10 things I learned about municipal politics in Kawartha Lakes
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.