Municipal Elections. Boring? Waste of Time? Think Again!

We can all be excused for not looking forward to elections with their noise, excessive and often negative advertising, and seemingly endless debates about things we have little concern for. But on October 24th we will collectively elect groups that have more effect on our day-to-day lives than any other level of government: municipal councils. To find out what’s on the radar for both candidates and electors Hometown News sat down with Mississippi Mills Mayor, Mayor Elect and former Lanark County Warden, Christa Lowry. 

Christa was surprised by her own acclamation this time, saying she really thought a competitor would register at the last minute, but no one showed. There are a substantial number of candidates running for the Deputy Mayor and council positions in the Mills, so it wasn’t a case of apathy. We asked her opinion on what’s changed from the last election in 2018 in terms of voter interest and concern. 

She noted that in 2018 internet and cellular connectivity were hot and popular topics and the large migration of people away from city to home offices over the course of the pandemic simply amplified those concerns. She has been an active participant in the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus, which created the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, as well as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association to support improvements to coverage. Progress is being made with more residents being connected, but she admits there’s a long way to go. 

Affordable and attainable housing has eclipsed connectivity as the focus of this election, driven by an unprecedented influx of families moving out of larger urban centres to take advantage of work-from-home situations and to enjoy the benefits of small-town and rural life. In 2018, when she was on the campaign trail, a substantial number of new rentals were being built in her area and they would have covered the demand at the time, but then Covid-19 hit and demands skyrocketed. 

Concerns from residents about rapid growth and its effects on local infrastructure are bound to be at the top of door to door campaigns. Christa noted increased interest in Additional Residential Units will also be on council tables as they can help increase rental stock and make homes more attainable by building in rental incomes to help finance purchases.  Additional Residential Units are smaller units located within, or attached to, or detached from primary homes on suitability sized properties. 

We spoke of the common misconceptions that residents may have in terms of the powers of local council members. From postal service to healthcare delivery to gasoline prices, calls have come in to town halls expecting change. She suspects some requests land on council doorsteps simply because municipal councilors are often the most accessible and responsive to the public. 

The focus should be on what municipalities do deliver, such as roads, sidewalks, water supply, sewage treatment, recreation, libraries, garbage and recycling, and land planning, among others: things that affect residents every day. She spoke of a recent study that revealed that municipalities build 60% of all infrastructures in the country while only collecting 12 cents of each tax dollar. 

When it comes to growth, Christa sees the need for strong councils to help protect the rural and small-town character that’s important to residents. A total vision of how residential projects will fit into the community is key. 

Voters need to understand the candidates’ motivations and track records and that takes some homework. They need to ask what they hope to achieve if elected and how they work on a team. Municipal websites have links to confirmed candidates’ lists and most contain contact information. Smiths Falls seems to be the exception where their candidates’ list only contains names and addresses. Find out who is running in your area and how to find their platforms and how to forward questions and comments to them. What’s at stake is how a good part of your daily life will play out over the next four years. Good luck. 

Article by Brian Turner

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