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‘Democracy so much more than a vote’: Lt.-Gov. Dowdeswell tells new council

By Sharon Harrison
Noting she needs no reason to enjoy visiting Prince Edward County, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, told those gathered for the inauguration of the new council Monday night that this was the first invitation she has had to “recognize such an important part of our democracy, which has been the recent municipal election… and thank those who have participated.”

Dowdeswell was invited to witness the inauguration of Prince Edward County’s mayor and 13 councillors during a formal, public ceremony at the Regent Theatre, which was also live-streamed.

In the role since 2014, Dowdeswell is His Majesty The King’s Canadian representative in the province of Ontario (the 29th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario) where her main duties include constitutional and ceremonial duties, as well as engaging with communities around the province.

Dowdeswell spoke to some fragile democracies around the world, but also the lessons learned during COVID-19, “and there has never been a more important time for respectful conversations about how to move forward. The first place to start is with your own municipal government.”

“We are living in a world of simultaneous crises, be they a global pandemic that is not yet over, an existential crisis in climate, and an unthinkable war, a real shift in our geo-politics around the world – those are all global challenges, and they all impact us in ways economical, social, environmental.”

She said democracy is so much more than a vote.

“It’s really about how we choose to live our lives together, in community, in provinces, in countries, and in fact, in the world.”

Dowdeswell also noted that the level of municipal governance is often forgotten.

“It’s municipal governance that is closest to people,” she said, “and that’s what makes is so important, even if people forget about it,” adding this was a wonderful opportunity to reflect and reinforce its importance.

PEC Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace had introduced Dowdeswell and oversaw the evening’s proceedings.

Local resident and bagpiper Mark Ruban led the procession to recognize the start of proceedings, as well as signifying its conclusion, together with the playing of the vice-regal salute. The singing of the national anthem was undertaken by Prince Edward Collegiate Institute students with teacher Andrew Cranshaw.

Undertaken by municipal clerk Catalina Blumenberg, the declarations of office for each of the 13 councillors were completed, including swearing of allegiance to King Charles III.

The inauguration  signifies the start of a new term of an elected council, and welcomes the re-elected mayor into office, along with seven re-elected councillors, and six fresh faces (two of whom sat on County council in past years).

At the Oct. 24 municipal election, mayor Steve Ferguson, was re-elected for a second term. Councillors re-elected were Kate MacNaughton and Phil St-Jean (Picton ward), Brad Nieman and Phil Prinzen (Bloomfield-Hallowell ward), Janice Maynard (Ameliasburgh ward), Bill Roberts (Sophiasburgh ward), and John Hirsch (South Marysburgh ward).

New to council for the 2022-2026 term are Sam Grosso and Roy Pennell (Ameliasburgh ward), Sam Branderhorst (Athol ward), Chris Braney (Hillier ward), Corey Engeldorfer (Wellington ward), and David Harrison (North Marysburgh ward). Pennell and Harrison have both experienced the municipal politics scene from 2014 to 2018 representing their same wards.

Ferguson noted that Sam Branderhorst, newly-elected councillor for Athol ward is the youngest member of any council in Prince Edward County.

Mayor Steve Ferguson also took the declaration of office where he was then gowned and invested by his daughter Sara Ferguson Wetmore, and his partner Mary Malone, investing him with the chain of office.

Following, retired councillor for Athol ward, Jamie Forrester, presented Ferguson with the mayor’s gavel.

Ferguson gave his inaugural address noting a difficult past three years because of the pandemic.

“It takes courage and stamina to run for election and to ask your neighbours for their vote,” he said, also thanking those who ran but were not elected, for their dedication to community.

Ferguson also spoke to those councillors who have retired, past and present, specifically thanking Forrester, who served Athol ward for 12 years.

Mayor Steve Ferguson noted items identified as top-of-mind during the campaign trail: aging infrastructure, water management, tourism management, environmental stewardship and child care. He also spoke to challenges to be addressed with affordable housing, transportation, healthcare, education and food insecurity.

He spoke of great potential within the new group of council members, stating challenges will be met with “will, determination, and with steed”.

He spoke of “potential to make a real difference in our community as we work together as a team,” said Ferguson. “We won’t always agree, but by keeping an open mind and striving to build consensus, I am confident that we can keep the momentum going and accomplish our goals over the next four years, together.”

The last inauguration ceremony, held almost to the day four years ago, came with hopes, ideas and expectations, but could never, of course, have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic which affected municipal operations and functionality for more than half the last term of council in one way or another – and still does to a degree due to the unpredictability of the virus and its associated variants.

The incoming council completed rigorous multi-day orientation sessions (including a bus tour of the County) in recent weeks which included getting to know fellow councillors, meeting County staff, and learning about the function of the municipality’s various departments, as well as grasping policies, procedures and bylaws.

Greetings were received by special guests, including Bay of Quinte MP Ryan Williams (CAO Wallace read a submitted letter), MPP Todd Smith was represented by assistant Adam Bramburger, Belleville mayor Neil Ellis was represented by councillor Garnet Thompson, Hastings County warden (just retired) Rick Phillips, Greater Napanee mayor Marg Isbester (CAO Wallace read a submitted letter), along with representation by 8 Wing Trenton with LCol Adam Pentney, commanding officer, 8 Operational Support Squadron representing Col. Leif Dahl.

“Community is a hugely important part of 8 Wing and we are very appreciative of the constant contact and incredibly positive relationship we have with the mayor, the council, and the people of Prince Edward County,” said Pentney.

Councillor Thompson, representing Belleville council, noted all regions and cities must work together to enhance the area as a whole.

“The City of Belleville values the tourism and diversity the County brings to our area in the partnership we have formed in the past,” said Thompson.

Ferguson added that a new hospital build, physician recruitment, the Affordable Housing Corporation’s focus on affordable and attainable housing, internet and transportation expansion, improved local education opportunities, and attracting external sources of funding were all well under way, and will continue.

“I am excited and I am optimistic by what we can accomplish together,” he added. “Our council and staff must be enablers. I want us to build our reputation as a community where you can get things done efficiently and well. We mustn’t be here to tell people what they can’t do; the focus must be on finding creative ways to help them achieve their goals and their dreams.”

A recording of the 2022 council inauguration ceremony can be viewed on the County’s YouTube channel at https://bit.ly/LiveStreamPEC.

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