Meaford voters elected a new council on Monday, and next month our new council will be inaugurated, and will get to work managing the business of the corporation of the Municipality of Meaford.
When our new council is installed, there will be five familiar faces, and two new faces around the council horseshoe. Newcomers Brandon Forder and Robert Uhrig will join incumbents Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney, Councillors Steve Bartley, Tony Bell, and Harley Greenfield along with Meaford’s next mayor, Ross Kentner, to form our new council.
The challenges for this next term of council will be many. From the standard challenges such as roads and bridges, to municipal growing pains and managing new development, to navigating the expansion of Meaford’s waste water treatment plant, to some difficult decisions to be made regarding important facility infrastructure like our arena and public swimming pool. The issues will be many, they will often be complex, and they will be present the moment our seven members of council are officially installed on November 21.
One challenge that our newly elected members of council might not yet see as a challenge at all is that they have been elected by just 37.4 of eligible voters in this municipality. Barely more than a third of eligible voters opted to cast ballots in Monday’s election, down from 43.8 percent in 2014, and 50 percent in 2014 and 2010.
While the seven successful candidates no doubt woke up on Tuesday morning feeling good about the results and their successful campaigns, as they should, they will at some point need to reconcile the reality that a minority of voters elected them, and a significant minority at that. I would hope that our newly elected councillors will take some time to reflect on the fact that nearly two thirds of eligible voters did not participate in this election, and I also hope that might help our newly elected councillors to put into perspective the vocal minority they heard from throughput the election campaign.
I suspect it will be a challenge to ensure that decisions made by council truly reflect the best interests of all residents when six of ten didn’t cast a ballot.
Candidates will need to take some time to reset, and to realize that all of the outraged voices at council meetings, and on the campaign trail protesting various development proposals, are truly a minority of residents. If the remaining two-thirds of Meafordites who did not vote are concerned about higher density developments, or allowing taller buildings to be erected in this municipality, it didn’t concern them enough to drive them to the ballot box, so how much outrage related to proposed development is truly out there?
Once councillors take an honest look at the election results, they might rightly conclude that the loud voices they have and will face don’t truly represent the views of our community as a whole. A challenge to be sure.
Meaford is not alone in its low voter participation in this election. In the early data I reviewed the morning after the election, voter turnout across the province was low. Toronto for example saw just 29 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, neighbouring Owen Sound saw a 39 percent voter turnout, while Windsor had just a 31.6 percent voter turnout. In the coming days more data will be available, and I suspect that provincially little more than a third of all eligible voters participated in this municipal election.
Low voter turnout aside, our new council will be busy in the months and years to come. Development proposals will continue to be submitted, and our councillors will have to find a balance between the voices of outrage and our Official Plan, and the realities of provincial legislation which has increasingly tied the hands of local councils in recent years.
While our mayor is but one vote of seven on council, the most important role of a mayor is to be able to bring a council together in order to be productive. We must hope that the other six members of council like and respect our new mayor, and work with him rather than against him. I am hopeful that Mayor-elect Ross Kentner is up to the challenge, and that he builds a solid working relationship with the rest of council, but only time will tell, and we will all be watching closely as this new council finds its feet and gets to work.
With the election over, I’d like to express thanks and appreciation to all who ran for a seat on council. While voter participation has been on the decline over the past four municipal elections, so has the number of candidates opting to jump into the ring. In 2014 we had a total of 20 candidates to choose from, while in 2018 that dropped to 16, and in this year’s election there were just 15 candidates, and our Deputy Mayor had no competitor and was therefore acclaimed.
So I very much appreciate those who make the difficult decision to run for council knowing the realities of the job and the many hours it will take from their lives, with the return often being angry voices on the phone or at council meetings. It is a job that can be equally rewarding and thankless, but it is an important job, and those who were candidates in this election should be applauded, win or lose.