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More candidates means more interest

The race is on in Woolwich. New candidates entering the fray this week ensure there will be an election contested in all three wards, as well as for the mayor’s position.

That’s great news. Still, the more, the merrier. Would-be candidates have until next Friday to join in on the fun. The more people involved, the more ideas get floated out for the public to consider. Greater choice may also encourage a higher turnout – participation rates for municipal elections are notoriously poor.

In that vein, chances are fairly good Woolwich will see more than 27 per cent of eligible voters out at the polls, which was the figure last time out in 2006. Due to a lively debate over what would become the Woolwich Memorial Centre, turnout in Ward 1 was 36 per cent. Given that there are many issues at play just now – gravel pits and a proposed biogas plant, for instance – it’s reasonable to expect more people to take an interest in the upcoming election.

Throw in concerns about the current economic climate and there’s a definite buzz going around. Nothing like a federal election campaign, of course, but certainly more palpable than at any time in the last decade. We’d even venture to say there’s a feeling of change in the air.

That may be why more candidates have opted to come forward. And why we could – and should – see more join in.

Typically, incumbents do have an advantage. They’re given points for their experience. They’ve got name recognition. Low voter turnout numbers can indicate a lack of major concerns on the part of the electorate. There are, however, issues evoking some passion in Woolwich residents just now.

The most visible of those are a biogas-fuelled electrical generation plant in Elmira and a series of gravel pits proposed for sites near Conestogo, West Montrose and Winterbourne. There are simmering issues in Breslau, where residents have long felt a certain disconnect from an Elmira-centered administration. And there are lingering issues over the township’s recent building spree.

All of this should translate into more focus on the Oct. 25 election. The fact that every seat is being contested means these and other issues will be discussed, in open forums and around the kitchen table. Residents will have a chance to ask questions and to reflect on what they want to hear – the candidates who best reflect the general mood have the best shot.

Once the election is done, one of the first things council should consider is increasing the number of councillors. Although any change would have to wait another four years for the next election, the move would serve to boost the amount of discussion and dissent. That can’t help but change the dynamics of council meetings.

Governing in the township tends to be more managerial than political. That has its advantages – look no farther than the petty squabbling of senior governments – but it tends to put bureaucracy ahead of the democratic ethos.

An across-the-board electoral race in Woolwich is a good first step. It’s a different story in Wellesley Township, however, where only the five incumbents have filed papers so far. There, the call for candidates really needs to be heeded, if only to make the whole thing more interesting.

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