Bernia Wheaton will bring her unique combination of a long rural history and background as an economic development officer to a key position in Wellesley Township.
Wheaton has registered as a candidate for mayor of Wellesley, running against incumbent Joe Nowak. This year’s election will be electronic, with no paper ballots. The goal is to make voting more convenient and accessible.
The only other Wellesley council race so far is in Ward 3, where first-term incumbent Peter van der Maas is being challenged by Joyce Barker. Two other incumbents, Ward 1’s Shelley Wagner and Ward 4’s Carl Smit, are seeking re-election. In Ward 2, currently held by longtime Coun. Herb Neher, no one has filed nominations papers, with the July 27 deadline just two weeks away.
For now, it remains a two-way race for the mayoralty.
“At the minimum, whether I win or lose, people have a choice,” said Wheaton. “And I think in rural communities, we don’t always have a choice. Sometimes only one person runs for a position, and they’re acclaimed; that’s not choice. So at minimum, that’s what we’ve accomplished is that people get to choose from A or B.”
Wheaton has worked for the Rural Oxford Economic Development for the past 13 years. The purpose of the role is to improve the economy of an area by attracting new businesses, working with municipalities, and identifying opportunities for growth and development. One of her key focuses in the campaign is communication.
“That’s because that’s very important to me, as part of my day job, as part of my family relationships, I think communication is so important,” said Wheaton. “I think that when you have a difficult message to communicate to the community, you need to be able to articulate it in a way that they will understand.”
Wheaton also stressed transparency towards the public with council decisions.
“I think we could probably do a better job, and I’ve heard that from the community, this isn’t just my own opinion,” said Wheaton. “And they say, ‘decisions get made and we don’t hear about it until a tree gets planted, or a sidewalk goes in. We don’t hear about it until something actually happens.’ We also need to do a better job of listening to the community and gathering their input so that we can make informed decisions. Because council isn’t just about the opinions of five people. It’s about those five people representing their voters.”
Melissa Schenk owns a video production company and has worked with Wheaton consistently over the years.
“She’s really open to hearing everybody’s opinions, but also making sure also that everyone is well-informed,” said Schenk. “The choice is available, versus it’s just ‘oh hey, let’s just cash this and not let anybody know what’s going on.’ I think it’s really great that there’s that transparency.”
Another key point of Wheaton’s campaign is the growth of the local businesses in the Wellesley Township.
“We need to manage the growth to ensure we don’t become a ‘bedroom community,’” explained Wheaton. “Where people go off to work in the city every day, and they do their shopping in whatever city they work in, and they come home to their little sanctuary, and they’re not engaged in the community, they’re not involved; it’s just a place for them to sleep at night in a quiet peaceful community. And then they leave again the next day. I want to avoid that long term. And if we don’t have a good plan for growth, that could be where we’re headed.”
A final key point of her campaign is acting as a strong voice for the rural community, having a particular soft spot towards small town life.
“With the exception of the five years I spent at university, I’ve spent my entire life in rural southern Ontario,” said Wheaton. “I was born and raised on a farm. Went to a rural high school. I went to Listowel District High School.”
“She’s just very honest, transparent, dedicated, hardworking person that is there to make a difference,” added Schenk. “And I love her whole philosophy of ‘expect more.’ She expects a lot of herself, and she expects a lot from others. And I think as a mayor, that’s what you should be expecting. Is to expect the best from your town or your city. So she’s an amazing candidate, I think she’ll do a great job.”