OPINION: Election had some surprises

Andy Bruziewicz, left, who kept his seat on city council, has a quiet word in the lobby of city hall with long-serving councillor Terry Burrell, who did not. Burrell, known for his financial acumen, was one of two incumbents defeated Oct. 27. Glenn Ogilvie

George Mathewson

Following a sleepy campaign there were some genuine surprises on election night in Sarnia last week.

One was the marginal increase in voter turnout, to 37% from 33% four years ago.

It means that a few thousand additional people took the time to help select the men and women who lead the city over next four years.

Good, yes, but nothing to brag about.

Or as Coun. Mike Kelch wryly observed shortly before the final polls reported, “Equally rather pathetic.”

Kelch, who won a sixth consecutive term in office, said there are voters, and then there are voters.

“Do I want I high percentage of uninformed people voting, or do I want the right percentage of the people who are paying attention to the issues?” he asked. “I think I want the latter.”

Fair enough. But how, then, do we explain the showing of public school trustee candidate Glenn MacKinnon.

During the election MacKinnon was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a 16-year-old girl and promptly dropped from sight.

He received 14% of the votes cast in a five-way race for three seats, coming within 1,380 votes of victory.

Mr. MacKinnon is, of course, an innocent man until proven guilt, and it’s possible he has a large contingent of backers who know something the police don’t.

But I suspect many of the ballot circles filled in beside his name came from people who hadn’t the foggiest notion who Glenn MacKinnon is, or that he’s facing sex charges involving a minor.

Another surprise was Brian White. Following solid performances in prior municipal, provincial and federal elections, many suspected White might finally snag a city-only seat. He trumped that, easily topping all 20 candidates in votes, including Kelch and solid veteran Terry Burrell, who lost his seat.

“I spent a lot of time listening to people and reflecting back their concerns,’ he explained. “My platform pieces were the things the community has told me are important to them. Every campaign I’ve run has been like going to school.”

Cindy Scholten and Matt Mitro are our other new councillors.

If White drew support from traditional NDP voters, Mitro’s message resonated in the business community.

“A lot of businesses are closing,” he told me election night. “Many of them are behind the scenes, suppliers and things like that. As I watched each of them close, there was a story there that isn’t getting told.

“It’s the elephant in the room, so I’ll say this flat-out because it’s true. We are not business-friendly in the City of Sarnia.”

The defeat of Jim Foubister ended a 26-year political career the spanned Sarnia and the former Town of Clearwater, the once fractious neighbours that were dragged reluctantly to the alter.

Foubister’s life in public service was an exemplary one, and he was gracious in defeat.

“Is it possible to be disappointed and elated at the same time?” he asked.

“I’m very thankful to the people of Sarnia for giving me those 26 years to act as their representative. I think every politician has a best-before date, and it’s obvious to me, looking at the results tonight, I’ve reached my best-before date.”