April 8, 2021 · 0 Comments
By Peter Richardson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
How does a young man from Labrador City, Newfoundland, become the Warden of Dufferin County and the Mayor of Melancthon? Just ask Darren White.
Darren left Newfoundland in 1985, after graduating high school, he decided that he did not want to stay in Labrador City and become a miner. He came to Toronto and for the first few years there, was happy to work in restaurants and restaurant management. Then he became interested in construction because he liked to work with his hands, so he became a renovator and a builder.
He built decks and renovated people’s homes, constructed fences and generally worked as an all-round carpenter. Darren still works in renovations here and there, though his political endeavours do require a lot of his time.
Darren started in politics around 2010. There was a vacancy on Melancthon Council, due to retirement, and Darren threw his hat in the ring. He was chosen by the then Council to fill the vacancy.
In 2014, Darren was first elected Mayor, a position he holds to this day. His first election, against David Thwaites was his only contested election as he was unanimously appointed in 2018. Darren says that being Mayor is a challenging job, with Melancthon being primarily a rural municipality, there’s no real centre as it were, but he loves doing it.
Darren has always been a man who was straight forward and perhaps blunt. He likes to get to the point and tell you the truth. As the Mayor of Melancthon, he and the Deputy Mayor, both sit on County Council, but he had his doubts about ever becoming Warden.
However, at a conference in Niagara Falls, in 2015 or 2016, he was approached, over dinner to run for the position. He still resisted, saying that he would not have the support from Council. However, he was challenged on that thought and told that he might have way more support than he expected. So in 2017, Canada’s Sesquicentennial year, he ran for the position, successfully. The following year, Paul Mills from Mulmur took over as Warden, but in 2019 Darren was again Warden and has continued every year since.
This proved fortuitous for Darren as he firmly believes that the position requires at least a two year term, due to the demands of the job. He said he feels honoured that his peers and colleagues felt confident enough in his performance, that they voted to keep him as Warden. Darren is now tied with Rob Adams as the longest running Warden in County history.
On doing both the job as Mayor and the job of Warden, Darren felt that the key is to see the bigger picture. Being Mayor requires that he do what is best for Melancthon, but sometimes as Warden, or a County Councillor you have to be able to look past your community and vote for what is best for the County as a whole.
On the matter of policing, Darren is realistic. Although he liked both local forces, he felt that Shelburne’s force was simply too small to survive and Orangeville’s was a matter of economics. He says the OPP is an outstanding force and brings many opportunities for its officers as well as the economics of size. They can offer many specialized services to both municipalities, that small local forces simply cannot provide. Darren was and is pleased with the command structure and specifically the commanders of the local detachment. He felt both the past, Nicole Richie and the present Terry Ward commanders are and were excellent and having a single force for the entire County, is ultimately a good thing.
Darren is glad to see the vast majority of Orangeville and Shelburne officers are now with the OPP and felt this will offer them opportunities that would not have been possible with the smaller forces. Darren also sees the cost savings predicted as a plus for the tax payers.
He is adamant about trying to keep things affordable for the residents of the County. After all, Dufferin municipalities are a bedroom community for the GTA, with little industry to offset the tax base, so keeping things affordable is a primary goal.
He also set the hidden costs often not understood by the average tax payer. The infrastructure and the pipes under the ground are massively expensive yet are not always understood by the average person.
When it comes to the new Provincial government plans for one police services board for each OPP Detachment, Darren is quite direct in his comments.
“It will not work for Dufferin County,” he remarked.
Darren says Orangeville’s policing needs are quite different from those of Melancthon or even Grand Valley. To their credit, the Province has asked for comment from all the municipalities and Darren is hopeful that they will listen to the responses. He has called a meeting of all the Mayors in the County, with the intent of trying to hammer out a solution that works for Dufferin, be that one board from Orangeville and Shelburne and one for the rural municipalities or another approach.
Something else that residents often do not fully understand is the role of other governments in determining their taxes. In particular, the provincial agencies such as MPAC, which is responsible for individual property assessments. Theu have nothing to do with the municipalities but can greatly affect taxes.
He explains that, at least in Melancthon, when a resident comes to complain, the role of the municipality is to show them how to get answers from MPAC and what to do to try and rectify their problem. Who to speak to and what questions to ask. Darren is quick to emphasize that he has great staff in Melancthon, some with many years of experience. So dealing with these types of issues is perhaps easier than elsewhere.
Affordable housing is one contention with the Warden. We should be referring to it as attainable house he believes. Darren has three children in their 20s and the dream of home ownership is almost impossible for them. A year ago, a 2×4 sold for $3.80 today it costs $8.57. The average home now costs $30,000 more to build than a year ago, just in materials.
Darren feels that different types of housing need to be looked at today. Lower priced condos and apartments are needed as entryways to the market. People need to live somewhere and you can’t expect them to contribute to your economy if they can’t live there.
On the matter of racism Darren was concise. There is no room for it in Dufferin County or anywhere else, he said. He was recently appalled while watching the George Floyd trial, on television, at how one human being could do that to another. He looks at diversity as being a strength of a community, not a weakness and taking everyone’s views and opinions into consideration when formulating policy is essential. It is high time that municipalities and people, in general, just choose a different path.
Dufferin County has undertaken a number of initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Equity is offering opportunities for everyone to be on the same playing field and Darren strongly supports this. Where you are from or your colour or how you talk has no bearing on your worth as a person. Though he admits that as a younger man he may not have adhered to this belief, he has evolved with life’s experiences as he thinks we all have and come to realize that we are all human beings and we should all be equal in each other’s eyes.
People need to try and understand what drives other people, whether it is a different race, or a different sexual orientation, we are all, in the end, just human beings. Darren went on to say that it is not for him to judge who loves who, or what country you are from, to him it is just common sense to look at things this way. Darren knows extraordinary people from many different races and persuasions and he would not trade any of them one for another. To him, we have an obligation to do that, as a human race.
Peter Richardson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Citizen