On October 7, Thanksgiving weekend, the Municipality of Billings will pay tribute to a community leader, Austin Hunt, a major influence here for more than 50 years. Speeches will list his many achievements, but as a political groupie I am aware of one less obvious, but most significant point. Aus will be joining a rare group of career politicians able to pick the time and manner of their retirement. Others, with even more recognizable names, were less fortunate.
The name Jean Chretien comes to mind, since the Notwithstanding Clause he, together with Roy Romanow and Roy McMurtry, created to end the deadlock on the Charter is dominating the news currently. I was in the Toronto Convention Centre in November 2003 when Prime Minister Jean Chretien “retired” except it was clear he was pushed by members of his own party. I was in Sheila Copps’ suite that night with many of her friends. I’m sure Sheila thought that a generous concession speech would heal the wounds of the party and re-unite it, and she would live to fight another day. Yet weeks later, I was a scrutineer for Sheila in a nomination battle for a seat. Sheila had signed up 6,600 people only to find the Martin forces had sold 7,000 for their man, Tony Valeri (in total, the year-round population of Manitoulin). She remains “nobody’s baby” but didn’t get to pick the date of her retirement!
Aus will have the opportunity to play elder statesman over the next few years, much as Jean Chretien has been doing over the last few days. Billings, and the Island as a whole, has challenges going forward. We’ve seen over the last few years with Rainbow District School Board antics, we are getting marginalized. We collect taxes for the school boards, but apparently they don’t want our input how they spend those tax revenues. On the Island, we now have two planning boards, since NEMI struck out on its own. We have the MMA for informal discussions, but it has no legal standing for representing Manitoulin as a whole. We have to find ways to punch above our weight.
Recent events have raised questions about political family dynasties. The Fords in Toronto, the Trumps in Washington have not been positive role models, and the jury is still out on the Trudeaus in Ottawa. Remains to be seen what happens to the Hunt dynasty in Billings. One thing for sure, Aus will be a hard act to follow! Congratulations, Mayor Hunt! May you enjoy your personally selected retirement!