Council Chambers

- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

A child who started grade 3 this September had not been born when most of the current members of Owen Sound City Council took their first oath of office.

Give that a thought.

We are now electing the people who will be our representatives until a baby born today enters Junior Kindergarten. As a voter, I take that responsibility very seriously.

I have attended or watched every regular council meeting, special council meeting, budget meeting and many committee meetings over the past two council terms and more. Most votes were routine – passing a prepared list of by-laws, minutes and resolutions from committees with little discussion. More significant to me are these observations: Who spoke regularly to the issues at hand, how well had they done their homework, and how did they treat their colleagues and visitors to the chamber?

Who brought new, sometimes challenging ideas to the table and presented a real vision for this community? How clear were they about their reasoning for changes they suggest, and about their measurements of success?

In other words – Who raised the bar?

These first two articles are about the incumbents who have been at the table over those four, eight, or in the mayor's case, twelve years. Their messages at all candidates meetings and in their campaign literature include phrases like “There is still more to do ... proven track record ... experienced ... continue the progress ... more to offer ... focus on what matters”.

Starting with the men who would be mayor, what have they demonstrated about “what matters” in our City?

Ian Boddy is the longest serving member of council, elected in 2010. He became mayor in 2014, defeating two previous mayors. In 2017, Boddy launched his Mayor's Growth Plan Working Group and an aspiration of 30,000 residents by 2030. The plan itself was never publicly released.

Boddy has been focussed on growth most of his two terms as mayor, with mixed results. Hydrogen Optimized and Nuts and Volts are in the former Tenneco building with about 60 employees between them, but Tenneco itself finally closed in 2020 with hundreds of staff laid off.

There have been completed residential developments by local builders – Barry's Construction, Graham Construction and AndPet – and hiccups like the Sydenham Condos, still limping to completion, abandoned Georgian Landing "luxury rental suites for 2019",  and the (third time lucky?) 1853 Courthouse sale. We still await shovels in the ground at the former RCA and BCK, and green field projects like RedHawk, Flato and other sites that are in line for development charge holidays for purpose-built rental housing.

How many of the darts or laurels for any these projects can or should be borne by current council or its leadership is unclear.

What is Boddy's vision for our collective future? I hoped to find out during this campaign. His website says “Please keep on eye on this website in the coming weeks as I discuss our successes, our challenges and where I want to lead our community”, but there are no specifics and nothing has been added since September 29.

Richard Thomas was elected to council in 2014. After two full terms at the table with Boddy as mayor, Thomas announced only weeks ago that "recently, we have experienced a lack of leadership".  On his campaign website he says this accounts for council's "lack of action on critical issues". He is unclear how long he feels this has been a problem, but he is walking a fine line between what he lists as achievements of this council's "team effort", many of which are in the past year, and a council he says has been "permitted to flounder and wander in its distress and dysfunction".

Thomas has made Owen Sound's high taxes his priority, even though fewer than one in 10 respondents to the 2021 Citizen Satisfaction Survey identified taxes as their own top concern. Three out of four of Owen Sounders said they received good value of city programs and services for their tax dollars, and most (62%) said that City services and programs should be paid through property tax revenue instead of user fees. Everything, Thomas says, will be on the table, including services cuts and amalgamations with neighbouring municipalities. Boddy says there is "no appetite" for such mergers, and certainly no candidate in Georgian Bluffs or Meaford is advocating amalgamation.

Thomas' vision for the future of Owen Sound includes 24/7 transit, a composite fire department, source-separated organic waste, and an expanded Tom Thomson art gallery. 

Whichever of these men end up sitting in the middle chair in this council chamber will require strong  support in the other seats and many other tables.



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