WINCHESTER – SDG County Council held a special election at the end of its June 21 council meeting to replace the previous Warden who was deemed no longer eligible to serve in the position. Councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) won the election and will serve as county Warden the remaining five months of the 2021 term.
Following his election as Warden, The Leader interviewed Armstrong about what he wants to achieve during his shortened term, what his priorities are, and why now was the right time for him to run for the top elected spot in SDG.
Up until the June 21 special election, Armstrong said that putting his name forward was interesting but he did not have the time to dedicate to it due to his existing council commitments, and his career. Until June 30th, Armstrong worked as a transport driver for JED Express, a South Mountain-based company that closed at the end of last month after 32 years in business.
“That was a surprise,” Armstrong said of the closure.
He considers himself a no-frills politician, wanting to get to work rather than be the center of attention at a ceremony.
“I’ve been in municipal politics for 22 years and you don’t see my picture in too many places,” he said. “I just want to do the work. Get things done.”
Armstrong is currently serving his first term as Deputy Mayor of North Dundas, and prior to that served on that council as a councillor.
He recognized that the time constraints of a shorter term means he may not get as much completed as Warden as he would serving the traditional 12 month term. That said, there are some bigger issues he still wants to tackle, education being one of the biggest.
“The education issue is huge,” Armstrong explained. “I would like to see us finish with the education consultant and make sure that the [education] committee has the resources in place to begin lobbying the Education Minister.”
SDG County hired a consultant to develop a long-term strategy for improving rural education in the region. A draft report is due back at council in late-July.
Armstrong said he was unimpressed with presentations made to County Council with what school boards in the county are doing to support rural education.
“Rural schools should not have limitations on what is taught, or what programs are available,” he said. “Our kids should have every opportunity available. Why couldn’t North and South Dundas schools produce an astronaut?”
Continuing to grow closer ties between SDG and the City of Cornwall through the shared services agreement is another priority for Armstrong.
During this term of council, SDG and Cornwall improved their shared services agreement, and county officials are now part of the budget review process. Cornwall provides land ambulance, social housing and other services through the SSA.
“We are intertwined – SDG and Cornwall – we do need to reach across borders and continue to work together,” he said.
Recovering from the pandemic, is the last of the three goals Armstrong has.
“We need to embrace our county residents and small businesses and make them feel like they are important as the region recovers,” he said. “People are worried, they are stressed, and we have a role to play in helping them find a way to dig themselves out. We as council have to show some leadership in that.”
Although Armstrong is from North Dundas, he reiterated that as warden, he represents all SDG.
“As other wardens have done, I will treat every single person in SD&G with the same respect and care that they deserve,” he said.
That respect also goes towards his fellow County Council members. Armstrong said that one of the first things he did was contact each of the other 11 members of council to let them know he has no agendas.
“I want people to understand that I am there to guide the ship. To make sure that every person at the council has their voice heard and the opportunity to speak and have input,” he said. “If they want something put on the agenda at County Council, they have been told to call me and I will make sure it gets on there and we will have discussions for things all across the tri-counties to make sure the issues are spoken about.”
Armstrong is from North Dundas, married to Dawn, and has two adult children – Cameron, 29, and Blythe, 27.
He will chair his first SDG County Council meeting as Warden on July 19.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader