Pre-election thoughts: countdown to regime change…

So far, according to the note from the Clerk’s office, 7,286 votes have come in, or 43% return… which means I’ll be pretty close to my prediction of 7,400 votes by the close of polls at 8 p.m. on Monday.

The last few days, I’ve fielded a few emails from people who’d like to know who to vote for; the general attitude is they don’t want to vote for any incumbents – not even Ian Chadwick, the leader of the Rebel Alliance…

I’ll just say this: I’m glad to see the end of this term of council. In 20 years of covering municipal politics – and this is the seventh council I’ve watched and reported on – I have never run into a group that had such potential, turn out to be so dysfunctional, arrogant (let’s not forget Tim McNabb’s comment that a ward system was “too complex” for voters to figure out), and out-of-touch (Dave Labelle’s comment that “maybe we should tip more”)  with the electorate. On his blog, Rick Crouch notes how ridiculous it is the patio issue turned out to be so big. I agree; in the grand scheme of things, the patio issue is very minor – but it’s gripped the public consciousness because it reflects everything that went wrong with this council – an attitude of ‘we know best’.

I always like to refer to this paragraph in a letter from VOTE: “We believe the political process in Collingwood is hampered by divisiveness and distrust rather (than) being consistently involved in effective civic engagement. We need leadership that is inclusive, that empowers and represents its citizens, that is open and accountable.” Oh wait, that was about the previous council; I can only wonder what they think of this council… oh, never mind…

Or how about this quote: “It is arrogant and wrong for politicians to think their decisions should not be questioned by taxpayers and the citizenry.” I don’t think I need to say who said it, but what I can say is that I found what occured in reality to be exactly the opposite.

I realize Chadwick would point to the head of the council table as the root of the problems, and he would be mostly right. But the mayor is only one person at the council table, and it takes at least another four people around the table to enable him. Let’s not forget, when the mayor authorized an audit of councillors’ emails at the beginning of this term, Norman Sandberg leapt to his defence: “Nothing has shaken my confidence nor trust in you …” Or how about this one: A year-and-a-half after certain councillors were chomping at the bit to conduct a judicial review of the town’s purchase of the Simcoe Street properties (a process that was termed ‘sloppy’, but certainly not even close to being illegal) in 2005, a process that would have cost taxpayers a minimum of $150,000, those same councillors vote against a compliance audit of donations to the mayor’s election campaign (again, a matter that was far from being illegal, and more related to a lack of clarity in provincial legislation) that would have only cost $10,000.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some good. The downtown looks very nice, in spite of the absence of restaurant patios. While they should never have been standards – and I predict a bit of a backlash just because they are ‘standards’ – the idea of implementing urban design guidelines with an eye to creating a greener, human-scaled, pedestrian-friendly community is admirable and ambitious. And, this council was able to score a little bit of cash for affordable housing, creating 18 units.

The rest? Aside from the third floor, the library project was launched by the previous council; this council made the determination that rather than something bold and daring, we would build a red brick box. The buses were purchased by the previous council; this council just took delivery. Environmental initiatives such as limiting pesticide use and automobile idling came out of the previous council. First Street? That process started under former mayor Terry Geddes’ watch.

The hole at Admiral Collingwood. The hole at heritage park. The continued decay of the town-owned fitness facility. These are things this council can take full responsibility for.

We will see what happens Monday night; at the very least, we know there will be a new mayor. If it goes as I expect, we will have four years of a steady hand on the rudder – there will be no ‘grand’ vision (as Chadwick notes in the comments), no flash, no wasted money on ‘branding’ exercises, no being needlessly confrontational with media types, no chasing some ‘governance ‘bogeyman’ — but that’s OK. We’ll have respect and common sense, and at this point that’s all that matters.

The rest is a bit of a crapshoot. I think I know who will be in the top four council spots, maybe even the top five. But there’s so many people running that there’s at least seven people who could be jockeying for those last two or three spots.

But, as Chadwick noted in his latest post: “Teams are not elected any more than leaders are born. Both are made. Both require effort, skill and patience to accomplish. And the next term offers new opportunities to restore both to Collingwood politics.”

Bring on the 2010-2014 term of council…

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