Many incumbents remain on the sidelines in municipal race
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.
When one scans the list of declared municipal and school board candidates planning to run in the October 2022 elections, it becomes obvious that some incumbents who were expected to announce early in the process are taking their time before entering the public fray for another round.
While Tyler Richards in Ward 4, Eric Smeaton in Ward 5 and Greg Ward in Ward 8 have been added to the list of candidates running for council since we last looked in mid-June, four Kawartha Lakes council stalwarts have yet to make their intentions official.
In Ward 1, Emmett Yeo has yet to declare. In Ward 2, Kathleen Seymour-Fagan is still not officially on the ballot. In Ward 3, Andrew Veale has yet to announce. Last, in Ward 8 deputy-mayor Tracy Richardson is also undeclared.
There is one thing all these very diverse incumbents share which could be complicating their final decision whether to run: they all hold down fulltime jobs. Yeo is in construction, Seymour-Fagan is a restaurateur, Veale manages two automotive dealerships and Richardson runs a family tree farm.
“Being on council can take a lot of your time,” said retiring mayor Andy Lethem in a telephone interview with the Advocate. “There are a lot of demands on councillors. It is a tough role to fill.”
“Councillors are walking away,” Letham said. “Being on council is a fulltime gig. The only way you are going to get a younger and more diverse council is to make it (being on council) a fulltime job.”
If these four choose not to run again, Kawartha Lakes council will have the potential of having a predominantly new council with a new mayor and few returning councillors.
This phenomenon of incumbents potentially withdrawing from politics is being seen all over the region. After two and a half years of a public health emergency where the hours councillors spent dealing with concerns in their wards have increased exponentially, there are many incumbents reconsidering their positions as councilors or mayor.
In Haliburton-Kawartha-Lakes-Brock alone, only one of nine incumbent mayors is running again, with a myriad of councillors announcing their retirements seemingly every week.
“Local politicians are leaving,” Letham said. “They don’t get a lot of credit but they sure do take a lot of heat. There is real COVID fatigue. This has been hard on everyone. This last term in particular has been a grind. Many municipal politicians are tired and feeling worn out.”
The race for positions on the local school board seems a little more incumbent friendly with veterans Don Alton, Judy Saunders and Colleen Wilcox so far running unopposed in their Kawartha Lakes wards. As of writing, Lindsay-area trustee David Morrison and Bobcaygeon-area trustee John Byrne have yet to make an official decision about what role they will play in the October election. New comers Herb Pounder has put in his papers to run in Byrne’s ward, while Kevin Gorrell has made his campaign official in the Lindsay ward currently represented by Morrison.
Electoral watchers still believe that the six undeclared incumbents have lots of time to take stock of their commitments to see if political service remains a possibility. These same individuals also suggest that a number of people are going to wait until the final declaration date, which is August 19, to see how hotly contested the vote will be in their respective wards before declaring.