Eat your hat?

Normally I wouldn’t profess especial curiosity about the outcome of a local municipal election. In Almonte Ward of Mississippi Mills the upcoming municipal election (October 27, 2014) has however been a matter of much interest and a source of even greater amusement in our local e-newspaper, The Millstone News. The advent of The Millstone News in the Spring of 2011 has unquestionably changed the face of conversation in the Town. In addition to being a “Speaker’s Corner” (reminiscent of the original and most noted in the northeast corner of Hyde Park in London, United Kingdom, the site that the Tyburn gallows used for public executions) it is considered the “go to” forum for many local constituents.  I am anxious about the election result to the point of  betting on the outcome.  It would be a stretch to suggest that I am a political pundit because I haven’t anything but my instincts cultivated over the past 38 years in Almonte to guide me in this wager, but I am not so confident as some apparently are about what the electorate will do on Election Day.

The galvanizing election issue in The Millstone News has been the proposed “Enerdu Project” a development championed by local rich kid Jeff Cavanagh whose father operates the well-known construction business Thomas Cavanagh Construction Limited.  While there has been in addition to the press public demonstration opposing the Enerdu Project there lingers in the minds of some constituents the relevance of the debate notwithstanding the compelling environmental case being advanced so adamantly by the opponents of the Project.  Its significance spills onto the mayoral race since the issue has polarized that contest in particular.  It is safe to say that the candidates for councillor have fallen in line with the vocal public opinion against the project.  Only one candidate (Jane Torrance) has publicly stated that she is still “in the middle of the river” on the discussion.  All the other candidates have sought to insulate themselves from popular displeasure by camouflaging their lack of forthright decision with a need for more information while at the same time covering their flanks by opposing the project “in its current form” (which of course is classic political codswallop). To fly in the face of the self-righteous opponents who make repeated appearances on The Millstone News is understandably considered political suicide.

In The Millstone News the mayoral race reads like a Shakespearean play with the primary actors and mayoral candidates John Levi and Shaun McLaughlin being metaphorically echoed by their front-seat groundlings Tracy Stimpson and Nathan Rudyk.  While Stimpson and Rudyk begin their sword-crossing by allusion to fact, the simmered result of their altercations is usually nothing more than robust name calling (albeit terribly entertaining reading). Stimpson (like Levi) portrays himself as the fighter for the “silent majority”, long-time residents and generally seeks to appeal to the more pragmatic and less purely highbrow elements.  Rudyk presents himself as speaking for the publicly spirited majority, the swell of local people who have risen up against corporate greed and political pandering.  Because Rudyk has aligned himself with ethical thinkers such as Al Seaman and Cliff Bennett and with such notables as Maude Barlow, Bruce Cochran OC and Robert Bateman, he has the appearance of elevating his position to that of ineffable propriety.  It was however a telling point during the recent Almonte All-Candidates Night that the Enerdu Project issue wasn’t raised by the audience until well into the proceedings.  There persists among the electorate a concern for standard municipal matters such as realty taxes, water rates, sidewalks and traffic lights.  Meanwhile Rudyk, clearly the self-appointed apostle, continues to battle fervently in favour of his thesis and some are left wondering whether he hasn’t his own money riding on the outcome of the election particularly as his mandate is so inextricably entwined with his career as a promoter (President & CEO of Market2World Communications Inc., “Nathan is the founder and CEO of market2world communications and an award-winning marketer, author, teacher and broadcaster. He is passionate about client success, has worked for start-ups, multi-nationals and marcom agencies across Canada, and has led winning campaigns for many emerging companies as well as tech giants including Microsoft, EDS, IBM, Industry Canada, and Xerox“). Buttressing Levi and his adherents are the likes of Brian Gallagher and Bill Gomme, both veterans of the Public Utilities Commission and unquestionable stalwarts of Almonte’s Old Boys network.  Their straight-forward, clinical reviews and support of the Enerdu Project have fostered much in the way of temperate thinking and persuasive argument for the uncommitted masses.

Focusing on the contentious mayoral race, it is conceivable that the vote between front-run contenders Levi and McLaughlin will be split by middle-of-the-road candidate Garry Dalgity who enjoys the restricted though enviable reputation for being hard-working and honest yet far less colourful and controversial. Levi and McLaughlin nonetheless maintain the strongest magnetism by virtue of their diametrically opposed views.  While McLaughlin appears to have the support of the vocal opponents of the Enerdu Project as well as the more “artistic” elements of the community, one mustn’t discount the vigorous support which Levi will likely garner from his long-time Pakenham antecedents, local hard-nose business colleagues and blue-collar workers who are unimpressed by thirty-dollar words and outsiders generally. Like it or not, Levi is “one of our own” in the minds of many and McLaughlin’s credentials are far less convincing.  Both have to be admired for their stubborn commitment; and it would be a milquetoast constituent who didn’t relish the sometimes raw exchanges between the candidates.  On the balance however Levi has successfully capitalized upon the ulterior political motives of both McLaughlin and his purported lackey Rudyk.  So blindly dedicated is Rudyk to his professed cause that some have questioned whether McLaughlin might do well to distance himself from Rudyk.  Meanwhile Levi continues seemingly unperturbed by the combined vilification of Rudyk and his cronies.

As for the role of The Millstone News in these proceedings, it is impossible to avoid the perception that the paper has become the platform of a selected few whose repeated and often inconsequential contributions have translated this political debate into something in the nature of a personal blog.  It is disheartening for example to read the collateral assertions of some of the more vocal commentators regarding the number of “likes” they have garnered as though the resolution turned upon a mere personality contest.  Perhaps they’re right!