Aus Hunt province’s veteran municipal politician

Aussie-honouredPARRY SOUND—Veteran pol Billings Mayor Austin Hunt is rarely taken off guard, but Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) President Al Spacek managed the trick as he began to list the many accomplishments of this year’s FONOM honouree during that organization’s annual banquet in Parry Sound.

Mayor Hunt was being recognized for his 60 years in municipal government, making him the longest serving municipal politician in the country. Mayor Hunt began his municipal career in 1953, easily distancing his closest rival, Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion, who began her career in 1967.

Mr. Spacek augmented the FONOM award with a certificate of recognition from Liberal deputy leader Ralph Goodale. Mr. Goodale listed Mayor Hunt’s connections to many of Canada’s historical leaders, including former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Mayor Hunt, a long-time local Liberal, served as Mr. Pearson’s riding president and was a pallbearer at Mr. Pearson’s funeral.

This is not the first time Mayor Hunt has been honoured by FONOM, he received that organization’s executive award in 2002. That previous award played a role in his surprise as he did not anticipate receiving it twice. It is a record likely to stand for a very long time. The only other Manitoulin Island recipient of the FONOM Executive Award was Little Current Mayor John Hodder.

“I should have known something was up when I asked the board who we were honouring this year and couldn’t get a straight answer,” chuckled Mayor Hunt after he returned to his chair with his award and the federal certificate. “But I really didn’t see this coming.”

A line-up of well-wishers from across the province passed by Mr. Hunt’s table at the banquet pausing to shake hands with the municipal legend and share a few reminiscences of his time in politics.

“Austin has been an inspiration to all of us,” said Thunder Bay councillor and former Liberal MP Ken Boscoff, who served on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario with Mayor Hunt. “It’s nice to see him recognized for his truly remarkable run.”

Mayor Hunt excused himself from the banquet shortly after the official ceremonies were complete. “I have a number of phone calls to make,” he said. Still going strong at 87.

Michael Erskine