With four terms as mayor and over two decades in municipal politics under his belt, Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes is back on the campaign trail in search of a fifth term.
Hughes has lived in the township for 40 years and has served on council since 2002. Prior to municipal politics, he worked as a principal at four different schools over a 35-year period and also had a stint as a Superior Court mediator.
Over the past 20 years, Hughes has held numerous roles. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as a councillor and deputy mayor, and since becoming mayor he has spent four years as Simcoe County’s deputy warden.
Hughes said giving back to the community is what keeps him coming back every election season.
“You go into the job just as a service to your community. I've always been brought up to believe to give back,” he said.
He also pointed to his years of experience compared to others as a reason to continue, noting it takes “a long time to really understand” everything that goes into being a council member.
“We had an up-and-coming, really capable deputy mayor – Scott Jeremy,” Hughes said. “Early in the … term of council, after one year, Scott went to bed one night and never woke up.
“Now we've got a gap, and when he passed away the other experienced councillor passed away, I'd say within two months of each other. I was the only experienced person left on council. Everybody else was first term.”
Among his political accomplishments, Hughes is proud to have been part of the widespread paving of the township’s roads, maintaining service levels and bringing Hometown Hockey to Oro-Medonte during the pandemic, and working to keep some of the township’s schools up and running over the years, to name a few.
He’s confident that Oro-Medonte has become a better place over his tenure.
“I'm the right choice because you can look at what's happened (through) my proven track record. Oro-Medonte has just gotten better every year, and it's been a tremendously positive place to live,” Hughes said.
“When I ran for mayor, I made a promise that we would pave every road in Oro-Medonte, and you know what? Nobody believed that, but we did it,” he said. “One of the other really significant advances we're making during this term is the laying of broadband and high speed internet … I promised paving roads, and I'm going to build the information highway the same way.”
His vision for Oro-Medonte is to bring a development style that allows the township to grow without damaging its character.
“My vision for Oro-Medonte is to keep the really rural atmosphere that we have … and at the same time have really well-planned development that doesn't change that profile. You want to feel like you're living in a rural community,” he said.
Hughes vows to navigate Orillia’s looming boundary expansion in a way that does not hurt the township.
He said an expansion of Orillia's boundaries into the township’s industrial lands would place a greater tax burden on residents.
“The tax rate on industrial land is higher than residential. If you take the industrial lands away, then that tax burden gets shifted to the residential lands,” Hughes explained. “What's happening right now, if you look at the map, our industrial areas are all in that (boundary expansion) study area. We can't let that happen, so we're going to need a positive working relationship (with Orillia)."
He also vows to make Oro-Medonte resilient to climate change.
“The other thing that we need to do is we need to put even more attention on climate change, and be more resilient than ever before,” Hughes said. “We are building and we're doing a lot of work with the extra sudden storms that come down along the lake for drainage … we need to … do everything we can to offset the impact of the changing climate.”
Beyond those issues, Hughes hopes to build Oro-Medonte into a place that can allow people to flourish.
He’s proud to have a son who is a pharmacist and a daughter who works as a chartered accountant in Barrie nearby.
“For their careers, my family has been able to have a very positive career in this area,” said. “I want to see that opportunity exist for future generations, and it's only because of the pieces you put together, if you allow the right kind of development to occur, that will happen.”
Ward 5 Coun. Randy Greenlaw is the only challenger to Hughes' bid for a fifth term as mayor.