Heartfelt ceremony as Penetanguishene council sworn in

Inaugurations are always unique in their own way; they are an acknowledgement of the past, a promise of the future, and a recognition of the present to that specific time and place.

During the Penetanguishene inauguration of the 2022-2026 members of council on Wednesday night at town hall, there were laughter and tears as nearly 200 attendees shared the emotional swell of welcoming in seven representative leaders of the community.

Once the council-elect were led in by piper, a rendition of O Canada was followed by a land acknowledgement by CAO Jeff Lees and a ceremonial drum circle.

Town clerk Stacey Cooper called each member to the podium to recite and sign the declaration of office: Coun. Bonita Desroches, Doug Leroux, Suzanne Marchand, George Vadeboncoeur, Bill Waters, Deputy Mayor Dan LaRose, and Mayor Doug Rawson.

In a touching moment, Doug Rawson Sr. was invited to place the chain of office onto the mayor’s shoulders; father and son shared soft words and deep hugs in the exchange while attendees applauded loudly. Once seated, the mayor was seen wiping his eyes as the inauguration continued.

“What an emotional night, and we’re just starting,” said Mayor Rawson to the chamber’s amusement.

“I want to thank the previous council, led by councillor Leroux. They were here four years ago, not understanding they were about to be faced with a global pandemic. They had goals, aspirations and objectives – which they achieved – faced with something they had no idea was going to come before them,” Rawson shared along with thanks, which brought about great applause.

While other greetings and attendees had been acknowledged, the other largest round of thanks was given to George Cornell, former warden of Simcoe County and Tiny Township mayor, likewise for his leadership through the pandemic.

A blessing was provided by Rev. Col. Doug Clark, with various greetings from politicians of neighbouring municipalities, and regional and provincial government branches. Former Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton shared a lengthy stretch of advice, not only for council but for residents as well.

As each member of council provided their thanks to staff and some words of thanks for those who assisted along the road to their seat on council, Rawson was the most emotional of all in his words, even taking pauses to collect himself through his smiling face and wet eyes.

With thanks aside, Rawson’s voice strengthened as he transitioned into Mayor Rawson to state what challenges the town would face in the upcoming term.

“Nearly 3,000 people voted in the last election; 4,000 people didn’t vote,” said Rawson. “This council is going to be working hard to represent everybody, because we want to make sure everyone’s engaged who wants to be part of the conversation moving forward.”

Following the adjournment, Rawson told MidlandToday that Penetanguishene’s 2023 budget would be the first major objective for the new council.

“We need to understand where we’re at,” he said. “Staff’s done a lot of work on this over the last while, so we need to find out what the drivers are, what the current reality is, and then we’re going to make some firm decisions once we understand what that looks like. No preconceived notions; we need to get informed.”

A special committee of the whole meeting to address the 2023 draft budget is scheduled for Wednesday, November 30.

The inauguration also shared recognition from Beausoleil First Nation Coun. Trevor Reid, Francophone representative Anne Gagné, as well as Georgian Bay Métis Council representative Greg Garratt who noted a very important occurrence within the event and its relation to Louis Riel Day and its history.

“November 9 is so important to us,” said Garratt. “It was the final appeal for Riel’s life, the day our Prime Minister chose to ignore important reports of Louis Riel which may have saved his life and the start of Métis being invisible.” Garratt proceeded to list a brief chronology of the last years leading up to Pre-Confederation.

“To have the Métis here, today, for this occasion for the first time in anyone’s memory, marks the beginning of new relationships with this government. This is an important relationship as the highest density Métis population resides in this area with over 25 per cent of all Métis in Ontario.

“To be invited to engage with the communities we reside in (is) a true act of truth and reconciliation,” Garratt concluded to wide applause.

Another small speech was provided by youth representative Hayden Cowell to the importance of listening to younger generations who would be inheriting the future. It was Cowell’s bravery to give the speech as well as the core message which many of the prominent leaders continued to refer back to throughout the inauguration, promising to do good for the youth of the community.

Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.

The inaugural meeting of council was archived and can be viewed on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca