A brand-new look for Renfrew town council

Renfrew – There is a brand-new look for Renfrew town council and the end of the race with five people vying for mayor.

Over the last month the longtime residents of the town that has had a stagnant population of 8,100 for the last few years would rarely say out loud what most were thinking. Former Mayor Sandi Heins and Councillor Tom Sidney were the likely two top contenders for mayor and many felt Ms. Heins was a slight favourite in what may end up being a close final.

Close is an understatement as on Monday night, Mayor Sidney took 12 more ballots than Ms. Heins to be named mayor for the next four years.

Few predicted Mr. Sidney’s total of 873 would end up being the slim margin over Ms. Heins as she pulled in 861 votes from many residents she has known her entire life. When the town clerk finally posted the results just before 10:30 p.m., nearly two hours later than most anticipated, the hall was in fact very quiet as there was no loud cheering or stomping on tables. It appeared to even take the new mayor slightly by surprise as he stared at the screen completely motionless as did his wife, Shelley England, who was standing by his side.

Third-place finisher and soon –to-be outgoing two-term councillor Mike Coulas had 691 votes.

Perhaps the most disappointed candidate of the night had to be Kathryn (Kate) Windle who finished with 168 and just a few ahead of proud anti-establishment and longtime critic of town council, Cal Scott finished last once again with only 130 votes.

It was especially heartbreaking for Ms. Windle or often referred to as Grandma Kate, longtime owner of Grandma Kate’s Barber Shop and a former town councillor. She was diagnosed with COVID with just over a month left in the campaign. Forced into isolation for an extended period of time, she could not go door-knocking and look into the eyes of the voters.

Ms. Windle no doubt would have likely devoted a very high percentage of her time going door-to-door as that is one of her key strengths but that was removed and she was the only absent mayoral candidate not to attend both the All-Candidates Debate and election results headquarters at Mateway Park.

Mr. Sidney said in his opinion the factor that separated the top two vote getters who were looking for support from many of the same demographics was his progressive view on better ways to improve Renfrew’s branding and a commitment to not rely on traditional government policies or practices to make immediate change in order to address the affordable housing crisis.

“Times are changing and we can’t rely on the old ways to solve every problem and we need to combine the best of the old practices and not falling back saying that is the way we used to do it and instead we need to look outside the box in order to get ahead of all the challenges we are going to encounter,” he said. “We need a new approach to thinking and I basically said we need to put Renfrew on the map as a destination and we can be the Haliburton of this area.”

The three top vote getters agreed there is far more financial oversight and accountability required as the residents are very angry at what they perceive as a town hall that is not transparent and not showing the whole picture and impacts of the annual budget process.

As the clock inched past the 9:00 hour, the number one question inside the hall was why it was taking so long. Traditionally the results have been posted within 45-minutes at the closing of the polls and the people are usually on the road back home before 9:00 p.m.

The final tally for the five incoming councillors had Jason Legris leading the way with a total of 1,619. He was followed by Mr. McWhirter with 1,615 and third highest went to Kyle Cybulski who finished ahead of fourth John McDonald and rounding out the top five was Andrew Dick who garnered 1,258.

Only Mr. Cybulski as one the five incoming was absent and the others all expressed both a sense of honour of being selected and the knowledge that silence can be golden and none of them came out of the gate with engrained opinions on how things need to be done following their lead. All admitted it is going to be a steep learning curve.

All five are considered rookies and will need to come up to speed on some major files that are looming.

The most noticeable aspect of this election is the fact that for the first time in at least 50 years the council does not include a female member.

Mayor-Elect Sidney said it is an obvious point and he is disappointed that 50 percent of the population do not have a female councillor representing their perspective.

“It is interesting and it is very disappointing,” he said. “We have the council that was elected and we are all committed to working as a team. I think if we do that we can make positive choices and residents will see that and I hope it encourages people to consider getting involved and that is the time more women will jump in and it should reflect future councils”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader