Enjoy the peace and tranquility of this summer season, because this time next year council candidates will be knocking on doors, showing up at community events, and distributing literature, all in the hopes of capturing your vote in next October's municipal election.
With the next municipal election being held on Monday, October 22, 2018, it might seem far off but it will be here before we know it, and for those considering a run for a council seat next year, now is the time to be mulling the issues and formulating a plan.
And for voters, now might be a good time to start thinking about the issues that are important to you so that you're armed with some well-crafted questions when candidates do begin knocking on your door.
The last time around we had a large number of candidates to consider, with 13 candidates vying for five council seats, two candidates running for Deputy Mayor, and five who had hoped to secure the Mayor's chair.
The large number of candidates in 2014 was likely a response to fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the council of the day, most of whom had decided to not run for re-election. Many voters were fuming over the painful-to-the-pocketbook five year plan that had been implemented to help right Meaford's financial ship. That the five year plan finished a year earlier than expected was little comfort to voters who had been faced with hefty tax increases for four straight years.
In 2014 voters were looking to elect members of council that would handle their hard-earned property tax dollars responsibly, and they were also looking for candidates that placed a high priority on fixing our crumbling roads. For the most part that is exactly the council they elected.
Our current council has avoided taking on new debt, and the existing long-term debt has been in decline in each of the past three years. Annual property tax increases have been minimal, yet under this council reserve funds have continued to be replenished, and far more roads and bridge infrastructure projects have been undertaken during this council term than we'd seen with previous councils since this amalgamated municipality was formed.
But has this council focused enough on infrastructure issues? It depends who you ask. The most common complaints I hear from residents today are related to crumbling roads and high taxes – and there's the catch-22 for any municipal council; ratepayers want lower taxes, and they definitely aren't thrilled about tax increases, but they also have a laundry list of roads that need to be repaired or rehabilitated. Every municipal council needs to try to walk a very fine line these days.
A decade ago we heard the term 'peak oil' with great frequency, and in many ways I think Ontario residents have reached 'peak taxation' – many in this province simply can't afford to pay more in taxes, but they also know that there is much work to be done in order to maintain the infrastructure and services that we've come to expect from our municipal governments. Sitting in a councillor's chair however, you quickly realize that the 'needs' far exceed the resources available to a municipal government, given that their only real source of revenue is property taxation.
As I look toward the next municipal election, I'm looking for candidates who won't simply try to walk that fine line. I'm looking for creative candidates, those who are willing to think outside the box to try to find ways to address our needs while making all attempts to limit property tax increases in order to ensure that Meaford's residents can continue to afford living here. Our current council has done a laudable job in walking the fine line. They've managed to maintain a delicate balance between limiting property tax increases while increasing the money they're spending on roads and bridges, but I wouldn't say they've been overly creative in their approach to many issues. That's not to say that our current slate of councillors lack creativity entirely, but I'd like to see a few councillors who are willing to go out on a limb to find new ways to fix old problems.
What are you looking for in council candidates for next year's election? Four years ago we at The Independent prepared a comprehensive (and award-winning) election guide that included bios and policy positions for all 20 candidates who were asking for our votes. We followed up with a collection of letters from readers who expressed what they wanted in their next council.
This time around I would like to do something a little different – I'd like to prepare a guide for candidates written by our readers. Next year, before we publish our municipal election guide roughly one month prior to election day, I'd like to publish a collection of letters from our readers expressing what they are looking for in our candidates. Before we hear from the candidates, let's tell them what we expect of them should they get elected.
If you would like to share your views of what you expect from our next council, send us a letter to the editor with the heading, 'What I want from the next council', and I will collect them in a file for publication prior to May 1, 2018, the date when candidates can file their nomination for candidacy and begin campaigning.
You can send your letter to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's tell the next slate of council candidates what we want from them before they even start asking for our votes.