Waterloo Region Roundup: Four noteworthy races and other happenings

Written by: Kate Daley

In the dozens of seats up for grabs across Waterloo Region’s eight municipal councils and two school boards, there are four races that are especially worth noting.

1) Regional chair

The most notable race in Waterloo Region this election is the regional chair’s race, addressed in a previous post.

The regional chair race is the first without veteran chair Ken Seiling, who has served uninterrupted since 1985, and who has never been seriously challenged since the chair position first became elected in 1997.

The election for chair is the only region-wide race, requiring its candidates to campaign to more than half a million people in an area twice as large as the City of Toronto. As a result, it is also the race most likely to incentivise paid advertising and other high-cost campaign approaches. While Seiling’s campaigns were notoriously low key, his biggest challenger in the 2014 election reported spending more than $200,000. We can expect money to play a much more significant role in the regional chair’s race from this election forward.

A late-breaking poll with limited sample size suggests former MP and sitting regional councillor Karen Redman is leading by a considerable margin.

2) Cambridge mayor

Long-time mayor Doug Craig is being challenged by Kathryn McGarry, who until the provincial election was Liberal MPP for Cambridge and Minister of Transportation. Also in the race is Ben Tucci, former councillor, and two new entrants.

The three most well known candidates joined Steve Paikin recently on The Agenda.

Cambridge does not have a strong history of ejecting sitting mayors. Craig took over the post in 2000, when Mayor Jane Brewer chose not to run again. Brewer had held the post since 1988, following long-time mayor Claudette Millar. The three of them together have governed the City of Cambridge for all but 3 years of the city’s 45-year history.

3) Kitchener Regional council

While the mayors of the seven local-tier municipalities sit on regional council, eight additional members are directly elected in city-wide contests to represent the residents of those cities. (It’s worth noting that they do not represent the local-tier councils or municipalities.)

Waterloo and Cambridge both have two directly elected seats, and all four of those seats have their incumbents running.

In Kitchener, however, Redman’s run for regional chair leaves at least one seat that will not be filled by an incumbent among Kitchener’s four seats. Notable new contenders include Michael Harris, former MPP for Kitchener Conestoga who was denied his party’s nomination by new leader Doug Ford, and former school board trustee Ted Martin.

Arguably the most interesting candidate, however, is Fauzia Mazhar, a community builder whose impressive resume includes serving as a founder and chair of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW. While the Women’s Municipal Campaign School, which Mazhar has helped organize, has made some progress in increasing women’s representation on our eight councils, councillors are still overwhelmingly white, despite Waterloo Region’s diverse population. A win for Mazhar would be a crucial accomplishment to address the exclusion of racialized citizens from our dozens of local council positions.

4) A surprising acclamation

In a truly surprising turn of events, one-term Mayor of Woolwich Sandy Shantz is acclaimed. No one stepped forward to challenge her. This is despite a small but vocal group who have been persistent in their pursuit of Shantz, including repeated attempts to have her removed from office.

Other items of note:

  • Premier Doug Ford’s musings that he will make changes to regional government structures have at least one incumbent council candidate advocating for Cambridge’s succession from the upper-tier Region of Waterloo. This call has been made by various Cambridge leaders during various regional reform debates going back decades.
  • The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, led by former councillor Greg Durocher, initially chose to defend candidate interviews run by the chamber that focused on personal questions like whether candidates believe in a supreme being or were born in Canada. They quietly cut some of the questions from the interviews at release, citing length.
  • The Cambridge clerk is defending the city’s online voting system despite continuing concerns about its reliability. The system is being run by a third party contractor, and the online vote is proceeding despite the city having eliminated telephone voting on security grounds. Despite the clerk’s assertions about online voting being the same as online banking, online banking relies on all parties knowing what transactions customers have made, which cannot be replicated in voting by secret ballot.
  • The Township of North Dumfries has opted to eliminate in-person voting, and will replace polling stations with telephone and internet voting only.
  • While the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo are both running again, Kitchener and Waterloo councils have 2 and 3 open seats, respectively, guaranteeing at least some turnover on their 11- and 8-member councils.

Kate Daley is an environmental professional and a graduate of York University’s PhD program in political science, where she studied transit, urban growth management, and regional government in the Waterloo area. She has managed two successful municipal campaigns, and participated in the organization of this year’s Women’s Municipal Campaign School in Waterloo Region. She is currently on parental leave with her family’s new baby.

Disclosure: The author’s spouse is a councillor representing the City of Waterloo’s Ward 6, and is currently running for re-election.

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