Comment - Municipal Election Speculation

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

April 14, 2010

Only five candidates have registered for the upcoming municipal election this fall - four of them incumbents - but the rumours are starting to fly and the rhetoric is sure to heat up in the coming weeks. You can be sure of that, given the issues that Haldimand's faced since 2006.

For some candidates, putting their name forth is all about timing and strategy. In a rural community with a relatively small population compared to larger, urbanized areas (16,203 people registered a vote for mayor in 2006), one candidate can make a big difference, while many - although great for a debate - could result in little change.

Unlike Toronto, things here have been relatively quiet so far. We haven't had a sex scandal. Unlike David Miller, Haldimand's mayor has already announced that she will seek re-election for one more term. No provincial politician such as a George Smitherman has put their name forward as a front runner for the job in a wide open race. And let's face it, characters like Rob Ford are hard to come by.

But throw well-known activist Gary McHale into the mix along with Ken Hewitt, a local financial advisor and former town spokesperson who once made an attempt to become a federal Liberal candidate, and there are some interesting dynamics in play right here in Haldimand. Hewitt is expected to announce his candidacy officially in the next two weeks.

You'll recall that McHale won Caledonia as an independent candidate in the last federal election. Trainer won ward three in the last municipal election. People will also recall that although Trainer won the 2006 municipal election, she didn't garner the majority of votes (40% as a matter of fact). Up against Bernie Corbett and Lorraine Bergstrand - two respected former politicians in their own right - she maintained a steady helping of county-wide support to emerge victorious in the end.

It's been said that Trainer has her loyal supporters, as does any politician. But last election she also gained a lot of support due to her outspoken comments regarding the Douglas Creek Estates occupation. Her competitors took a much more gentle approach to such issues which didn't match the frustration level of many voters who were sick of their roads being blocked and frightened for their safety.

A lot has arguably changed since then, but many of the problems here continue to fester and have impacted the county as a whole, not just Caledonia. Whether that's enough to trigger change is debatable, but given the lingering problems, many of which are contentious in nature, there are those who will hold local politicians responsible and those who view them as having their hands tied by upper levels of government. In other words, it's fair to say that there will be those who will want change and those who won't. Many people won't have to listen to debated leading up to the election to decide that, and that's why it's unlikely that any of trainer's colleagues who've sat with her at the same table will challenge her for the mayor's job, especially if numerous candidates emerge.

Yet while some incumbents seem to be sitting in the easy chair in their respective wards, that isn't necessarily the case. Several well-known citizens are rumoured to be emerging as potential candidates in the next election. While they won't form a slate as was thought to be the case with a group in 2006 that developed its own platform, some well-known, like-minded names are expected to be distributed strategically. Many of their viewpoints differ greatly from those on county council and could effect change.

But as in the case of the mayor's race back in 2006, the number of candidates for any given council position surely plays a part, as it does in any election. It's essentially why we have a minority government at the federal level.

Whether or not the majority of people think the mayor and councillors have done a good or bad job during the past few years might not be as big a factor in this election as the candidates who think they can do better. In the end, too many of them might bring about very little change at all. So far, that isn't the case, but there are stillĀ  months to go before people go to the polls.