Many people breathed a sigh of relief when they woke up Sunday morning, the day after the 2011 civic election. Packed with twists and turns, the campaign also quickly became vicious and hurtful, a new experience for many politically-engaged residents who had never seen anything like it.
Dave Formosa, a one-term City of Powell River councillor, successfully challenged incumbent Mayor Stewart Alsgard. Incumbent councillors Maggie Hathaway, Debbie Dee, Jim Palm and Chris McNaughton were re-elected, a result that indicates the community supports their initiatives of the past three years. Newcomer Russell Brewer found favour with voters, as did former councillor Myrna Leishman. With a strong contingent of returning councillors, continuity is ensured and less time will be spent in learning the job, although Brewer and Leishman will have some catching up to do.
While the new council is pleased with its win, there are many tea leaves to read in the election results.
Mayor-elect Formosa and the incumbent councillors may well feel that they have a mandate to pursue co-treatment, the proposal to treat the city’s sewage at Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River division. But because the vote between Formosa and Alsgard was close, it can be seen as a caution to council that it needs to spend more time working with groups and individuals who oppose the proposal.
The incumbents have spent hours talking to people about the issue, not just those who have the same mindset. They must bring that willingness to the next term as well.
The signs are good. The incumbents promised to hold a referendum on co-treatment when all the facts are known and many said they favour returning to a committee structure, as opposed to a portfolio system. They say they want to involve more residents in the local government process. Hopefully, they will choose people based on their willingness to serve and expertise, not on whether they agree with the direction of council. Being inclusive means including people with diverse viewpoints and stances, not just those who are in agreement.
Taxes will be a challenge in 2012, as the city will start paying its share of recently completed capital projects, including waterfront development, the drinking water system upgrade and the track at Timberlane. Council knows what is contained in the service review that has been underway since July, but the public has yet to be informed of its contents. Will it help council make those inevitably tough decisions?
Creating an open, approachable and inclusive atmosphere at city hall will help, not only in making difficult choices, but explaining them to the community. Now is the time to reach out.