In the end, the City of Kawartha Lakes voted for stability, as embodied in the leader they already knew. Andy Letham pulled out a victory with 11, 435 votes. Gord James, the former councillor who was always assumed to be Letham’s greatest challenger to overcome, came in second with 9,878 votes.
Brian Junkin was a distant third with 2,724 and Peter Weygang captured 1,007 votes in unofficial results.
James ran a highly visible campaign. He clearly won the ‘sign war’ across the City, dominating early in that regard. He was visible, amiable, and congenial, always.
But in the background, looming large, were other factors at play.
- A smear campaign, directed personally towards Letham, first in the form of a professionally produced, ring-bound ‘report’ that was clearly aimed at cutting the incumbent down.
- The emergence of Bill Denby as an official third party advertiser, a former and current nemesis of the mayor’s, who took credit on social media for the report.
- Denby’s visually jarring, homemade signs signalling who was worthy of voting for – and it wasn’t Letham.
- Ontario Proud jumped into the fray with slick videos admonishing the City’s leadership and pushing electoral change because it had experienced tax increases. Again, on social media Denby took credit.
In the end, the incumbent may have won again partly because of the division that was being sown across the municipality. The reaction on social media to much of the personal campaign against Letham was dismay and embarrassment that it should be occurring here. In the end, did voters partly vote for civility?
Voting was down a bit from 2014. In the last election 28,000 people voted. This time around, it was just over 25,000, despite how it was supposed to be easier with online and telephone voting. A voting delay in more than 50 ridings across Ontario frustrated many.
In many ways this is truly Letham’s council now to lead, not only because he won again, but because he was the driver of a brand new way to ‘do’ council, shrinking it from 16 to 8 elected officials. It saved money and was more efficient, citizens were told, but how will democracy itself fare with less representation?
The mayor has said he always had a two-term agenda he wanted to complete. That there was a “buzz” in the community now. That “good things” were happening – that there was more to come.
Now he’s got four more years to prove his point. He’s got four more years to shape his City of communities.