No matter the outcome of this October’s municipal election, Waterloo Region will have a new figure in charge. After 33 years in the region’s highest public office, Ken Seiling’s decision not to run for re-election marked the end of one era and the start of another.
There is still one more day left before the nomination period for the election closes, but as of yesterday morning, three candidates have entered their names to take over the reins at the region.
The candidates so far in the running for regional chair are the Robert Deutschmann, previous mayor of North Dumfries Township, Karen Redman, a former MP and current Kitchener representative on regional council, and Jan d’Ailly, a former City of Waterloo councillor.
For the prospective chairs, the election is a chance to build on the positives of Seiling’s legacy, while steering Waterloo into the future.
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“I sort of call it Waterloo Region 2.0,” said Deutschmann, of his campaign. “It’s like, ‘what do we need now in terms of moving forward?’”
A lawyer by trade, Deutschmann served as mayor of North Dumfries between 2010 to 2014. The position gave him a seat at regional council as the township’s representative.
With his rural roots and political background, Deutschmann says he is keen to remain advocate for the concerns of the region’s rural communities, citing the slower emergency response times and lower police presence in those areas as key issues he would like tackle.
“We are always near the bottom of municipalities spent per capita [for emergency services]. We’re a rich and prosperous community, and yet with EMS and police services, we are very low in terms of what we spend per capita,” said Deutschmann.
Also in the running is veteran politician and lifelong Kitchener resident Karen Redman. Currently a representative on council, Redman was previously a Liberal MP for Kitchener Centre from 1997 to 2008. She is also the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region, and previously acted as trustee on the Waterloo school board.
Redman says that she hopes to leverage her extensive political experience to as the Region of Waterloo’s new chair.
“I think it’s a really exciting time in regional politics,” said Redman. “We have a newly minted provincial government, and I think we come at a lot of challenges from a position of strength because of a good stewardship of past regional councils. So I’m looking to moving us forward with vision using the skills that I have honed over the years that I’ve been in public life.”
Redman notes the prosperity of the region, but says that that prosperity needs to be felt across all the board.
“I really think that prosperity in its fullest meaning is very important so that nobody is left behind. And that’s a fine balance. It’s interesting, people often talk about the manufacturing sector … but the food industry is huge,” she says.
“And the fact that we have a high-tech sector is really blossoming, that’s not the only driver of the economy.”
Jan d’Ailly, too, has put in his papers to run for regional chair. A councillor with the City of Waterloo from 2003 to 2010, d’Ailly notes his key role in navigating the RIM Park financing scandal of the previous decade. It’s that crucial experience in politics and finance, coupled with his professional experience in business development, that d’Ailly says he would like to bring to the table.
“With Ken Seiling stepping down, the cities … and the townships are continuing to grow. We really want to make sure that we continue with the spirit of who we are. Our Mennonite tradition, our food our cultural traditions, and retake the spirit of who we are as a region, and really make sure that we can carry that forward.”
If elected, d’Ailly says that he would like to train fresh eyes on the region’s extensive bureaucracy, and be sure it’s making the best use of the taxpayers’ dollars.
“I think it’s time for a business-like review of the operations of the region,” he said. “[To] be sure, we have to have operational excellence in the bureaucracy. Is the bureaucracy running as efficiently as it can be? Is the money being spent on the right areas? Do we have the right checks and balances?
“It’s always good when you have a leadership change that you ask all of the questions, and take a business-like approach to the execution of the operations of a bureaucracy.”
Previously a potential candidate for the chair’s job, former Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris announced this week he’ll be seeking a seat as one of four Kitchener representatives on council.
In an interview Tuesday, Harris said he had considered running for regional chair, receiving considerable support from the community to do so. However, he said he had decided he would run for council instead, a position less time consuming then serving as chair.
“Clearly I’m humbled by folks’ encouragement for me to seek that particular position … [but] that’s not the role for me and my family at this stage. But I still have the ability to contribute and want to do so. And I think in this capacity, I’ll be able to do just that,” said Harris.
With the departure of Ken Seiling from municipal politics, this election marks a turning point for the Region of Waterloo, its three cities and four townships. The new chair will be taking over the reins from a long-time incumbent, potentially shifting the course of the region considerably in the years to come.
“Ken has done such an amazing job in the sense of bringing seven municipalities together under one umbrella, which is the Region of Waterloo,” said Deutschmann. “And there’s been growing pains, there’s been interactions between various people, strong characters, but I think over time the general realization has been that we are stronger together, working together and moving forward.”
The municipal election is to be held on October 22. The opportunity to apply to run in the election, meanwhile, ends at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Friday).