Winds of political change sweep over Northumberland

On November 13, residents of Northumberland County sent politicians a clear message. They wanted change. While many of the old guard so familiar to various councils were sent packing, the new politicians will not have an easy time.
In Brighton, Lou Rinaldi beat 20-year veteran Bill Pettingill. Stalwart Glen Quick got turfed. In Campbellford, George McCleary handily thumped Cathy Redden and John Luke. Hastings politician Ken Oliver, another long-time member, was also sent packing. We also watched political veterans like Roger Wilson and Phil Clayton go down in defeat in Port Hope. Cobourg’s Peter Delanty ousted Joan Chalovich, after 14 years of service, in a overwhelming defeat. Alnwick Township Reeve Howard Sheppard, another longtime politico from provincial, municipal and county politics, is gone. Stu Oliver and Pat Westrope, both fixtures in Colborne/Crahame, are out.

Historians will explain what happened on election night. It is more important to look to the future.

There are some serious challenges facing the amalgamated municipalities. None more important than finding a balance between urban and rural interests. For year it was far too easy for local politicians to grind away at their neighbours. Sometimes the cautious sentiments were justified. But more often, it paralyzed any meaningful progress on issues like planning, recycling, restructuring, economic development and the like.

These new councils will need to find a balance to ensure all citizens get a fair hearing. It will also means tough challenges for those seeking progress. It would be far too easy for the rural and urban interests on councils to face off, leading to a stalemate. This would not serve the community. But ramrodding initiatives will only create icy relations. It will be a fine balance to achieve success, led by skilled politicians who can walk this razor’s edge.

A good example is Port Hope. Get ready for another entire shelf of new studies on low-level radioactive waste. With Rick Austin at the helm and three incumbents’ back on council, it will proceed at a snail’s pace. This is a group with a history of indecision. There will also be an interesting battle over how the federal money will be spent on either reserves or tax breaks.

Economic development was a popular subject among candidates across the county during election campaigns. A modern version of alchemy, economic development is not very well defined in the minds of politicians or voters. Since nobody has bothered to spell it out, it will be tough to determine what will happen next. Expect a series of reports, proposals and plans, but not much action.

Will the new councils be able to succeed where the Diamond Triangle Economic Development Commission failed? The former joint committee oversaw the promotion of West Northumberland until the mid-1990s when the partners dropped out in a bitter dispute. Since then municipalities have acted alone with mixed results.

It will take a strong vision and a clear plan to bring anyone to the table in a meaningful way. What will be even more difficult is ensuring all the partners will follow through until the plan is executed. It looks as if Port Hope could continue its isolationist stance of the past. Add to the mix Hamilton Township Reeve Fred Holloway and Forest Rowden and there is a formula for deadlock and more missed opportunities.

Cobourg’s new council will make its mark in deciding how it will proceed. If it does not learn from the lessons of the past, a lot of time could be wasted courting unwilling partners. That is not to say a fresh approach, unfamiliar faces and a new attitude could not bring movement.

The new council will also need to deal with its own economic committee. During the election campaign there were some strong feelings expressed by both candidates and voters regarding missed opportunities in attracting industry to the community. Economic development director Cindy Milroy is a close personal and political friend of Chalovich. It will be interesting test of council and the new mayor to see what happens.

Cobourg council also faces a potential crisis at police headquarters. With the trial of Deputy Police Chief Kyle Foster before the courts, new politicians will be judged too. The incident involves allegations regarding the actions of Police Chief John Kay and the chair of the police services board, Dean McCaughey, who is a newly elected councillor. There is also some suggestion this entire incident is driven by a bitter turf war between local police and the OPP.

Council should be calling for a thorough and unbiased outside investigation in an effort to reassure the public. The court will be limited in what it will reveal and it will be a long drawn out process. If council does not pursue further investigation, then all allegations, justified or not, will unfairly remain in the community’s mind. Any delay hurts the reputation of the entire police force.

It may mean the current council must act initially, but it will be the new council that will guide the process to its conclusion. Even if nothing can be done immediately because the case before the courts, the public deserve assurance a further inquiry will take place.

There is a tough test ahead for all councils in Northumberland. The community waits to see if the new councils will make the grade.

First published: Nov. 23, 2000

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