Standing at the front of his house, he has a clear view of the city hall tower. And now, Steve Peters is seriously contemplating a return to the council chamber at that very same building where he first cut his teeth on municipal politics, 30 years ago this fall.
A former city alderman, mayor, Elgin-Middlesex-London Liberal MPP and Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, Peters has so far remained coy about his intentions once the nomination period opens May 1, other than to insist he is not interested in again donning the mayor’s chain of office.
An in-depth conversation this week, however, did shed considerable light on whether the political will to serve the populace still burns within Peters.
“Someone said you’re sitting on the fence. But I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And people say why are you going to go back?”If you know Peters to any extent, history and tradition will be underlying motivation for dipping his toe – no, make that the full plunge – back into the political waters.
It takes but a few minutes to sense he is ready to scratch the itch.
“Perhaps there is a bit of an itch,” admits Peters. “Politics, it gets into your blood. Am I an arm-chair politician at times? Of course I am.
“I have a list of little irritants that bug me around the city that I would be on a mission to correct. I have issues with sight lines at corners. Manhole covers, I’ve had a bee in my bonnet over those. You drive down a street and you still bang into them. It’s one of my little pet peeves.”
Peters is too savvy to run a campaign on personal irritants.
“I certainly have given a lot of thought to a broader picture. I think a hard look has to be taken at the relationship between the city and the county. Now whether that is focussed in a little more on Central Elgin or Southwold, I’m not sure on that.”
Those with keen memories will quickly note Peters was opposed to amalgamation with the county in the late 1990s.
“If nothing else, we need to take a look at the relationship. Whether it is homes for seniors or libraries or arenas or economic development or tourism, we’ve got two of everything.
“I’m not advocating for something like a Chatham-Kent. I think there are certain areas where we need to find some common ground. Like industrial land, we have to have that available to us. My sense is we don’t have a huge bank of industrial land. Have I thought through a few things, yes I have.”
Having lived downtown since 1991, Peters was always able to walk to work during his tenure as mayor.
Why is he not interested in re-tracing those steps as head of the corporation?
“That’s a definite no,” asserts Peters. “I’ve been asked by a lot people to run for mayor and my smart response is, ‘been there, done that.’ And I know how busy the mayor’s job is. And I also think the mayor lives in a fish bowl, much more than the council does.”
The young Steve Peters spent one term on council and then was elected mayor. Today, he feels he can best serve the ratepayers as part of a team pulling together
“I guess I did a short apprenticeship for the mayor’s seat. I have always believed in council working together. I can look back at my own seven-and-a-half years working with a council . . . and I’ve always been a believer it’s not one person, it’s the whole of the council.”
And this time around, the dynamics will be much different with an additional councillor in the mix, bringing the composition of council up to nine members.
After a lengthy absence, does he feel he can be a contributing factor on that new team?
“I like to think I’m a pretty straight shooter. I speak my mind and I’m respectful of others. I think they approach me because they think I can offer something to that council chamber. And I appreciate that.”
But it isn’t long before Peters turns to the historical perspective and the role it will play in whatever his decision.
“It is, and I think part of it is a bit historic for me. I liken it to why I got on to council in the first place. When you look at it from an historic standpoint, we have this tradition in St. Thomas of people being prepared to serve, lose and come back.
“Whether that’s a Cliff (Barwick) or a Gord (Campbell) or Pete Laing, or Tom Currah or Don Stokes. In me, yeah there’s the political spark, but there’s that sense of community, that sense of duty to community.”
That sense also of not being tied to party politics.
“In my 24 years, I had the opportunity to live first-hand, two levels of government and certainly saw a lot of the third level of government and what I always liked about municipal politics is the lack of partisanship in it. Opposing for the sake of opposing or supporting for the sake of supporting, I’m sorry, that’s the way our party system works.”
A chance to hear his own voice. In hindsight, likely the motivation for Peters walking away from Queen’s Park after his stint as Speaker. Undoubtedly much more palatable than having to defer to the dictates of the party whip.
“In municipal politics, you are your own whip. You have more of that opportunity to vote your conscience. To vote what your constituents want you to do. In the end, let’s do what’s best for our community.
“Yes we have our own personal agendas, I think there would be something wrong if you were running for city council and didn’t have some of your own personal agendas.”
So, if he intends to throw his hat in the ring, will he declare that intention right off the get-go? And who would manage his campaign?
“I would be quick out of the gate. If I’m in, I’ll be there that first day. I’m not going to hum and haw until the end of July.
“I’ve been involved in enough election campaigns and I think on this one, I would do it myself.”
Wrapping up the phone call, he leaves little doubt voters will have an opportunity to mark an ‘X’ beside the name Steve Peters on Oct. 22.
“My decision will be very clear when that nomination period opens. Am I leaning toward running? Obviously over the course of this conversation I think you have gathered that. Standing here I can see the city hall tower and my focus is on that.”
SEVEN DAYS WITHOUT A PUN MAKES ONE WEAK
He lived for puns, especially those you would call real groaners. And now Mark Bottineau is being remembered through puns.
Family and friends are looking to establish April 19th as National Pun Day in Canada. That day is not only his birthday, Bottineau died April 19th of last year, eight months after the St. Thomas resident was diagnosed with cancer.
“Mark became synonymous with puns at a really, really difficult time in his life,” explains Tara McCaulley.
“In true Mark style, he provided laughter, love and hope to his family and friends during his short battle with cancer, adds McCaulley.”
They have a website at nationalpunday.ca and a Facebook page at The Mark Bottineau Pun of the Day, where sample groaners are posted daily.
“People around him used to groan a lot,” recalls McCaulley. “Whenever he would pull out a pun, he had this most distinctive laugh. So not only would you be groaning and laughing at the same time you would be laughing at his laugh.
A financial planner with London Life, McCaulley recalls Bottineau as someone
“so well regarded by the people he worked with. He was one of those people who, when he walked into a room, he lit it up.”
Family has even reached out to Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon in an effort to further promote National Pun Day in Canada.
McCaulley and family members are asking people to share joy and laughter on April 19th by posting a favourite pun on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or whatever social media vehicle you use. You can add #ubu, #nationalpunday, #botts33, #love, #light.
“When he was sick, he just tried to share laughter and so people are really grabbing on to that,” notes McCaulley.
“People love sharing love and laughter. It’s not just a way to honour Mark, it’s a way to share laughter. He was one of those people who made his mark.”
Intentional or not, McCaulley laughs at closing out the conversation with her very own pun.
Mark Bottineau would approve!
CHILDCARE AUDIT UPDATE
In a conversation earlier this week with Irma Pedersen, supervisor of children’s services at the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department, she confirmed the third-party audit into the allocation of wage enhancement payments to childcare operators under their jurisdiction is now underway.
No timeframe for the audit has been established, according to Pedersen, and whether the results of the audit will be made available outside the department was not made clear.
All of this, of course, is a follow-up to last week’s confirmation by director Elizabeth Sebestyen an independent audit would be undertaken as routine due diligence and not a response to complaints from some former and current staff at several Early Learning Centres in St. Thomas and Aylmer who say they have not received the payments they are entitled to.
As to allegations of Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education violations at the centres, they will not fall under the scope of this audit.
TRANSIT ON TALBOT
With Phase 2 of Talbot Street reconstruction scheduled to begin April 9, a detour will be in effect for St. Thomas Transit Route 3, to remain in effect for approximately four months.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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