Change trumps experience in Norfolk
It was open season on incumbents in Norfolk County this Monday.
Incumbency is considered an advantage during municipal elections but it wasn’t this time around.
Sent packing was Mayor Charlie Luke, a municipal politician with a 38-year record of electoral success. Seizing his chain-of-office was municipal newcomer Kristal Chopp, 37, of Port Dover.
Demonstrating that it was nothing personal, also taken down were Simcoe Coun. Peter Black, Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton and Port Dover Coun. John Wells.
Langton Coun. Roger Geysens squeaked back in while Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus was the only council veteran returned by a comfortable margin.
Black expected to do better. Tuesday, Black said it isn’t pleasant letting go of a responsibility that he enjoyed and was committed to for another four years.
“People just wanted change,” Black said. “I don’t think this was any reflection on myself, Charlie or Doug. We all worked hard on behalf of the county.
“This is just part of a trend that has gone through starting with Trump and continuing with (Premier) Ford and now we have Choppism in Norfolk. It’s part of a societal trend – the `Me, me, me I want my hamburger right now’ syndrome. I feel good about my contribution. But the people have spoken and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Brunton was out Monday night collecting campaign signs when he heard on the radio that he had been ousted. Brunton placed a close third in Simcoe-area Ward 5 behind newcomers Ian Rabbitts and Ryan Taylor.
In retrospect, Brunton wonders if the failed vote this summer on repairs to Misner dam in Port Dover might’ve been the tipping point. During the campaign, the nine-year dam debacle was frequently cited as a prime example of this council’s inability to get things done.
“A lot of people thought I’d get back in but it didn’t happen,” Brunton said. “It’s going to be really interesting with all these new people, man oh man. What do they know? It’s going to be up to Columbus and Geysens to lead them.
“It’s going to be tough for staff with these new bodies. It’s going to be a real education process for them.”
On Tuesday, Wells said the ongoing impasse over Misner dam was a factor in his defeat. That and the public dismissal of long-serving Port Dover fire chief Gary Spragg this summer.
With regard to the latter, senior staff at Governor Simcoe Square accidentally sent an email explaining Spragg’s dismissal to all county employees. The email was meant for Norfolk council but was eventually leaked to the media.
“I think the Misner dam was a big issue,” Wells said. “We got close to doing something and then we didn’t do something.
“The second thing that couldn’t have come at a worse time for myself and Charlie was the unfortunate situation with Gary Spragg. That certainly didn’t go over well with the community.”
Wells added the presence of dynamic women in the campaign generated a lot of voter interest among the female population of Norfolk.
As a result, Norfolk council goes from no female representation to three council members of nine. They are mayor-elect Chopp, Port Dover councillor-elect Amy Martin, and Waterford councillor-elect Kim Huffman.
Windham-area Coun. Jim Oliver, Port Rowan-area Coun. Noel Haydt, and long-serving Waterford Coun. Harold Sonnenberg took their leave from municipal politics before Monday’s sweep gathered momentum.
Along with hundreds of others at the Simcoe Recreation Centre, Sonnenberg marvelled Monday night as Norfolk’s thirst for renewal manifested itself on the electronic leaderboard.
Along with Black, Sonnenberg thinks Norfolk just got a taste of what happened in the United States in 2016 and this June with the ascension of Doug Ford at Queen’s Park.
“People are clamouring for change,” Sonnenberg said. “I’ve been watching this happen around the world. (Stephen) Harper was doing a good job but got swept out. Trump wins and England wants out of the European Union.
“People don’t know what they want anymore. All they know is they want change.”