we can't afford to properly maintain them, hence the infrastructure funding deficit. One of the questions we should be asking, but that I almost never hear, particularly from political types, is do we need all of this infrastructure in its current form? Could some roads be converted from asphalt to gravel? Are some bridges redundant and could be closed and removed for good?
If we magically repaired and rehabilitated all of our infrastructure tomorrow would we be in the very same boat 50 years from now, with no funding to replace once again crumbling infrastructure? I suspect so, and I think we need to do some hard thinking about just what infrastructure is crucial, and what is less crucial and could be downgraded or eliminated in some way.
Then again, this council has had a report in their hands for the entire four years of their term that identifies a number of old, low-travelled bridges that should be closed for good once they can no longer bear the load of daily traffic, but even then councillors understandably have a hard time actually closing those bridges.
I am not suggesting that there is a lengthy list of infrastructure we could do without; what I am suggesting is that the conversation should happen, but it will take some brave members of council to start the conversation, because naturally nobody wants to be told that the road they are living on doesn't see much traffic so it would be cheaper to revert to gravel, but it is a reality we might have to face in the years to come, so why not have the conversation now?
As you can see, there is much to consider when preparing to elect a new council, and as a believer in the democratic process, I think Meaford voters will elect the 'right council' for this municipality.