Facing Chatham-Kent’s Demons: Municipal Candidates Need to Confront Our Economic Malaise

It is election time in Chatham-Kent.  With the change in the municipal election terms mandated by the province, this municipal election means something.  The politicians we elect will be with us for four years.

A commitment it must be.  I cannot imagine it.  With no political bones in my body I find it admirable that many people throw down the gauntlet and expose themselves to four years of scrutiny.  Many people are passionate about Chatham-Kent politics.  The creation of Chatham-Kent stirred divisions in this place that have never been successfully patched over.

You hear it in the passionate voices throughout this community.  I simply don’t have it.  However, thank goodness everybody is not like me.  When you hear those voices you quickly realize blood still must be on the floor.

One such moment happened over a week ago.  That’s when the debate between mayoral candidates was suppose to take place at the Civic centre in Chatham.  In short only two mayoral candidates showed up.  The rest of the candidates were either unable to attend or were present for their own news conference at close to the same time at an eatery in Chatham.

From afar, it was a bit odd.  Ensconced in my torment of a wet fall on the farm I was looking forward to such a debate.  So when it all blew up in mid air I was a bit disappointed.  Tuning in to Simon Crouch’s new show (Stay Tuned) at 11:00a.m. was a must that day.

Simon’s show didn’t disappoint.  In fact it never does.  However that day it was filled with the crackling voices of passionate people delivering strong opinions about Chatham-Kent and about each other.  It was captivating radio, refereed by Simon Crouch.  At times I thought Simon stopped being a host and became more like a wrestling referee.  In short, people take their municipal politics seriously.

I don’t know if the discontent within this municipality is justified.  I know.  Some of you who have just read this have clicked away.  Or maybe some of you feel your blood pressure rising.  I’d measure it by taking a scientific survey.  The only problem with that is the tyranny of the majority, which lives in Chatham.  However, such a study would put to rest just where people stand.  We’d find out who’s unhappy and why.  Justification of grievances would be a lot easier to identify and fix.

There is one overriding big problem in Chatham-Kent.  In short, it is out-migration.  Name another municipality in the 401 corridor from Windsor to Kingston, which is losing population.  I don’t think there is one.  Until our political leaders in this municipality face that unsavory economic truth, we are going nowhere.

Of course some might say what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  In my mind that’s not the point.  The last thirty years tells us that the chickens have left and taken the eggs.  Being comfortable with the status quo simply isn’t working.  Any politician promising more of the same economic spiral isn’t making any sense.

Take the community of Dresden for example.  What have our municipal leadership done to bring jobs to Dresden?  What has our municipal leadership done to bring sidewalks to Dresden?  Is Dresden more economically vibrant now that it was three years ago?  Anybody running in this place needs a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs, not status quo, status quo, status quo.

Dresden gets zero (O) economic benefit out of having a little bit of Las Vegas in the south end.  Measure the casino jobs versus the social problems of gambling and it is an end game.  Spread the gambling revenue across Chatham-Kent and it is 100 miles long and a centimeter deep.  It’s like rain dancing against a windshield.

However, in Chatham-Kent maybe it’s about the future big picture.  With the Capital Theatre, the new Wellness Centre and the inevitable economic draw of being southern Ontario’s last low cost frontier.  Maybe the next four years with vibrant, aggressive political leadership this municipality will finally grab the brass ring.

The question is what does that really mean?  Let me tell you.  Four years from now it means a Chatham-Kent population of 150,000 or even better 200,000.  In both of those cases it would represent a 50 and 100% increase in population.  That’s not reasonable.  However, a net increase by 10 to 20% from where we are now would be reasonable.  It also would be a big successful move forward.

Is anybody among our Chatham-Kent political candidates talking about that?  I don’t know.  However, it’s obvious.  If this place doesn’t change and grow, it just gets harder for those of us who remain here.