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Meet the new boss

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In Simcoe County
Dec 11th, 2009
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By RAYMOND BOWE Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin 
Three-term Simcoe County Warden Tony Guergis declined a nomination to attempt a fourth term, Tuesday, paving the way to Wasaga Beach Mayor Cal Patterson’s acclamation.
Patterson said he was honoured to be the first warden from Wasaga Beach, but it’s also the next leadership step he had strived for.
“I feel I can lead and I think I can work with all of the county councillors,” said the Collingwood native, who has been mayor of Wasaga Beach for seven years, and also served for 12 years as deputy-mayor and councillor.
“I lead by consensus, that’s been my style,” Patterson said.
Patterson has also overcome grave medical concerns in the last several years — colon cancer decimated his body to a mere 90 pounds at one point — but he says the illness improved his outlook.
“I was told by three different people that I was going to die eight years ago and here I am,” he said. “I look at things differently. I don’t get over-excited about things and I always look for the positive side, and it’s always there.”
The 62-year-old retired financial officer from a Penetanguishene company says he brings a business perspective to the warden’s office.
“We’re in the midst of a recession, and that’s very important to keep in mind,” he said. “The taxpayer is the one that’s being hit. We have to maintain services at the lowest costs possible … because it’s tough times for all.
We’ll also have to deal with the downloading of the (provincial) deficit. That’s going to be a huge issue coming, probably, partway through 2010.”
The goal of becoming warden came on Patterson’s radar, in earnest, last year.
“I’d thought about it a lot,” he said. “I’ve been here 12 years now at the county. I’d been thinking about it for a few years, but last year I thought there was a need for a change. I was unsuccessful — I lost by a few votes — but I never lost the fire.”
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 Guergis, who has plans for a trip to Mexico next month, said the epiphany not to seek a fourth term came last Thursday, when representatives from the 16 towns and townships and two cities joined forces in dealing with local growth.
“But I made the decision, for sure, here today,” Guergis told The Barrie Examiner. “It was time to put the divisiveness behind us.
“It really did start to sink in to me that, no matter what we did and with another narrow win, the opposition mount. We can’t afford to do that,” he said. “If we don’t work together, we’re going to make the residents of Simcoe County, Orillia and Barrie suffer.”
In front of a packed council chambers, including more than a dozen past wardens, Guergis talked about the past year, one of the toughest on record for any local politician. It included ups and downs, and plenty of controversy surrounding the Site 41 landfill, which has since been abandoned by the county.
But Guergis’ finely tuned words ended up being an exit speech because, minutes later, he declined the nomination.
“There’s nothing more divisive than an election,” he said. “It’s not been an easy ride for anyone close to Tony Guergis in many circles. I’ve done my best to defend the decisions made in this house. Let’s focus on what we have in common, not the differences.”
Patterson was surprised when Guergis’ turned down seeking another term.
“I didn’t know, (but) it felt relieving,” Patterson said. “It’s time to move on, definitely.”
Some of Patterson’s priorities include area growth and provincial funding.
“Each (municipal) voice has to be heard,” he said. “We’ve all got issues, including Wasaga Beach, and every one of us has issues that we need to get to Queen’s Park. We need to get face-to-face with those who make the decisions … (because) I don’t think they’ve done their homework.”
Patterson had several family members and close friends on hand for the momentous day, including his wife, Debbie and daughter, Haley, who’s expecting a child in two months. His late daughter, Carly, died from cancer several years ago at age 19.
After Patterson was acclaimed, several traditions unfolded, including the presentation of the county flag to be flown at Wasaga Beach Town Hall.
Outside the county administration building, about a half-dozen anti-Site 41 protesters held signs with messages such as ‘Dump Tony’.
In his first speech as warden, Patterson thanked Guergis–“who’s got three years of being under fire” — and said he’d be calling on him for assistance in the next year.
“There’s a lot of things going on with the growth plan, Site 41, that was a tough one, and he’s been in communication with a lot of the bureaucrats and the ministers at Queen’s Park,” Patterson said.
The county “lost its way” through the Site 41 process, Patterson said, but he said previous political baggage carries over.
“We all inherit it, we’re all in it together,” Patterson said. “There’s 32 of us and someone has to lead. From my point of view, there’s going to be a lot of communication. Everyone’s going to know what I’m doing in the warden’s office.”
One of Patterson’s toughest political decisions was Site 41.
“Using my accountant’s mind, knowing that we’d invested all those dollars, it was difficult for me to say let’s close it,” he said. “But you have to listen to the residents as well. The residents of Simcoe County, they spoke loud and clear.”

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