Comment - Need for change never more apparent

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

Sept. 1, 2010

Election candidates attempting to usurp incumbents will often argue that "change" is needed. Although such cliché is often used by political neophytes lacking experience, Haldimand's political landscape has indeed become stale in some respects, and given the fact that council has arguably made little progress during the past four years outside of its core mandates, the need for "change" has perhaps never been more apparent.

Election literature that will be handed out in coming weeks is sure to boast of new arenas, holding the line on taxes and much needed upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure. But while it all sounds good, it's been pretty much "business as usual" for this council during the past few years, with nothing too consequential or overly exciting to report in terms of new initiatives.

Upgrades deemed "major" were very much forecast. Council knew that old arenas needed to be repaired, or replaced. Wastewater treatment facilities are nearing capacity and are also in need of upgrades. And although it's nice that council tried to mitigate tax increases during a recession, the forethought is not exactly praiseworthy.

The scary thing is, if it wasn't for stimulus spending, government grants and community fundraising, some infrastructure upgrades would never have been affordable. Given a virtual development freeze during the past four years, one could argue that tax increases and infrastructure repairs should have been offset more than they were.

The question remains: Has council done enough to try and get things back on track from a development standpoint?

While no one expected elected municipal officials to solve native land claims, they arguably could have done more to hold the province accountable for Douglas Creek Estates and the resulting fallout. For the most part, veteran county councillors have been silent for the past four years, going along with the policies of the OPP and McGuinty government, hoping to get a handout and some help by playing along with impotence. Careful - "Don't poop on the Premier."

The most vocal member of council - at least on public record - has arguably been the mayor, however her technique, at times, has been questionable, revealing such confidential requests as the aforementioned comment made by former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant during a closed meeting, then putting words in the mouth of former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chris Bentley who she said was going to give Douglas Creek Estates site to Six Nations, before later backtracking, saying that her accusation stemmed from an impression.

At times, Trainer's colleagues have criticized her approach, her absence from important get-togethers with government officials and those meetings held informally at her farm on Grandma Day. Ongoing discrepancies  at the council table with respect to communications between residents and provincial officials have failed to show unity and a collective voice, not that one is always needed. Conversely rather, it's been the silence of some council members - many longtime veterans - and an undying faith that provincial officials will come through in the end that hasn't helped move issued forward. Constructive action should have been initiated with a collective approach, regardless of whether some, or even the majority of council members agreed. Such action should have come in the form of lawsuits and bylaw enforcement (taking authorities at upper levels to task) with recorded votes, not letters pleading for help, requesting meetings with ministers.

What Haldimand needs is a leader who can talk straight and councillors that - although they might not always agree - have the courage to stand up in face of adversity and provincial politicians by calling a spade a spade.

All seven members on the current council plan to make another run at office. When a new candidate recently stepped forward in ward five, it ensured a seven race election card this October which means that there's the potential for sweeping change.

The mayor and some councillors have served Haldimand for decades, whether their constituents have voted them back in on their record or simply because there wasn't anyone better to replace them. They have arguably done a good job running Haldimand on a day-to-day basis and have a tremendous knowledge of the history of Haldimand and its people. In some cases it's wise for people to stay with the devil they know than the devil they don't. Then again, maybe a fresh approach this time is exactly what's needed.

Ward Two Coun. Buck Sloat is running for mayor, which means that ward two will surely have a new representative on the next council. The only real chance for change up top comes in the form of Caledonia businessman Ken Hewitt, given the fact that Sloat has served on council the past two terms, often playing the role of leader in Trainer's absence.

With just over a week left to go before nominations close, it's also quite plausible that Haldimand will be left with a council that looks much the same as the present body. Whether people will be content with that makeup for the next four years is as likely as they are complacent.