New Grey Highlands council eager to get to table

Members of the new Grey Highlands council are ready for the hard work of governing the municipality to begin.

On election night, voters in Grey Highlands returned four incumbents to the council table and elected three new faces to represent them over the next four years.

Long-time mayor Paul McQueen was easily reelected to his position. McQueen’s comments about his reelection can be found here.

Incumbent councillor Dane Nielsen will step into the deputy mayor’s chair. Nielsen and McQueen will represent Grey Highlands at Grey County council. A full story about the new county council can be found here.

Nielsen said he is excited and ready to move into a new role on council.

“I’m pumped, but it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m very happy with the results of the election. I’m excited for the new council. There will be some dynamic changes. We have some new people coming on council and you saw during the campaign they were very strong candidates. I was confident the residents of Grey Highlands would pick the best people for the job.”

Nielsen expects the new council will have to navigate some choppy waters.

“Respectfully, it’s going to be tough. The next four years will be tough economically,” he said. “The reality is, the inflation hitting households is hitting the municipality as well.”

Nielsen is looking forward to getting immersed in the issues at county council.

“There is 50 per cent turnover, it’s very interesting. Hopefully, we can have some more cohesion at the county table. My personality is to work with everybody. I’m going over there to be an asset,” he said, citing the Grey Gables project as a top priority. “(Mayor Paul McQueen) has good experience in that fight. The last election was about saving Grey Gables. This election is about moving it forward. We need more beds located in Grey County.”

A full story about the changes at county council that includes McQueen’s comments can be found here.

Veteran councillor Paul Allen topped the polls in the election with 2,072 votes in the race for the five council seats. This will be Allen’s third term on council.

“I’m glad it’s over. It was exhausting,” Allen joked after his win and said he is pleased with the overall results. “It’s good, it’s a good balance of common sense.”

Allen said the new council needs to be ready for some heavy issues and tough decisions.

“The budget is going to be tough, probably for this whole term with inflation and everything happening,” he said. “We’d really like to get Grey Gables back on the shortlist, we have to look at affordable and attainable housing and services for seniors.”

Allen also said the development of the recreation master plan will be a major issue for council.

“With all the homes going up in Markdale, we’re going to have a lot of young families and we need to have things for them to do when they get here to keep them here,” he said.

Tom Allwood will return for his second term on council.

“I’m a little tired and relieved it’s over and now there is work to be done and I’m looking forward to it,” he said, adding that he likes how the new council is shaping up. “I’m excited about it. We have some new faces and voices. I’m looking forward to working with them. The budget will be one of the first major things to deal with. It will be difficult in these inflationary times.”

Allwood said his priorities will include continuing to manage growth coming to the community and improving health care services for all residents.

“I’m excited about the continuation of growth in Grey Highlands, whether it’s downtown Markdale’s revitalization or Talisman,” he said, noting that he hopes to continue working to recruit and retain doctors to the local area. “I also have a passion for healthcare and primary care.”

Allwood also said Grey Gables will be a priority for the new council.

“I know that mayor McQueen and deputy mayor-elect Nielsen will try and get that issue back in front of county council and we’ll get those extra beds.”

Kimberley resident Joel Loughead was successful in his first election campaign and will assume a councillor’s seat for Grey Highlands.

“It was a tough election. We had a whole lot of candidates here in Grey Highlands. It was a pretty tough race and really good company,” said Loughead. “It feels good. Things are going to happen fast and furious. The first few months will be a steep learning curve, but it will even out.”

Loughead plans to be a strong voice for the natural environment on council. He said many environmentalists in Grey Highlands were disappointed in the previous council.

“There were a few votes where they felt their voice was not being represented. One of my goals is to make sure that voice is heard. I need to be the guy that raises those concerns,” he said.

Loughead said road and community safety will be a top priority for him.

“There are things you can do to improve pedestrian infrastructure. Communities all over the world have dealt with it as they’ve grown,” he said.

Loughead said he is pleased with the makeup of the new council.

“It is going to be a good mix. I’m pleased to see the way it did come together,” he said. “I think we will have a lot of diversity, opinion and voices at the table.”

Nadia Dubyk is another newcomer to the council table for this coming term.

“I’m excited to be part of the new council. We have a lot of work ahead for us and I’m excited to dig in,” she said.

Dubyk said she enjoyed her first campaign.

“I’m so pleased, the whole process was so positive. My favourite part was door-to-door and meeting people and hearing their stories,” she said.

Dubyk mentioned the upcoming budget, the community’s recreation master plan, growth, affordable housing and safe streets as big issues the new council will have to tackle.

“I want to ensure we’re bringing the community along the way when we think through issues, so there are no surprises,” she said. “We’ve had some surprises and that’s when people get their backs up.”

She said she is pleased by the makeup of the new council.

“I think it’s really healthy. Incumbents are needed for continuity and history and we have a mix of fresh faces to provide new perspectives,” she said. “We all have different backgrounds.”

Dan Wickens is the other new face elected to a council seat. Wickens was successful in his first run for council. He lives near Badjeros and has worked in the construction industry for 35 years.

Wickens said he is already impressed with his new colleagues, is happy for the opportunity to serve the community and likes that there is a cross-section of representatives from across Grey Highlands on the new council.

“We’ve got to figure out the dynamics of what the council will be like,” he said. “We have a good mix of people. We have somebody from Rocklyn, Markdale, Badjeros and Flesherton. We have the whole township covered. I think it will be alright.”

Wickens said he will make it a priority to improve winter maintenance on local roads and bring a common sense approach to issues.

“One of the first things I’m going to work on is trying to get more winter maintenance on the go. Today it’s a round-the-clock society,” he said.

Wickens said he is concerned about the pressure council already faces with the 2023 budget.

“With the way inflation is going, I know they’re reporting six to eight per cent, I think it’s higher,” he said. “I had a call from a constituent asking how we’re going to control the budget and how we’re going to bring taxes down. I don’t beat around the bush. It’s almost impossible with this much inflation.”

Wickens said he is looking forward to getting to work and representing the public.

“It really is a councillor’s job to listen to the people,” he said.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca