Observer sees opportunity for Western in new council

The results of Monday’s municipal election are good news on all fronts for London, according to Western Political Science professor Andrew Sancton, who specializes in municipal politics. They are also great for Western.

While former councillor Matt Brown will switch gears and take the helm of the Forest City in a month’s time, councillors Bill Armstrong, Paul Hubert and Harold Usher are the only survivors of the previous council. The rest have been heralded as “fresh blood,” a relatively young and diverse group of Londoners largely new to politics and City Council.

Of 14 councillors elected, half are Western alumni, and three are double-degree holders.

Western grads on the new council include Michael van Holst, BEd’94; Maureen Cassidy, BA’88 (French); Phil Squire, LLB’81; Stephen Turner, BSc’99 (Biology), MPA’13; Jared Zaifman, BA’08 (Political Science), MPA’12; Paul Hubert, BA’84 (Psychology); and Josh Morgan, BA’02 (Econ/Political Science), MA’04 (Political Science).

“I think it’s good for the university that people with this kind of degree and background are getting elected,” Sancton said.

The large-scale turnover was expected, he noted, though the degree to which it played out was a surprise. The most surprising outcome was seeing Bud Polhill, City Hall veteran of more than two decades, get swept out with the anti-Fontana 8 sentiments, Sancton added. Due to the number of incumbents not running this time around, the rest played out almost expectedly.

While some Londoners may be anticipating a big learning curve for the newly formed council, Sancton doesn’t see this presenting itself as an issue, mostly because the new councillors will be walking through the doors on Dufferin Avenue with some degree of engagement.

“This new group, I think they will catch on quickly to what’s going on, mainly because most of them seem to have paid close attention to what’s going on in council. And they’re involved in different associated groups,” Sancton said.

“I honestly think there would have been much more difficulty if an older established business person came on council, like Paul Cheng. The learning curve would have been steeper, adaptation would have been more difficult,” he continued.

And with the average age of councillors dropping singinifgantly, Sancton expects to see things moving at a faster pace at City Hall and more engagement with Londoners.

“Having a generational shift is a good thing,” he said. “It will open up new ideas and new ways of doing things. Most new councillors are adept at social media, doing things quickly. Mayor Joni (Baechler) did that kind of stuff, but now, many more councillors will be doing that. It will change the atmosphere of City Hall,” Sancton continued.

While it is still early to consider, the one thing Sancton will be watching for, given the age, experience and ambition of some new councillors, is whether or not there will be term limits imposed by any of the new lot.

“Will they stay in London? Is city council a jumping off point? It’s still early, but that will be something I’ll be watching.”

Marcia Steyaert contributed to this report.