MRA Election Commentary
The 2014 Township of Muskoka Lakes election results are now certified, and the outcome declared. While a number of incumbents were returned, there will be three new faces seated around the Council table, and there will be new leadership at the helm. Former Councillor Don Furniss is the Mayor elect, replacing Mayor Alice Murphy. Voter turnout improved slightly over the 2010 election (44.0% to 40.3%), and the upward trend has continued from a low of only 19.1% in 1991.
The MRA wants to go on record as congratulating all successful candidates, and thank those who offered themselves for election, but whose vote totals fell short of the goal.
To those councillors who were returned – we trust that they have been refreshed and re-energized, and that they will actively participate in informed discussion of all Township issues while offering help and assistance to the new members of council.
To those new councillors who are understandably euphoric over election success – we wish them well, and encourage them to focus in the near term on educating themselves on Township administrative operations, on meeting procedures, and on policy responsibilities for the entire Township and District.
To the office of mayor – we have every expectation that the yoke of office will not be a burden, and that as the new role of leadership is assumed, and, by leading by example, there will be a focus on civility, decorum, respect, harmony, and building consensus amongst and with the entire council team.
The Immediate Future
In our opinion, there is much unfinished business to concentrate early energies on in the Township. Particularly, here are some issues that need immediate attention:
- Code of Conduct – The MRA believes that early attention must be turned to adopting a value based Code of Conduct – one that will recognize that ethical performance matters, that it is a honour and privilege to represent the public, and that trust will be the hallmark of this new council. Hiring an Integrity Commissioner early on in this term should be considered.
- Policy Responsibility – The MRA believes that council’s role is not to micro-manage and take over the responsibility of professional staff, but to debate principle and recommendations, to set policy frameworks to guide the future direction of the Township, to pass appropriate by-laws to promote responsible growth, and to recognize the importance of prudent stewardship of taxpayer contributions to the ongoing health of the community.
- Administrative Hiring – The recent history of staff departures has weakened the administrative base of the Township alarmingly. Immediate attention must be paid to retaining the services of both a permanent CAO and Treasurer for the Township and allow these individuals to carry out their position responsibilities without interference.
- Councillor Education – The MRA was all too often appalled at the flagrant abuse of power by the previous council which regularly demonstrated unfamiliarity with Township by-laws, rules and regulations and flouted reasonable interpretations of Robert’s Rules, all of which led to a breakdown of respect, decorum, and expected behaviour. The lack of knowledge of the Municipal Act was palpable. Therefore, we feel that all those elected should educate themselves on existing legislation which, if followed, will result in greater efficiency of meetings and shorter time commitments.
- Public Decision Transparency – One of the most obvious ways to build trust which has been so badly eroded is to communicate more completely and more quickly, and resort to fewer “in camera” meetings while respecting the dictates of the Municipal Act. Transparency will remove suspicion and a sense of secrecy that pervaded the last Council.
- Bala Falls – The MRA does not believe it is useful, prudent, or responsible to continue using taxpayer funds and administrative time to continue fighting to stop the power plant from its inevitable construction. Our judgement and recommendation is for council to set a new tone in relationship with SREL and the MNR and negotiate for a reopening of the Burgess Park staging ground discussion immediately with the hope of leasing the parking lot and receiving substantial lease payments for the benefit of the community. The Township needs to recognize that the project is part of the dictates of the Green Energy Act, and decisions on its approval are and have been made at the provincial level. It is time to move on, and dedicate time and energy to healing the deep divide in the community.
- The Future of our Community – The MRA believes that the Township cannot stand still with the intent of preserving the past. The Township either moves forward with appropriate development and infrastructure completion, or it will fall back into deterioration and eventual irrelevance. The MRA is hopeful that the new council will encourage responsible development, will improve the assessment base, and will work toward ensuring that there is affordable housing available for those who want to live here, that there are year round employment opportunities, and that Muskoka Lakes Township will remain an attractive tourist destination for all.
Yes, the challenges ahead for this new council are significant. However, the MRA has every confidence that substantial progress can and will be made over the next term of office.
A Conflict of Interest Observation
The MRA earnestly believes that any candidate that decides to run for municipal office should immediately step down from holding office or sitting on the Board of any advocacy group to prevent the appearance of conflict of interest. The MRA has such a policy, and if the candidate is unsuccessful, he/she can be reinstated to the office or the Board.
Outgoing Mayor Murphy
The MRA would like to thank outgoing Mayor Alice Murphy for her considerable contributions to the Township of Muskoka Lakes and the District of Muskoka. We do wish her well wherever her future leads.
The MRA is simply focused on ensuring good, transparent and responsible governance for the Township, and to informing our membership on Township decision making and the performance of their representatives. We will continue to monitor Council, COW, and Planning Meetings at the Township, and where appropriate, at the District. We will do so with dedicated representatives, and report our observations and opinions monthly. We will issue a public report card after the first 100 days in office. Achievements and shortcomings will be the focus of that report.
The MRA congratulates all successful candidates, and looks forward to a bright future ahead under their leadership and commitment.
Liz Denyar – President
On behalf of the MRA Board of Directors