Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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

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Last laughs and some advice

LATEST REPORT #1,053: Almost four years to the day since they were sworn into office, city council completed its term Tuesday night. There was much laughter and a few pearls of wisdom from a group that hasn’t been known as collegial.

Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 – London Ontario

Must have been the fact the final council meeting was exactly one month to the day until Christmas. How else can you explain why a group born of anger and contempt could end it all laughing – with each other?

But so it was as this One.Of.The.Worst.Councils.Ever reached the end of the line Tuesday night. Eleven of the 15 are not returning, six of them against their will. Still they choked all that back as they joked and jollied about the good times of the past four years.

Really? Really.

The retiring or retired council members stood in their place around the council semi-circle to say their goodbyes.

“I’ve been here a long time,” said Bud Polhill, defeated in Ward 1 after 26 years on council. “It’s like anyone’s family – sometimes you like them, sometimes you don’t.”

He had, he said with a little catch in his voice, “twenty-five good years. The last one not so much.”

Stephen Orser, beaten in Ward 4 after two terms, followed a barnburner speech by Joe Swan, who didn’t run again in Ward 3 but lost a bid to become mayor.

“After Swan’s speech I think I’m going to fire my speech writer,” he said. 

After what was probably Councillor Orser’s most gracious and warm address ever at City Hall, Russ Monteith opined: “I think you should give your speech writer a raise.”

“I can’t give myself a raise,” replied Councillor Orser, who has campaigned for years for fulltime councillors making a lot more money. Then he added, “But if you’d like to make a motion . . .”

Dale Henderson came with four pages of notes – “I had an idea but it grew,” he explained. He said being on council was an eye opener. “Before I was elected I didn’t own a Blackberry. Now I have three.”

His finest moment? When he put his name forward as candidate for replacement mayor after Joe Fontana resigned in disgrace. He got one vote, his own. “Just think, in my last year here I was just seven votes away from being major of this city.”

Councillor Henderson was renowned throughout his term for springing ideas at the most unwanted moments, never sticking with procedure, and often giving wandering, confusing speeches. 

After this one, however, chimed Paul Van Meerbergen, upset in Ward 10: “You’ve been here for four years and you wait until tonight before I can finally understand what you’re saying.”

Councillor Van Meerbergen thanked Mayor Joni Baechler for the gift given to each member of council, “but mine seems to be ticking.” So it was; each gift was a clock.

“There’s a lot of humour around this place,” he said, “and there are times when it is definitely needed. You knew something is wrong when Harold (Usher) doesn’t say sensational.”

Sandy White, ousted in Ward 14, offered this as she turned toward Councillor Van Meerbergen, who like her and Councillors Polhill, Swan, Orser and Henderson had joined Mr. Fontana at the ill-fated Bill T’s Tap and Grill on the Saturday before budget day in February: “I’ve come to realize Tories and social-leaning people can get along just fine.”

“As long as you buy lunch,” Councillor Van Meerbergen retorted.

There were some fine moments, too.

From Councillor Swan: “Change is upon us and I look forward to them with optimism. That we can make these changes safely, without violence, speaks to the strength of the Canadian experience.”

To Matt Brown, who whipped him in mayoral contest, he said: “You ran an exciting, forceful and dynamic campaign. We’ve got your back. Lead us well and with vision.”

And at the end there was Mayor Baechler, who had already announced this was her last term on council when she was picked to complete Mr. Fontana’s, a job she filled with grace and dignity.

“I have not regretted serving with any one of you,” she said. “Sometimes it was unruly, at other times deeply fulfilling. I was always learning something about myself, including that sometimes it is hard to agree to disagree.

“I think there is great hope and promise in London,” she added, speaking in particular to the incoming council. “Think about how you are shaping the city because those decisions will have long-term ramifications. We want a dynamic city, but not one that is representative of nowhere. We want a city that is a calling card to the world.”