Mayor John McKean finds familiar ground in new role

There are a lot of things that John McKean likes about the Town of the Blue Mountains.

The recently appointed mayor sat down with the Thornbury Paper on Feb. 17 for a feature interview about the municipality, and when asked about the area’s positive characteristics, McKean was quick to rattle them off.

“In the wintertime, obviously, we have the skiing. We get more snow here than most other places in Ontario, so our snowmobile trails and cross country trails are open longer than most other places in the province,” he said of the self-proclaimed four seasons community. “Georgian Bay in the summertime is a real draw, and in the fall the colours here are spectacular. In the spring you have the fishermen, and then the apples are in blossom. It’s really a spectacular spot.”

Though the area offers many opportunities to attract tourists, McKean also suggested that the permanent residents themselves are made up of an interesting mixture of individuals.

“It’s really a unique blend of urban and rural,” he said. “There are a lot of really long-term residents here – some are four or five generations – and then of course the new people that have moved here from all over the country. It’s really diverse. It’s exciting”

Of the two aforementioned categories, McKean falls into the former, having called the area home for quite some time now. Not only is he a long-time resident, but he also has a long history with municipal politics, having served as a councillor for 11 years before being elected mayor in October of 2014.

McKean has a lot of positive things to say about his community, but everything can’t be roses – or apple blossoms – all the time. As with any municipality, there have been challenges and there have been hurdles.

According to McKean, the most difficult issue they have faced has been one relating to population density. While the Province of Ontario wants its municipalities to become denser, that mandate doesn’t always fit within certain areas of the Town of the Blue Mountains, especially in the more historic locations.

“More density per hectare really drops the price of your infrastructure down, but does it fit with the rest of the community? How do you make that work? I think, over the course of the last 11 years, that’s what we’ve wrestled with the most,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process.”

Another common complaint has to do with certain costs to residents, though some of these issues stem from the very geographical phenomena that make the area so attractive.

“Our infrastructure here, compared to a lot of municipalities in Ontario, is really good – but it has its expenses,” he said. “We get comments that our water and sewer are more expensive than in the cities. But the Town of the Blue Mountains has six different pressure zones for the water and sewer because of the topography. The city of Edmonton only has one pressure zone. That really drives the price up. Plus we have a very long and narrow system. It’s right along the water.”

While he and his colleagues work to improve on these issues, the rest of us are sure to continue taking advantage of all the unique activities this area has to offer.

Up until he was elected mayor, McKean worked for a company in Toronto. As he tells it, some of the water-cooled talk around his former place of employment made him proud to call this area home.

“You’d be talking to the people around the office and asking them what they’re doing on the weekend, and they’d say they were gong to the Blue Mountains,” he said. “Well, that just says it all.”

Though he hasn’t had much time to settle into his new role, he already sees some similarities between this and his former job.

“I was a manager at the company I left, so it’s the same,” he said. “You have an office, and you’re supposed to make decisions, and you make them. You take into consideration all the data that you can, and hopefully you make the right decision 99.9 per cent of the time.”

He seems eager to continue moving forward in his new role, and says he is looking forward to the challenges that are in front of him. Considering the topography of the land he governs, here’s hoping that most of McKean’s future battles turn out to be of the downhill variety.

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