Mayor-elect Andrew Hallikas is ready to go with a new town council. Hallikas and the new council will be sworn in on Nov. 21 ahead of their first meeting.
“I was worried going into election day,” Hallikas said. “Because it looked like turnout was going to be fairly low.”
Hallikas was relieved when he heard that the election results reported a 49.6 per cent turnout in Fort Frances which is higher than average across the province. Headlines across Ontario told of ‘dismal’ and ‘abysmal’ turnouts for municipal elections. Turnouts in many major municipalities were in the 20-30 per cent range.
Hallikas beat former councilor Ken Perry in the mayoral race by 544 votes with 28 voters declining to vote for either candidate.
Hallikas believes that beyond his experience as a councillor he feels he brings a lot to the mayor’s seat from his previous work in education and unions.
“I think everybody brings a lifetime of experience to whatever role they go into. I’ve had three prior terms of council so I’m pretty familiar with how council works and the structure of the Town of Fort Frances and issues and so forth, but I’ve also spent a significant portion of my life as a union president, leader and negotiator. You pick up a lot of valuable skills there, learning how to get a consensus, and how to find win-win solutions, creative solutions hot to find compromise, and to realize you’ll never get everything you want that always and there’s going to be some form of compromise. Then also in a former life I was an educator for many, many years. You learn a lot in terms of… patience as an educator. So I think when you look at my lifetime experience I think that a lot of skills are transferable.”
Hallikas says he’s also happy to see three of his council colleagues return to chambers with him from the last council.
“We have a really strong contingent coming back with Wendy (Brunetta), John (McTaggart) and Mike (Behan). I’m really pleased that they ran again and got elected. They are really knowledgeable, hard-working councillors and will form a great core of experience that we can draw on.”
Residents of Fort Frances also elected three new councillors in David Kircher, Steven Maki, and Mandi Olson.
“The three new members I’m very excited about because again, they bring a lifetime and a variety of experiences to council and I think they’re going to add a great deal. This will be the fourth time I’m going through an inauguration, but my first as mayor. With each of those inaugurations it’s a new beginning. You have a chance to start fresh, so to speak and that’s always a nice feeling. Then of course you rapidly get into the thick of things but I’m really looking forward to working with this council.”
As for the work that will put the council “into the thick of things.” Hallikas knows there is a lot of work to continue from the previous council. As well as new projects to explore in the next four years. Ongoing projects include an expansion at the Fort Frances Seniors Centre, renovations at the Memorial Sports Complex and work on the pool there. As well as the planned splash pad. Hallikas says he’s aware of the issues that are facing the town.
“Fort Frances is going through a difficult time,” he said. “We have issues with homeless people, we have issues with mental illness and drug addiction. We have a lack of low-cost housing. One of the most serious and I think insidious problems is the fact that our population is declining and at the same time the percentage of seniors in our population is increasing. Those two factors together tend to decrease the available work pool.”
Hallikas says the economy was important to him during the campaign, adding he knows it will be hard to get business and industry in town if there isn’t a workforce to support them.
As he begins his term as mayor in the next few weeks Hallikas has a few things he wants the residents of Fort Frances to know.
“I think we need to think positively,” Hallikas said. “I’m a person that believes in positivity and one thing I noticed in the last little while and I think some of it’s attributable to the pandemic we came through and having had most of our summer kind of ruined by a flood… It creates a bit of a negative environment. I think we need to look on the positive side in Fort Frances. When I talk to people I often hear a fair bit of negativity, but I’m really positive about Fort Frances and our potential for the future.”