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Penetanguishene’s Marshall running for warden

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In Council Watch
Dec 7th, 2014
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UPDATED twice on December 8 2014

Outspoken on issues of transparency and accountability

By Kate Harries AWARE News Network

Simcoe County elects a new warden on Tuesday. In the running are Basil Clarke, Ramara’s newly elected mayor, and second-term Penetanguishene Mayor Gerry Marshall.

Councillors will also be voting for a deputy warden. There are two candidates for that position, Essa Mayor Terry Dowdall and Tay Mayor Scott Warnock.

Marshall was part of a new brand of councillors elected four years ago in the wake of the fight over Dump Site 41. Despite being a political newcomer when he defeated incumbent Anita Dubeau in the the 2010 mayoral race, he quickly made his mark at county council as a strong spokesperson for transparency and accountability.

He stepped up to the plate on a number of issues raised by AWARE Simcoe, including the need to have the Ontario Ombudsman investigate citizen complaints of inappropriate closed-door meetings, and the need to hold public meetings on the county’s Official Plan after the stalled sprawl-inducing 2008 version was changed so it could be approved by the province.

And he fought a one-man battle to open up the county’s tendering system for its waste contract to public scrutiny. He gained the backing of about one third of county councillors on these kinds of issues but unfortunately lost on the vote each time.

Marshall has also organized public meetings and pushed for federal action on the low Upper Great Lakes water levels, lobbied the province to get policing costs under control and worked with other municipal leaders to promote economic development.

Clarke, a fifth-generation farmer on the family homestead in Ramara, is a relatively young man, but a member of the “old guard” on county council. As chair of the county’s performance management committee in 2010-2014, it was his job to articulate the line set by the county’s administration and past warden Cal Patterson (who is not returning to county politics, having lost the Wasaga Beach mayoralty).

Update: An AWARE Simcoe board member points out that neither Clarke nor any other Ramara candidate filled out the AWARE Simcoe election questionnaire and when questioned during the campaign on the Ontario Ombudsman issue, Clarke said he favoured council appointing its own investigator.

That said, Clarke is neither an ideologue nor a puppet, and can be refreshingly blunt in his assessment of issues. As he’s a newly elected mayor, some are questioning whether he is wise to want to tackle two new jobs, as head of his council and of county council.

Update: Another AWARE board member points out that Gerry Marshall didn’t answer the questionnaire either.

Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes was the county’s first deputy warden, elected after the position was created by the 2006-2010 council. It is considered (although was not necessarily intended) to be a step towards the warden’s position, and Hughes announced the day after the Oct. 27 election that, in view of the massive turnover on county council (17 new members), he felt an obligation to put his “experience” to good use. It seems that once Marshall declared, the numbers didn’t add up for Hughes who withdrew, stating he wants to focus on his own municipality and his family.

Two candidates are running to succeed Hughes. Dowdall is starting his second term as Essa mayor, having earned the gratitude of many Site 41 activists in 2010 by defeating David Guergis, brother of then Springwater mayor and county warden Tony Guergis. This time round, Essa returned Dowdall and all the 2010-2014 council to office.

Update: An AWARE Simcoe board member points out that Dowdall also failed to  fill out our election questionnaire (a number of candidates in Essa did). On the plus side, he and his council took the lead in supporting AWARE Simcoe’s efforts (still ongoing) to include the Nottawasaga River in the federal Navigation Protection Act, he understands the fact that residential development doesn’t pay for itself and that construction on flood plains should be discouraged, and he is open and inclusive in the way he runs council and public meetings.

Warnock is also popular with Site 41 types for his record five years ago on the dump site – like many North Simcoe politicians, he came to the protests, and he was a supportive voice on county council.  He ran for deputy warden in 2010 and was defeated by Hughes. He has just been acclaimed to the position of Tay mayor. He also did not fill out the AWARE SImcoe questionnaire.

New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne had announced his intention to run for deputy warden but has since changed his mind.

The next four years will be pivotal for Simcoe County as it will be faced with many challenging development issues, and will have to take a firm stand if farmland, water recharge areas and natural spaces are to  be preserved.  It also needs to do the job the last council failed to tackle – move forward on Zero Waste, which was adopted by the county as a goal back in 2009. Part of that will be to choose the right technology and a good site for a new composting facility.

Some questions for the new county council:

– Why a secret ballot in the vote for warden and deputy warden? These mayors and deputy mayors are not voting as individual citizens, they are voting on our behalf and we have the right to know how they vote.

– Is the deputy warden position really necessary? How much did it cost in the last term?

– Will the new county council bring in a lobby registry to ensure that defeated politicians don’t use the experience gained on the public payroll to advocate in secret for developers and other self-interests? All such advocacy should be on the public record.

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