By Robert Washburn
As municipal politicians in West Northumberland County shake hands to greet residents at their levee’s this week, the starter’s pistol for the fall elections is going off.
For those in office, it is far too early to register officially, but don’t be fooled: the race is already underway.
What will determine the outcome? These are a number of issues that may well play into the campaigns as the days unfold.
Downtown revitalization is one. Both Port Hope and Cobourg spent a lot of money and resources to create strategic plans for the centerpiece of the local retail economy. This is only one piece of the financial pie, but it is high profile and a big concern.
Nothing says politicians have failed than empty storefronts. The old Zellers stands vacant as a monolithic reminder. Yet, there are many smaller examples. While this does not address the larger, long-term issues related to full-time employment, job security, precarious temporary work and so forth, local leaders will get off the hook because nobody really lays these problems at their feet.
Cobourg and Port Hope were the two pistons of the economic engine that now sputters along barely moving as good paying manufacturing jobs are replaced by part-time, low-paying retail and service sector jobs. A growing majority of residents travel outside the region to find decent work .
Neither town can stand the loss of another manufacturer. Seniors on fixed incomes can’t withstand creeping property tax increases and rising costs. But, the reliance on development to expand the tax base may also not be in the long-term best interest of the area since it places additional social capital costs and a burden on existing infrastructure thereby forcing local taxes up all the same.
Port Hope Ward 2 is a ticking bomb. The flare up over tax rates recently is nothing compared to what should be expected leading up to the election.
The post-ice storm fall out will be something to watch carefully. While the urban residents in the town got power back more quickly, it was the rural areas where it dragged on. Yes, it was power companies working to bring back service, but it stokes the impression Ward 2 is not treated equally.
The lack of municipal leadership during the ice storm will linger into the fall. Slow reactions by local politicians, lack of communication from town hall and the shocking absence of elected leadership in the public eye were glaring errors.
It was too bad Mother Nature chose the weekend before Christmas for the storm, but this is why it was such a critical test. Facebook posts were crammed with complaints. And, as one person wrote, local politicians may not have been able to string a hydro line, but it is possible to hand out cookies and provide comfort for those at a warming station. At the very least, they needed to be present.
Boulevard gardens will continue to grow as an issue in Cobourg because it is about more than grass and flowers. This is tinder for a larger narrative related to the dysfunction of council. For some, it represents the Old Boys Club versus a victim of politics. For others, it represents the paralysis around the table to move on from small issues to deal with larger, more pressing concerns.
The Cobourg legion proposal will also be a finger in the eye. For those who care deeply, it is will show residents if the historic downtown means something or not.
The dog park represents the albatross around the neck of Cobourg council. Despite valiant efforts by town staff and politicians, there are almost no results after an entire term. As an issue, it has been around for more than a decade. It is frustrating on all sides.
With a possible provincial election looming in the spring, it may be sufficient to distract the electorate sufficiently to get some politicians back into the council chambers come next November. If the provincial battle is especially acrimonious, then voter fatigue could be a factor come the fall. But underlying dissatisfaction from voters in West Northumberland may be enough to see a host of new faces a year from now at the levee.