Lakeland Ridges inaugural mayor and council ready for the challenge

Mayor Tanya Cloutier and eight councillors took the oath of office on Dec. 29 to officially become the inaugural local government of the expansive new community of Lakeland Ridges.

Following a swearing-in ceremony, with council members' families in attendance, at the Canterbury Community Hall Thursday evening, the new mayor and council held an orientation session to officially take office on Jan. 1.

The combined community of Lakeland Ridges covers a massive rural area stretching from Forest City to Debec, connecting the villages of Canterbury and Meductic and local services districts of North Lake, Canterbury, Benton, Debec and 20 per cent of the Woodstock LSD. The region is divided into four wards, each electing two council members.

Joining Mayor Cloutier around the council table are Perry Bull and Ross Stairs in Ward 1, Linda Porter and Patrica Budd in Ward 2, Chris Yerxa and Randy Stairs in Ward 3, and Mike Furrow and Mark Grant in Ward 3.

Cloutier acknowledged significant challenges await the new council but expressed confidence that elected members can meet those challenges.

"We do have a lot of work ahead of us, but I believe we have a great team," she told the River Valley Sun the day after the team was sworn into office.

Cloutier shared similar confidence during her inaugural address as Lakeland Ridges mayor during Thursday's ceremonies.

"I believe that we have the potential to achieve great things together, and I am confident that with hard work and collaboration, we can address challenges, grow and create a better future for all the people of our community," she said.

Cloutier said each elected councillor brings "unique skill and perspective" to the council table, adding she looks forward to working together to meet the awaiting challenges.

"Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of our residents and help build a brighter future for all," she said.

During her speech, the mayor committed to operating a transparent process and encouraged residents in all regions of Lakeland Ridges to bring ideas and viewpoints to her or council members.

"As mayor, I am committed to listening to the concerns and needs of all the residents of Lakeland Ridges," she said.

As the Lakeland Ridges local government begins operation on Jan. 1, some of its first steps include determining a central home for its municipal government. Cloutier told the River Valley Sun that the location of its municipal hall and offices remains to be determined.

The provincial government's municipal reform and amalgamation process included a commitment to maintaining all existing staff positions, meaning both the village clerks of Canterbury and Meductic take on executive roles with Lakeland Ridges. Former Canterbury clerk Susie Patterson serves as CAO and clerk, while former Meductic clerk Lana Sharpe is deputy CAO and treasurer.

Cloutier said one of the council's immediate priorities is to establish bylaws that work for all diverging areas of Lakeland Ridges. She said they must also decide how to appoint a deputy mayor from the elected members of council.

Cloutier said she and council members recognize the challenge of uniting the large, geographically diverse community in a common direction. Still, the entire council is prepared for the hard work and determination to make it happen.

"We want to have events that bring us together," she said. "We will work together as a team to best decide what works, what doesn't, and how to best communicate."

Cloutier said Lakeland Ridges' newly elected members take their role seriously.

"We know it will not happen overnight, but you have eight council members and a mayor who are committed to working together for the betterment of Lakeland Ridges," she said.

During her inaugural speech Thursday evening, Cloutier outlined some of her top priorities for the new community, including food security for all residents.

"Every family in our community deserves the basics to survive, so I will work with local food banks and work with other levels of government to receive program benefits and funding," she said. "I also want to work toward starting a community garden in each ward to ensure that all residents can have access to food when needed."

Cloutier also recognized the economic importance and potential of tourism to the community, which includes the popular lake area. She says Lakeland Ridges needs to promote and build upon the region's vast natural and tourist resources.

"Creating opportunities for the people of our community to stay in our municipality is extremely important," Cloutier said. "This could be achieved by hosting local events, focusing on the ATV trails, lakes and forests that we have and can grow on."

Cloutier also committed to supporting the community's volunteer fire and rescue departments, calling them of "utmost" importance.

"We need to work with our first responders to ensure their equipment and training are up to date," she said.

Cloutier told council members that she looks forward to working with them to address the many challenges that await.

"Thank you for your dedication to public service, and now, let's get to work," the mayor told council members.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun