Farewell, Mr. Seiling

Here's a recent column from the Kitchener Post:

It's hard to imagine regional government without Ken Seiling

Waterloo regional chair leaves a lasting legacy says James Bow

OPINION - May 14, 2018 - by James Bow

It's hard to imagine Waterloo Region without its regional chair of 33 years, Ken Seiling.

The province of Ontario created Waterloo Region out of Waterloo County and the cities within its borders back in 1973, so there have been regional chairs before Mr. Seiling. He took his position in 1985.

But by being essentially the region's mayor for 33 years, he's not only one of the longest serving municipal politicians in Canada, but one who has shaped this region into what it is today. His legacy will last for decades.

His style, however, sets him apart from other long-standing mayors. Mel Lastman was the face of North York from 1973 to 1997 before becoming a two-term mayor of Toronto. Hazel McCallion was such a force and a feature that it is still odd to think of Mississauga without her at the helm.

And yet, Ken Seiling does not have their profile. Nor, do I think he wants it. And that's the secret of his success.

As I've said before in other columns, one of the things that makes Kitchener stand out is that our leaders choose not to. We elect quietly competent mayors and councillors who get the job done, and Ken Seiling was of that mould.

And that's important, because our two-tier system of government requires the various parties to work together. We need to understand that Cambridge benefits if Kitchener succeeds, and vice versa, but no one municipality should try to dominate.

This is why I opposed motions to merge the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. Such a move would unbalance the region and make one of the voices way too loud.

It's also why I think it's unwise that regional councillors don't sit and vote on the local councils. The region exists so that the various municipalities within it can meet and discuss issues that are common to them.

To have a single city in the region is unfair to residents of Elmira who have to sit through a long meeting with agenda items discussing changes to the sidewalks of Ayr, but Ayr and Elmira residents deserve a say when it comes to managing regional matters like urban sprawl and water use.

The regional level of government is a boxing ring where the various municipalities within can duke it out. The regional chair is the referee. He or she should not be a fellow boxer.

Ken Seiling understood that and maintained good relations with the mayors of the townships and cities, even if debates were sometimes loud.

He also shepherded initiatives that changed and helped the region as a whole. As he retires, the ION LRT will cap his legacy.

Waterloo Region is more connected and less dependent on the automobile. Its city cores are vibrant. We are a force to be reckoned with in education and in high tech. We've stayed out of the shadow of the Greater Toronto Area.

It's hard to conceive of anybody topping such a legacy, although Mr. Seiling knows the recipe.

You don't have to be flashy to be a good mayor. Though you are a leader, you don't have to dominate. You have dozens of partners who also have a right to be there, and you ignore them at your peril. You have to be patient and kind, as well as diligent and determined. Do this, and together you get to lead the way to a future your children will thank you for.

Thank you, Mr. Seiling, for everything you've done.


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