Wednesday, May 22, 2024

…In With the New

As with every council inauguration I have attended over the past 30 years, there was no shortage of optimism to be found in the Meaford Hall Opera House on Monday as Meaford’s newly elected council was sworn into office.

Every new council that I have witnessed has begun their term with a confidence, and a genuinely positive outlook on what the future will bring, and Monday’s inaugural meeting of council was no different.

The inaugural meeting of council isn’t your typical council meeting, of course, as no real work is done aside from the official installation of the new council, and the gallery full of people watching on were largely family, friends, and campaign helpers. In the weeks and months to come, our newly elected council will no doubt appreciate the audience at the inaugural meeting, as it is traditionally a much friendlier audience than is sometimes found when an angry crowd turns out to a regular council meeting.

This first meeting of the newly elected council provided an opportunity to thank supporters and to offer a look toward the future, possibly through slightly rose-coloured glasses, but given the abuse this collection of seven individuals will endure over the next four years, I think they deserve to start things off with confidence and hope.

For the general public, it can be easy to forget that these elected officials are everyday citizens like the rest of us. Once elected, however, some see them as something a little less than human – they’re politicians after all so they can be harshly criticized if not berated by the folks that foot the bills. While there is no doubt that from time to time a council is more than deserving of criticism, our councillors aren’t our enemies, they are our elected representatives, and they take that role seriously, even when they make what others consider poor decisions.

Our new council, elected by us, will work untold hours, and attend hundreds of meetings and events over the next four years, and in exchange we will pay them very little, and they will hear mostly complaints.

The incumbents are already well aware of what they are in for, but there are two rookies on this new council, and they will quickly learn to treasure the big smiles and positivity they saw at the inaugural meeting. But like all those that came before them, they will develop a thick skin, and endure.

Not that there aren’t rewards to be found as a member of council, there certainly are. Municipal councils often do extremely positive things, but sadly, the general public tends to focus on the issues that are bothering them, not the issues they don’t have because of good decisions made by council.

After our last term of council was installed in 2018, I wrote that growth appeared to be knocking on the door of this municipality. At the time, the previous two years had been record years for building permits in Meaford, and the forecast was for more to come. Four years later, we have seen an influx of development proposals that would have surprised even me four years ago. The predictions of increased future development four years ago were certainly understated, as today, in 2022, this municipality has more development proposals on the books or in the works than our old wastewater treatment plant can handle, so our new council will have much work to do, and many important decisions to make in the months and years to come.

Over the years, I have written many times that I don’t envy municipal councillors, as they often find themselves in hopeless positions knowing full well that they can’t possibly make everyone happy, so all they can do is what they think is best and then brace themselves for angry email messages and phone calls.

That said, they all volunteered, and they are all intelligent, thoughtful people, so they do know full well what they are getting into.

Though often criticized, our last term of council was one of the best this scribe has seen in 30 years of sitting in council chambers in three different municipalities. Our last term of council navigated this municipality through uncertain times as the COVID-19 pandemic turned all of our worlds upside down. I am certain that as the previous council was being sworn in, they could not have imagined a global pandemic and all of the chaos that came along with it. The pandemic aside, the previous term of council was presented with a number of contentious development proposals that mobilized some in the community to push back, to protest, to lobby councillors. Add to the lengthy list of development proposals a $4.5 billion mega-project proposal to build a pumped storage facility on the Meaford Tank Range, land over which our council has no control or decision-making powers, and I think it is safe to say that our last council weathered many storms, and more are on the way for our new council.

We will no doubt hear a lot about roads and bridges in the years to come, and we will be hearing a lot about potential new developments – there will be many important decisions to be made by this council, and I truly wish this council the best in their endeavours as the responsibility is huge, and the accolades are few.

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