Comment - Double, double, toil and trouble

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

September 2, 2009

If council terms were still three years in duration, Haldimand County and for that matter every municipality in Ontario would be gearing up for an election this fall.

Prior to the last election the term of municipal councils in Ontario was extended to four years, and the pros and cons of that decision can certainly be debated.

In an interview last week, Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer told The Regional News that she personally feels a four-year term is better.

In the first year of any council, members regroup and set priorities and new council members have to learn the ropes. The majority of work accomplished in the past usually took place during the second year, before council was once again thrown into election mode, she said.

With a four-year term, Trainer believes that it gives council a full two years of getting down to business instead of campaigning as often and reorganizing afterward.

This sounds like a fair argument. New councils should get off to a fresh start and campaigns do take some considerable leg work leading up to a vote. But does such reasoning warrant an extended term?

Some might argue that politicians are always in campaign mode anyway. Lately it seems as if some council members are getting ready for the fall of 2010. This in just their third year together. A work year at that.

Coun. Buck Slot took the mayor to task recently for speaking to the local media about a meeting with the province's aboriginal affairs minister, before briefing councillors.

This week he chastised her for not emailing information that was relayed to her from a Six Nations representative who asked for a meeting with council and the minister of aboriginal affairs.

He was also angry with her and her office for not taking the bull by the horns to arrange meetings with provincial officials prior to an Association of Municipalities conference last month.

Trainer told The Regional News that Sloat went off on a tangent and was trying to make her look bad, claiming that some of his points were "political, not accurate."

When asked to rebut that statement, Sloat said that he isn't going to get in a war of words through the newspaper and that his comments at council deal with the mayor's actions on an issue-by-issue basis. Sloat claims that he hasn't even contemplated the next election and is doing the best he can for ward two at the current time.

Speculating about his motives, therefore, is just that and nothing more.

However, the mayor recently resigned from the Haldimand Utilities Board citing personal reasons she chose to keep confidential. She thinks that she can provide more input elsewhere. Coun. Buck Sloat also happens to sit on the utility's board and was the only other council appointee along with Trainer.

Again, any public opinion is all just speculative, but there is a trend forming, or so it seems.

In the meantime, it's questionable whether all the gibber of late is affecting council from dealing with the issues it should be. Again, according to Trainer, this should be a work year.

Sloat and the mayor must be focused on their priorities after having years under their belt on council. The mayor certainly isn't a political neophyte. She's a seasoned veteran. After 21 years on council her actions, right or wrong, are still challenged whether it's by a colleague with an agenda as she claims, or because she's incompetent at forwarding messages and communicating with her colleagues after 15 years in a mayoral capacity.

No, Trainer shouldn't be keeping things from council such as messages from a Six Nations official who requested a meeting. Then again, Sloat asked her to refrain from sending him mail from Gary McHale who asked that some of his messages be forwarded to all council members.

If Trainer hadn't sent these messages out in the past, she'd probably be reprimanded for that too. Anyway, how hard is it for a councillor to press the delete button?

It's too bad that the next election is still more than a year off, because the longer term has done nothing to ward off the rhetoric, petty or not, that comes with it. The council term in some provinces is only two years long. This might pose more work for some larger urban councils and it does cost taxpayers to run an election. Yet it would arguably hold councillors accountable in the short-term while allowing their constituents the opportunity to decide their fate.

Four years seems to do nothing to hold off the election ember. The extended term arguably only allows the campaign karma to boil and bubble and it's shaping up to be an interesting election year ahead.

Double, double, toil and trouble.