By Chad Ingram
Published June 22, 2017
What’s in a name?
Apparently enough to approve a title change for the head of council three quarters of the way through the current council term.
Last week, Algonquin Highlands council voted to change the title of its reeve to “mayor.” The name change will be effective once a bylaw is passed at a July council meeting.
On the surface, it’s not a big deal. An issue of pure semantics. The Municipal Act grants councils the power to determine the title of council heads and “reeve” and “mayor” are interchangeable terms, the former is just seldom used anymore.
“Reeve” is a centuries-old English term. Reeves were the leaders of small, rural communities, while mayors were the leaders of larger cities. Today, even most small municipalities have shed their reeves for mayors, including many of those surrounding Haliburton County. Hastings Highlands, Lake of Bays township, the Town of Bancroft all have mayors and yes, modernizing to a more recognizable term does make sense.
However, this decision by Algonquin Highlands council will cause some confusion locally. While Algonquin Highlands will have a mayor, Haliburton County’s other three lower-tier municipalities – Minden Hills, Dysart et al and Highlands East – will, at least for the immediate future, continue to have reeves.
The decision to make the leap from reeve to mayor seems to have a lot to do with how local politicians are received elsewhere. Both Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt and Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen have spoken repeatedly about how when they are at functions with other municipal representatives, some of them don’t know what a reeve is. Danielsen said last week that some think it means “mayor in training.”
So now, when they are at conferences in Toronto, everyone will know they are a mayor and deputy-mayor, and that will be less confusing for people there. However, it will be more confusing for people in the county. I can already hear the calls to the newspaper office.
What’s the difference between a mayor and reeve?
“There is none,” I’ll say. “Could as easily be Grand Poobah. Did you know that term is from a Gilbert and Sullivan show?”
It would have made more sense for Algonquin Highlands council to wait until the beginning of the next council term – that’s late next year – to make the title change, and for it to have been done in concert with the other three lower-tier municipalities. It is true, as Moffatt pointed out, that while the concept has been bandied about in the past, it is never followed through on, and last week’s move by Algonquin Highlands council may very well start a trend within Haliburton County.
In the meantime, however, the county will have a mayor, three reeves and, at the upper-tier level, a warden. All for a community with a year-round population of approximately 17,000 people.
While conversations about council head titles will now undoubtedly ensue, the whole situation highlights a greater conversation that needs to be had.
A conversation about amalgamating Haliburton County into a single-tier government.