Orillia Mayor Clarke, Incumbents Re-elected Amid Ongoing Need to Put Closed-Door Meetings in the Past

By Awakening Staff / Editorial

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke was re-elected Monday, Oct. 22, having received two-thirds of the votes that were actually cast—with just over one-third of registered voters, about 35%, having cast ballots.

That means 65% of registered voters did  not vote, thus a “majority of a minority” named Clarke the winner for his second term over mayoral opponent Gord Launchbury.

This is not a disparagement of Clarke or the others who were elected or re-elected, but such a low turnout is not a thundering mandate either.

Notably, all the incumbents who chose to run again were re-elected to their council seats, with two newcomers seated: Jay Fallis in Ward 3 and David Campbell in Ward 1.

Paraphrasing Clarke, reporter Frank Matys of Orillia Today noted: “Orillia voters affirmed their faith in the current council by returning to office every incumbent in the running.”

The answer to that might be “yes—and no.”

Does the low turnout mean people’s faith in democracy is lacking? It’s hard to say for sure at this juncture, but Orillia citizens might want to reflect on this matter and ask themselves if the nearly two-thirds who didn’t vote are sending a message that’s just as important as those who did.

Yes, voter apathy can come from many sources, including from voters getting the impression that those who are elected want the people’s vote, but not necessarily their input.

Indeed, even if electoral minorities keep selecting our leaders, the issue that remains front and center, regardless of the ultimate truth of the situation, is the tendency of the Orillia City Council to hold closed-door meetings over the last few years.

Those secretive sessions have covered major items, such as selling (and privatising) Orillia’s public electrical distribution to Hydro One, along with unfinished business regarding the expensive and still incomplete recreational centre.

A lack of transparency tends to obscure the thinking behind those decisions which, in turn, tends to paper over whether incumbent council members deserve whatever mandate they received. Simply put, secrecy can hurt democracy more than low voter turnout.

Electing someone to office is only the beginning. The real work on the part of the voters happens when those they’ve elected enact policy and the voters seek to provide input and hold those they’ve elected accountable.

The late American columnist Joe Sobran once said, “Majority rule has its uses, as long as it doesn’t threaten or violate more fundamental principles, A chess club can elect its officers, but it can’t vote to change the basic rules of chess, or it ceases to be a chess club.”

In a similar fashion, elections serve the public well, provided that those who’ve been elected don’t change the rules too drastically—which would include conducting official business amid too much secrecy.

This does not mean that the Orillia City Council hasn’t done good things in the open; it has. It’s just that the past practice of having occasional closed-door meetings needs to remain a thing of the past, except in those relatively rare cases where closed sessions are absolutely necessary and legal, of course.

“No council does a perfect job, and we always need to find ways to improve,” Clarke also told Matys.

The other election results were as follows:

  • Ted Emond returns to Ward 1, with newcomer Campbell elected to the Ward’s other seat.
  • Ralph Cipolla returns to represent Ward 2. Rob Kloostra, joins Cipolla in representing that Ward.
  • Mason Ainsworth will again represent Ward 3, joined by newcomer Jay Fallis.
  • And Pat Hehn and Tim Lauer were re-elected to represent Ward 4.

The completion of the rec centre was named as an important issue by at least some of the candidates—a key consideration given cost-overrun concerns and the location of the centre on an old industrial site, situated above groundwater extending from Lake Simcoe—the same groundwater that’s underneath the city dump.

Given these concerns, we at the Awakening News therefore hope that apparent environmental hazards and cost overruns will be taken seriously over the long haul regarding the rec centre as the city council convenes in the near future—with open doors. Democracy, to be meaningful, ought to extend well beyond the ballot box.