10 things I learned about municipal politics in Kawartha Lakes

Kirk Winter Headshot

By Kirk Winter

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

Every election is an event unto itself, and much can be learned from each and every election cycle. The Kawartha Lakes municipal election of 2022 is no different. Here are 10 things I learned covering the 2022 vote.

  1. Pat Dunn has the most unfortunate timing

For the fourth time in Dunn’s political career, he has chosen to run when the conservative vote in Kawartha Lakes is split at least two or more ways between candidates offering very similar platforms. Many forget that Dunn, a founding member of the federal Reform Party, ran three times as the Reform candidate only to lose to Liberal John O’Reilly when local conservative voters split their votes between the Reform and the Progressive Conservative party.

This time out Dunn was competing for voters with Bill Denby, Faye McGee, Kathleen Seymour-Fagan and Jim Riches. There simply weren’t enough conservative votes to go around, and Doug Elmslie, firmly straddling the political centre, defeated Dunn and the others who sometimes seemed to snipe more at each other than Elmslie.

  1. Every vote counts

In Ward Four, Dan Joyce defeated Dave Skrabek by only 10 votes 548 to 538. Joyce’s margin of victory was incredibly narrow. It is always tough to lose in an election, but one that could have been won with a handful more votes has to sting even more.

  1. Nice things happen to good people

Right across Ontario, many hard-working municipal politicians did not run for re-election. As a voter you wonder who is going to step up and challenge for their jobs? What are their motivations? Are they in politics for all the right reasons?

The voters of Kawartha Lakes were very fortunate that individuals like Mike Perry, Pat Warren, Eric Smeaton, Doug Elmslie and Faye McGee offered their service to Kawartha Lakes voters. While not all of them were successful, no one ever doubted their sincerity or their commitment to making the community a better place to live.

  1. Municipal government is not just filling potholes

Despite the issue of roads featuring prominently in many a stump speech, few candidates who only spoke about infrastructure were elected.

Many other important issues like doctor recruitment, poverty, social housing, active transportation, libraries and culture found their way into the political discussion and the city as a whole will be better off with these issues receiving the interest and consideration that they deserve.

  1. The paper ballot option needs to return

Much to the relief of all involved, the largely online election went off without a hitch. But, candidates in all eight wards heard loud and clear that a stratum of largely older voters who dominate the turnout in municipal elections want the option of a paper ballot.

Council should seriously consider offering paper ballots again in 2026, perhaps setting up polling stations at the pre-existing service centres found right across the city.

  1. Clerk Cathie Ritchie should be congratulated

Ritchie, who was in charge of the municipal election, has a thankless job trying to ensure that democracy functions correctly and fairly in Kawartha Lakes.

She has to deal with complaints and concerns from both voters and candidates on issues as varied as sign placement and size sign to making sure the vote is as transparent as possible.

This year’s candidates had their fair share of prima donnas and loud mouths, and Ritchie did a magnificent job delivering a flawlessly run vote that reported results in record time.

  1. Door knocking still matters

A number of candidates told me during interviews that they did not see value in door-knocking, preferring instead to rely on social media to get their message out to voters.

Each and every one of those candidates lost, and in many cases badly, to a challenger who had an aggressive ground game and knocked on, in some cases, thousands of doors.

People want to see a candidate’s face, and many take the opportunity at the door to share with candidates what issues are of concern to them.

Understanding “retail” politics will always benefit a municipal candidate come election time.

  1. Younger candidates made the effort

In what can often be an election dominated by grey haired folks like me, it was great to see younger residents like Tyler Richards, Danielle Willette and Greg Ward run such creditable campaigns. I hope they will run again in 2026, and more people under the age of 40 will consider a career in public service.

  1. Development gets the discussion it deserves

When this campaign began everyone seemed to be hyper-focused on the city’s crumbling infrastructure. By the time the campaign reached its conclusion most everyone was also talking about the stunning levels of development the city will be experiencing over the next 8-12 years with thousands of new homes already approved for construction.

Candidates seemed to agree that there was nothing wrong with development, but that it needs to be well managed and at a pace where the city finds it has the services to hook up these burgeoning new suburbs.

Many in the community also expressed a concern at the growing influence that deep pocketed developers are having in the community. They asked if council would be able to tell developers “no” if their projects threaten the environment or farm land needed for food production.

