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EDITORIAL: Changing of the political guard in Cape Breton

Amanda McDougall raises her arms in the air after learning she had just been elected as the new mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. McDougall, who served as District 8 councillor for the past four years, finished with 24,319 votes while incumbent mayor Cecil Clarke was second with 20,789 votes in the CBRM's first electronic-only election. The mayor-elect celebrated her victory with about two dozen family members, friends and supporters. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
Amanda McDougall raises her arms in the air after learning she had just been elected as the new mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality on Saturday. DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST

One new mayor.

Eight new councillors.

Four incumbents.

Yes indeed, the new Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) council will scarcely resemble the old one whenever it assembles for the first time – virtually or otherwise. Name tags anyone?

The change starts at the top with mayor-elect Amanda McDougall's historic win (a first for a woman in the CBRM) on Saturday. The 37-year-old Glace Bay/Main-A-Dieu resident deserves high praise for running a well-organized campaign while stoically dealing with more than her share of online nastiness.

After just one term as a councillor, McDougall picked up 24,319 votes (nearly 48 per cent of those cast), no small task in a six-person field which included two-time incumbent Cecil Clarke. By contrast, Clarke collected 20,789 votes which translated to about 40 per cent support, down 12 points from the 52 per cent he garnered in 2016.

New councillors - all men in case you hadn’t noticed - include Gordon MacDonald (District 1), Cyril MacDonald (District 3), Glen Paruch (District 6), Steve Parsons (District 7), James Edwards (District 8), Ken Tracey (District 9), Darren O’Quinn (District 11) and Lorne Green (District 12).

Holdovers are Earlene MacMullin (District 2), Steve Gillespie (District 4), Eldon MacDonald (District 5) and Darren Bruckschwaiger (District 10). Bruckschwaiger is now CBRM's longest-serving councillor, following the defeat of Ivan Doncaster in District 7.

The bottom line is a 69 per cent turnover which means a huge learning curve for this council. As such, voters will have to exercise patience.

After all, McDougall and company aren’t likely to wave a magic wand and solve all of CBRM’s many issues anytime soon.

Want a Charter, an overhaul of the Capped Assessment Program, more jobs, a reduction in poverty numbers or a larger share of federal equalization cash? Then wish them luck on those fronts because like councils before them this one will find out soon enough the complexities of dealing with provincial and federal levels of government in order to get anything major done. Not to mention the limitations of municipal governments in such matters.

It will prove frustrating more often than not and only occasionally rewarding – for both council and voters alike.

And speaking of voters, how about some praise for our first all-electronic election, which went off with nary a hitch. Take that, pandemic.

The number of votes cast (51,018) in CBRM surpassed each of the past two elections – 47,325 in 2012 and 43,161 in 2016. Overall, it resulted in a 62.4 per cent voter participation rate. It's still disappointing that thousands of eligible voters couldn't find the time or were unable to cast ballots but the turnout was a small step in the right direction.

Election highlights from around Cape Breton Island included another woman, Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, being returned for a second term as mayor in Port Hawkesbury, failed re-election bids in Inverness County of three incumbents, including sitting warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie, and the rejection of four incumbents in Richmond County.

Good luck to all the new councils. Many challenges await and may your efforts yield positive results.

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