Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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It’s their time to do it

TODAY’S REPORT #1,046: Londoners pulled off the biggest voter-directed make-over of our city council in generations in Monday’s civic election. A new mayor and 11 new councillors. But now Mayor-elect Brown has to prove this council can be better together.

Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 = London Ontario

Mayor Matt Brown. 

Well, that may take a little getting used to, despite his over-whelming victory in Monday’s civic election.  You have until Dec. 1, the day he’s officially sworn into office. 

In a sense, that’s how long Mayor-elect Brown has too, how long he has to pull together this new group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed council members who, collectively, will be so much different than the group they have been elected to replace. 

During the long election campaign, Mayor-elect Brown said he was the one to mould city council into a team of integrity and respectability that is prepared to deal openly and honestly with London’s issues. We can do better together, he said. 

So, essentially, he has five weeks to meet with his new colleagues and figure out how they will do it.

While the voters Monday obviously felt what London needed was an elected leadership they could trust, that’s not all they want. London faces serious issues, not the least of which is the need for a visionary economic strategy and a blueprint for smart growth. 

Mayor-elect Brown has promised those, too. But first he needs to get a majority of council headed in roughly the same direction.

On paper at least, that will be easier than expected. Eleven of councillors are newcomers, only three are incumbents, representing the biggest voter-directed make-over of our city council in generations. 

And it was a change of generations. The baby boomers are now virtually gone from council, save for Bill Armstrong and Harold Usher, both of whom narrowly won. It’s Gen X’s turn at the wheel, with many of the new council members in the 30s.

Mayor-elect Brown saw the result this way: “People were tired of the politics of old. They were looking for something new and different, for a council that can get things done.”

Other winners said something similar. At the door, voters were expressing their unhappiness with a dysfunctional council, and in particular with what had been called the Fontana Eight. And they showed it at the ballot box.

Bud Pohill, the longest servicing member of council, handily defeated in Ward 1. Stephen Orser, the clown of the last term, booted out of Ward 4. Paul Van Meerbergen, who never met a tax he liked unless it paid for more roads, losing narrowly in Ward 10. Denise Brown, who tried to play both sides over the four years, turfed in Ward 11. Sandy White, the cause of much turmoil on council, losing in a rematch in Ward 14. And the final humiliation – Joe Swan, long-time councillor, wins less than 5 per cent of the vote in his bid to become mayor. 

All had been members of the original Fontana Eight.

The Progressives now rule, four years later than they expected perhaps, but in numbers more massive than anyone would have guessed. Depending the issue, Mayor-elect Brown can count on 11, perhaps as many as 13 votes. 

Yes, the Progressives will be missing most of those who articulated the ideals so well in previous years – Joni Baechler in Ward 5 and Nancy Branscombe in Ward 6 have retired, so too has Judy Bryant in Ward 13. 

Now the mantle of council leadership beyond the mayor will fall to Paul Hubert, elected in Ward 8 with the largest majority of the night, 83 per cent. He will make a fine colleague for the new mayor, a strong sounding board but no sycophant. Depending what council decides to do about the position, he would make an excellent deputy mayor.

And there are some sparkling newcomers – Michael Van Holst in Ward 1, Mohamed Salih in Ward 3, Jesse Helmer in Ward 4, Maureen Cassidy in Ward 5, Josh Morgan in Ward 7, Anna Hopkins in Ward 9, Virginia Ridley in Ward 10, Stephen Turner in Ward 11, Tanya Park in Ward 13 and Jared Zaifman. All elected for the first time.

But while they are all rookies, they aren’t all new to civic engagement. As Councillor Bryant observed: “A lot of them know each other, so they come in already working together.”

The other newcomer is Phil Squire in Ward 6, a former public school trustee, and the only conservative voice on the new council.

What will it mean?

During his election campaign, Matt Brown vowed London needed to do something big. This is a council ready to do that, and probably not cheaply. They have a very strong mandate from the citizens that should re-energize their efforts and which, if successful, should re-energize the city. 

Or they could get scared and freeze. And that’s where Mayor-elect Matt Brown will need to earn his big salary. It’s his time to lead – and he needs to do it.