Melanie Sampson chuckles as she talks about the first informal meeting of Richmond County’s five new municipal councillors.
“We met up in a restaurant and people were coming up to us and asking if we were the new council because it wasn’t something they had seen lately,” laughed Sampson, who defeated incumbent and warden Brian Marchand in the Oct. 17 election.
“So we’re already doing things that are different, that aren’t typical, and I think people are happy about, I know we’re happy about it.”
The Louisdale resident and career accountant joins the four other newly-elected district representatives on what is a completely new council. Four of the five incumbents were defeated, while a fifth did not seek re-election.
According to Sampson, the results are testimony to the residents’ desire for change.
“It’s a very exciting time, both here and around the island,” said Sampson.
“It certainly reinforces to all of us what people were saying to us when we were campaigning and that is they were looking for change, so when the results came in showing a complete new slate it really told us that the community wanted new people, new ideas and perhaps new ways of doing things.”
Sampson added that she wants to regain public confidence in a local government that was rocked last term by the resignation of a former warden and allegations of an internal power struggle on council.
Issue-wise, she said internet and cellphone services continue to top the list of residents’ concerns.
Not surprisingly, the same matter is also on the minds of people living in Inverness County, according to recently re-elected councillor John MacLennan.
“We have places throughout Inverness County where there is virtually no cell service, no internet, and lots of people have had to disconnect their computers because they got such poor service at very high prices,” said the 69-year-old Blue Mills resident, who was the only one of four running incumbents to be elected in the Oct. 17 vote.
Joining MacLennan on the new council are returnees Alfred Poirier and Laurie Cranton, both acclaimed, and newcomers Bonny MacIsaac, Lynn Chisholm and Catherine Gillis.
MacLennan acknowledged that voters wanted change. He attributed his own re-election to being an outspoken member of council.
“You have to speak out and you have to say things. I didn’t mind speaking out so I don’t know if that is the reason I am still there,” he said.
“You can’t stay in the house all day and wait four years to be re-elected — you have to get out there in the community, you gotta go to concerts, ceilidhs, church events, the people have to know your name when they see your face.”
One new council face is MacIsaac, who handily defeated District 4 incumbent Jim Mustard. And, like MacLennan, MacIsaac recognized the desire for change.
“I think it’s normal that people want change after a while, Jim Mustard was in for 10 years and people wanted change — I also think people wanted a more balanced council and now we have three women and three men,” said the 58-year-old resident of Strathlorne, located about halfway between the community of Inverness and the Glenora Distillery.
According to MacIsaac, internet and cell services remain a top priority across the sprawling west Cape Breton municipality.
“Our cellphone service is terrible and internet service is far from the best,” she said, echoing MacLennan’s assessment that the county’s infrastructure is also in dire need of upgrades and replacements and that affordable housing, especially for seniors, is lacking across the municipality.
Like Richmond and Inverness, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality will also feature a plethora of new faces with mayor-elect Amanda McDougall presiding over a 12-person council that includes eight newcomers.
There was less of a turnover in Cape Breton Island’s other two municipalities. In Victoria, six incumbents, including four who were acclaimed, return to the eight-person council, while Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton was re-elected in the Town of Port Hawkesbury where voters returned the three incumbents and one newcomer.