  1. 68 percent of people have lost their right to complain

My father was a deeply political man. He took elections seriously, and raised his children to see them the same way.

I, for one, will never understand why people do not exercise their democratic franchise that an older generation gave their lives to protect in the Second World War.

Dad reminded us all “that if you can’t be bothered to vote you lose the right to bitch about the government just elected.”

Two-thirds of Kawartha Lakes residents decided not to cast a ballot for this council for a number of what they believed to be good reasons. I doubt highly they will choose to remain silent for the next four years. A pity, because they had their chance and blew it.


  1. Bonnie Harris says:

    Excellent review. I’ve been closely following our election for the past few months and you’ve really hit the nail on its head. A good analysis, and a good read.

  2. Dianne says:

    Door knocking would be very helpful….no one in Ward 7 knocked on my door, Doug Emslie had a friend come here….Very hard to know who to vote for if you don’t know the players……Paper ballots are a must….

  3. Jackie Hellawell says:

    Excellent points!! Very well written. I too watched this election closely and agree with much of what you say

  4. Garnet Brydon says:

    These are some great observations. By contrast, I learned only one thing about municipal politics in Kawartha Lakes. The “same old same old” still commands the most attention. I’d really like to see and hear more original platforms, ‘big thinking’ and market saavy in future elections. In the meantime, I’m sure we’ll stay the course.

    That said, a shout out to all that put their hat in the ring, and to those who served and did their besr to evolve our community of communities.

  5. Theresa Meier says:

    Well said

  6. Tom Mohr says:

    I agree with your father.

  7. Deb McInerney says:

    Excellent article. As one of the very few “door knockers” out there this time I can attest to the positive experience of meeting people and speaking to them about their concerns. Most of the people I met in both Wards 1 and 4 said they had never had anyone come to their door, in some cases for the 30+ years they had lived at that address.

  8. Stephen Wooldridge says:

    I very much agree with your last point. I can’t believe the dismal numbers of people that ACTUALLY voted.
    Whenever I am out in public or with friends the topic of how the township is run inevitably comes up. Everyone has an opinion on how POORLY run this city is. All I learned from this last election is that the citizens of Kawartha Lakes are all bark and no bite.
    In this taxpayer’s humble opinion if you didn’t vote, you have to sit there and live with whatever happens. you lost your right to complain.
    Even worse was the fact it took me all of 5 minutes to vote. I didn’t even have to leave my house… SO WHATS YOUR EXCUSE???

  9. Barbara Langer says:

    Well said! Although my husband and I voted online, paper ballots are a necessity in a community such as ours, where there is such a large senior population. We live in Ward 7 and Doug Elmslie was the only person who came to our door. If we don’t like the cards we have been dealt in our communities, municipal elections are our best bet to foster change, even more than provincial or federal elections.

    • F. Morris says:

      We don’t lose our “right to complain” by not voting. That’s an easy and completely false response. We have the right to voice our concerns no matter what. A spoiled ballot, abstention, or refusal to cast a ballot have a long tradition in democracies to reflect a dissatisfaction with the options or the process.

      For instance, the choice of candidates is too often between twiddle-dee, tweedle-dum or tweedle-dumber. While I applaud those who put their names forward, I’m sure you would agree there were some light and odd resumes among them. In addition, diversity wasn’t exactly the hallmark of this or any previous KL election. Just count the number of old white guys (and I’m one) who put their names forward and you can see why some would say “It’s just the same old, same old”.

      We’re asked to vote, more often than not, for people with zero experience in running democratic, participatory affairs. It’s not like running a business and shouldn’t be – this is a democracy where majority wishes are supposed to accommodate minority concerns. Then these newbies arrive on council and realize they individually hold zero power. One vote among 6 or 7 on matters they have little experience or knowledge about. With “strong mayor” powers now available, councillors may have even less influence in the future.

      And then we can look at the influence of developers and the money they donate to finance campaigns. I’ve worked for developers in the past and they laugh at citizens and councillors who try to stop development. It cant be done and any candidate who swears they’ll fight to prevent that farm being turned into condos and townhomes is smoking some of the good stuff from those new dispensaries.

      I voted but I understand why some folks don’t. Especially the younger generation. These are people smart enough or discouraged enough to realize municipal council is not where the solution to our varied, urgent, and pressing problems will be found.

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