Elmslie says Lindsay’s population expected to double in just eight years
New mayor says 2024 will bring focus on roads, infrastructure, arts and culture, among other competing interests
Many in Kawartha Lakes were unsure after the last municipal election what kind of council they were going to get. With an all-new mayor and half the councillors new to city hall, there was the potential for some inertia as all involved learned their new jobs.
But Mayor Doug Elmslie believes that much has been achieved so far, notwithstanding massive city development on the horizon – a fact that may eventually impact the number of councillors and who they represent.
With Lindsay predicted to double in population in the next eight years, according to Elmslie, he said they are focused on the need for the city to hire more qualified staff that will allow development to come in an ordered and predictable fashion.
“We are always looking for new qualified (city) staff and that effort will continue. It is no secret we have hard shortages in planning, building, engineering and public works among other areas. This is consistent with industry trends in those professions. We have a robust recruitment program and will…look to be innovative in order to accomplish our staffing goals.”
The mayor said they are being competitive as much as possible by offering alternate work arrangements, something expected by many job seekers post-COVID.
“This allows us to attract and retain the best and brightest, regardless of where they live.”
When asked if this growth will change council’s structure or the number of councillors in the future, Elmslie agreed change is likely coming. “As we grow the majority of the growth will happen in Lindsay, although we’re encouraging growth in outlying areas as much as possible.”
The mayor said ward boundaries need to be reviewed when there is a significant population shift. This could mean that a councillor would not only have an urban component to their ward, but it would also include a rural section – something that occurs already in Wards 5 and 7.
“As far as timing goes, if growth occurs as planned, it would seem that it could be done as early as the 2030-2034 term of council.”
Elmslie said future growth in Kawartha Lakes is going to attract a demographic with families aged 28-35 mixed with a healthy dose of those 55 and over.
“Our growth management study takes all of this information into consideration when planning for infrastructure, amenities and municipal services.”
Life as mayor
When asked what Elmslie sees as the biggest difference between being a councillor and mayor, he said it’s largely about perspective.
“As mayor your focus is on larger issues, dealing with the whole municipality rather than being specific to a ward. There are also provincial interactions that must be addressed which a councillor would generally not get involved in.”
At the council level, the mayor’s responsibility for agendas and ensuring the flow of meetings and keeping everything on track, is a major change from his time as councillor.
“Working with councillors, helping them accomplish initiatives in their wards and an increase in the number of events that need to be attended are all additional responsibilities.”
Many may wonder what a mayor’s average work week looks like, and Elmslie said that, perhaps as no surprise, it is one filled with meetings and a lot of reading.
He said that a typical work week varies according to the number of meetings, conferences and public speaking engagements on the calendar. An average week entails approximately 40 to 60 hours. All councillors are appointed to several committees/boards (such as police boards, HKPR District Health Unit Board, Environmental Advisory Committee, etc.) and these meetings each have their own agendas to review, travel time and meeting time required.
He added that a significant amount of time is dedicated to reading and background research to prepare for meetings. Council agendas, with supporting documents, can be up to 1,000 pages and on 30 or more varying subjects.
“You cannot possibly know all the details of every project,” Elmslie said,” but you do need to have a solid grasp of what is being proposed, the advantages, costs, and various viewpoints involved.”
Visiting businesses and residents across a municipality the size of Kawartha Lakes (3,200 square kilometres) is important as well, he notes, but certainly time consuming.
“Phone calls and emails with residents is time well spent to educate and to listen to the issues that are important to our community. Spending time with staff and council is important to build relationships and foster a team mindset.”
The new council
With a council that has four of eight new members, Elmslie is very pleased how quickly the new councillors have learned their positions. The mayor pointed out that the job of a councillor “has a very sharp learning curve” and that the legislation and requirements imposed by both the provincial and federal governments are constantly changing.
Elmslie notes these new councillors, if anything, seem to be “over ambitious in their desire to learn and see progress in their ward.”
This is a good attitude to have, he says, but “I have learned through experience that sometimes a slower, more patient approach accomplishes more.”
When asked about the role being played by Deputy Mayor Tracy Richardson, Elmslie was enthusiastic in his praise.
“Deputy Mayor Richardson has been a huge support and source of energy, advice and help. Anything she takes on and does is carefully researched and planned.” The deputy mayor’s current initiative “Did you know?” is a video series paired with public engagement and is designed to help people understand how to access services. It also serves to help her and the city understand how Kawartha Lakes can improve its customer service levels and communication.
“She is setting a very high bar for future deputy mayors.”
When asked to address the biggest achievements of the new council so far, Elmslie pointed to councillors learning the “nitty-gritty” of their new jobs quickly, and pointed out the new council has learned and dealt with their first budget “in an effective manner.”
He also highlighted the work done by the new council taking on the short-term rental (STR) issue and moving forward with a comprehensive bylaw that he views as a “major accomplishment dealing with a long-standing issue.”
“While it is very early days in the life of our STR bylaw, the feedback is mostly positive. Some folks would like to see it stronger and some feel it is too harsh. It will be helpful to have data from our first summer season to properly evaluate its impact.”
On an issue that absolutely dominated the last two years of then-mayor Andy Letham’s second term, off-road vehicles on public roads including within Lindsay, Elmslie said the issue has “been very quiet.”
“Neither Kawartha Lakes Police Service, OPP, nor the municipal law enforcement and licensing division have experienced any significant issues. Early on there were calls to clarify the new routes. Complaints on this issue have since been very low.”
The future for the city and the mayor
Elmslie told The Advocate that priorities for the 2024 budgeting year will continue to be roads and infrastructure. He also wants to see training continue amongst city firefighters, and that the city fleet (all city vehicles) be brought up to date. The mayor also wants to ensure they are supporting arts, culture and heritage.
When asked to address speculation that he has already made a decision not to run again in 2026, Elmslie said that he has made no such decision on the future, being only one year into his term. Elmslie added he was “focused on the job at hand and that there will be plenty of time to consider the future later in the term.”