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Miscellaneous: 24 Oct 2018
Voters in Waterloo Region pressed the reset button in this week's municipal elections. They elected change in their community for the rapidly changing times around them.
Voting matters. Big change happens
They did not, to be sure, rush blindly into some brave new world of municipal government. They did, however, walk smartly and decisively into the political landscape they'd just reshaped.
For those of you who voted, take a bow. That's because this region can look forward to having markedly different councils leading it in the next four years, years in which they'll face heady challenges from Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives in Toronto. These reconfigured councils are exactly what Waterloo Region needs.
More than anywhere else, voters in Cambridge epitomized the yearning for a new direction. They brought an end to the 18-year reign of Doug Craig, decisively voting out the incumbent mayor and putting in his place Kathryn McGarry, who was most recently a local MPP at Queen's Park.
In municipal elections incumbency is often like a suit of armour to those who enjoy it. Since there are no political parties to sway voters, name recognition offers a huge advantage to those already ensconced on a council. This advantage is only magnified when incumbents are challenged by several hopeful contenders, many of whom have a low public profile.
But incumbency didn't grant Craig another term. It didn't permit Jane Mitchell to return to regional council as one of Waterloo's two representatives. Newly-elected Jim Erb will go in her place.
Incumbency couldn't keep Zyg Janecki from surrendering his seat as Kitchener city council's Ward 8 representative to Margaret Johnston. Nor did incumbency permit Mark Whaley to continue for another term as the Ward 5 councillor in the city of Waterloo. Voters awarded Jen Vasic that honour.
Other significant changes on local councils were facilitated by incumbents who opted not to run again. Michael Harris, the Progressive Conservative MPP who was forced by his party to leave the Tory caucus earlier this year, experienced a political rebirth when he captured one of Kitchener's four regional council seats.
One of the city's current representatives on that body — Karen Redman — had run to become Waterloo Region's new chair, a position that itself became open when Ken Seiling announced his retirement after 33 years in the job.
While glitches in online voting in Woolwich and Wellesley townships Monday mean the winner of the regional chair race won't be officially announced until Wednesday, someone new will lead the region in the four years ahead.
And so we have change. Evolutionary if not revolutionary. Sensible, not radical. A blood transfusion for the body politic, not open-heart surgery. It's change that people chose. Change that politicians who stepped aside made inevitable.
Change that will see far more women in elected positions than before, a shift that will be welcomed by everyone who thinks municipal councils should look like their electorates.
Half the newly-elected councillors in Kitchener and in North Dumfries Township are women. Women will be in the majority on Waterloo council and three out of four councillors in Wilmot Township will be women, too.
There are lessons in all this, especially for the vast majority of eligible voters in this region who, unfortunately, didn't bother to mark a ballot.
Elections matter. They can be truly transformative. And incumbent politicians should never become too comfortable because sometimes voters weigh their options and mark their X for change.
Nobody should ignore these facts of political life with Canada's next federal election just one year away.
Waterloo Region Record/AA
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