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More candidates make a race of it

In Woolwich, there’s now a three-way race for mayor, the first time the top job has been contested in a decade. However, that’s the sole contest among the 10 council spots in Woolwich and Wellesley townships. At least so far.

Woolwich Mayor Bill Strauss faces two challengers, but councillors Ruby Weber, Mark Bauman  and Murray Martin are looking at acclamation at this point, six weeks ahead of the nomination deadline for the Oct. 25 municipal election. Elmira resident Jim David is seeking the other Ward 1 seat – incumbent Sandy Shantz has yet to declare what she intends to do.

All five current Wellesley council members – Mayor Ross Kelterborn, Shelley Wagner, Herb Neher, Jim Olender and Paul Hergott – are the only ones to have filed papers.

Clearly this situation is not the stuff of epic political battles. Whether or not you agree the incumbents are doing a good job, putting them through the trial of a widely-contested election is a good thing: good for voters, good for debate and, most of all, good for democracy.

For that reason, we’re calling on public-minded citizens in both townships to come forward and stand for election – the pay’s not too great (mayors’ aside), the hours erratic, the public ungrateful and the media coverage scathing, but aside from that, it’s a great job and a way to both shape and serve the community where you live.

Municipal councils do have a great deal of influence over the quality of life in their communities. That’s especially true in the townships, where even small decisions can have a noticeable impact. Because that’s the case, it’s even more important to have community-minded people at the helm, those with the drive to enhance the quality of life here.

A contested election generates ideas, perhaps dragging residents out of their typical apathy. With any luck, we’d see voter turnout exceed the measly 30 per cent that’s the norm these days. Of course, there would be greater interest if controversy were the order of the day; just look at the public reaction to the gravel pit applications and issues such as development in Victoria Glen park to see just how galvanized people can get.

Most of the time, however, council meetings are dry affairs. That is both cause and effect in a system that essentially sees staff drive the agenda. Councillors often simply review reports and vote on the recommendations. Discussion is typically muted, with little dissent around the table, a situation made worse by the ill-considered Harris-era decision to reduce the size of municipal councils. A few more bodies around the table would provide more eyes to study reports, more voices to air opinions and more chances to vet ideas.

There’s no need for a free-for-all in council chambers, but dissent and debate are essential parts of the democratic process. Those qualities are precisely why we need more people to get involved in local politics. The more proactive the participants, the better the outcome will be for residents of the townships.

For voters, municipal elections typically mean a low turnout – the same should not be true of candidates.

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