Low voter turnout reason for change

First published:
Nov. 20, 2003

Nobody elected to the new municipal councils in West Northumberland can afford to be smug over the next three years.

The lack of voter turnout for last Monday’s municipal election should be a catalyst for substantial change in the approach for politicians in Cobourg, Port Hope and Hamilton Township.

With only one-third of voters casting a ballot in Cobourg and only slightly more voting in Port Hope, a number of interpretations could be offered. Standard arguments about apathy, disillusionment with politicians and a lack of interest in municipal government could all be true.

At least in Hamilton Township and Port Hope there was enough of a shake up to force council into taking a different approach than the past three years.

But nobody on Cobourg council should be so arrogant as to think they have a clear mandate from the people.

First on the list is Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty. By going unchallenged, his next three years in office are based on an illusion of success. In fact, by not facing off against another candidate his ideas and platform went untested. He is mistaken to believe he has any kind of endorsement.

While he will rhyme off a list of his accomplishments, how many of those were directly attributable to him. He works with a council, often as mayor not even being able to vote on key matters. He directs debate, not really participating. It is the rest of council that grapples with the yeas and nays of what to vote on when a decision is being made. He simply gets to talk to the press afterwards to explain what council has just done and hence the impression is that it is all his doing.

And he failed to deliver on key promises from his last election. He was suppose to develop this great relationship with Port Hope. Beside a lot of public relations exercises, he has done little to make any substantive change. Just look at the fiasco with police service for a screaming example of the inability of Port Hope and Cobourg to get together on important issues. Let’s pray we don’t get another series of dinners and photo opportunities this time around.

And then there was the police bashing that went on over the summer and into the early fall. After mauling the Cobourg police force’s reputation, Delanty dropped the off the radar on this one. Because he was unchallenged, we have no idea what to expect. Don’t be surprised if policing will be back on the front burner quite quickly now that he is safe.

Let’s hope we have a more vocal council this time, which won’t let the mayor sit back. There is little chance of this happening since the same group of lap dogs got back on this time.

Councillor Gil Brocanier has a lot resting on his shoulders as the new member of council. His experience and leadership will be needed to set an example. We can only hope he afflicts the comfortable on council, and he does not get too comfortable.

Still Broacnier is a former councilor and should be mistaken for the new blood that Cobourg desperately needed.

As for Port Hope, Mayor Rick Austin won a slim majority of 256 votes. With such a close race, he needs to immediately reach out to William Spotton and his supporters, if he wants to avoid a lot of acrimony. He must build bridges in concrete ways or he will find himself in real trouble.

There is more of a mix of incumbents and newcomers in Port Hope. The experience of Jeff Lees and Linda Thompson as incumbents will bode well. That means Ted Watts Karen O’Hara, Cal Morgan and John Morland will provide some new ideas and voices to council.

In Hamilton Township there is lots of change. With Forrest Rowden at the helm and Mark Lovshin at his side as Deputy Mayor there is plenty of experience. Twila Marston is another incumbent. Gary Woods and Isobel Hie will be the new kids on the block. Again, a nice mix of new and old.

It will take some time for the novices to find their voice on council as they become accustomed to the job. However, with new ideas and different agendas, residents can feel there will be some room for optimism.

It will be necessary for incumbents to reach out to these new members. And in Cobourg’s case, to bring some of those who did not win (or at least their constituents) into the fold either through committees or other ways. Bridges must be built.

In particular, a strong connection to the youth in our community and their families needs to made. In the debates, several suggestions were made regarding the involvement of young people and policies to assist them. These ideas need to be concretely demonstrated through solid, immediate action.

There are a fair number of seniors and retirees sitting on council. No doubt, because of the time commitment necessary to participate in municipal politics, retirees find they have the time to devote to council. However, more must be done to engage families within the community. We must move beyond believing that by building arenas and providing recreation programs means a council is family oriented.

A majority of voters did not speak. So maybe it is time for council to listen in new and innovative ways. But in the end, it will be through their actions over the first months of office that will define the next term of office.

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