Ginn reflects on year of Wardens' Caucus leadership
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
On Friday, Feb. 5, Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn’s tenure as the chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus came to an end after an eventful and successful year.
Ginn was elected to the position in January of 2020 with no idea what the year ahead had in store. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and reaching a crucial point for the Southwest Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project, Ginn said he has been part of several meetings per week over the last six months, while a normal year for the caucus might include five or six meetings for the entire year.
While Friday marked the end of Ginn’s term, it was also one of the most important days of it. It was on Friday that the caucus hosted a virtual meeting for provincial and federal politicians to advocate for the SWIFT project, asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to help make the project a reality. In addition, the caucus has been pushing for the project to be done correctly once, instead of being added to every few years.
He said that if minor improvements were made to the internet infrastructure, Huron County and others in the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus’s catchment area would achieve speeds of 50 megabits per second of download speed and 10 megabits per second of upload speed. While that would provide an improvement, a full fibre optic network, he said, would increase those numbers to 1,000, setting the region up for success for decades to come, instead of creating a situation that would require further improvements in just a few years.
The meeting was attended by over 100 people, Ginn said, with cabinet ministers from both the federal and provincial governments, as well as high-level bureaucrats, staff members and wardens from across the Caucus’s catchment area.
Ginn said he was happy with the group’s presentation and felt it was well received. He has since heard from Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson and other regional politicians who felt it was well received. Ginn says people like Thompson were the presentation’s target audience, so if they were happy with it, so is he.
The progress of the SWIFT project is one of the things that has made Ginn most proud when looking back on his term. While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, one thing it has laid bare in much of rural Ontario is that the high-speed internet access simply isn’t good enough for too many people.
This has been a common refrain in eastern Ontario as well, with the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which has joined forces with the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, another achievement of the last year for Ginn and his team.
Putting those two groups together, he said, brings about four million people under the same umbrella as a voting block. Representing everyone in the province who doesn’t live in the Greater Toronto Area or Northern Ontario, Ginn said, has really increased the impact of the two organizations, showing upper-tier politicians how important rural parts of the province are.
In addition to the SWIFT project and ongoing partnerships being established during his term, Ginn said he is also proud of the priorities brought forward on behalf of the group in the last year. Ginn says the Caucus made it clear that broadband internet, housing, long-term care homes and financial security are crucial for municipalities, counties and cities in western Ontario.
In regards to financial security, for example, Ginn said, wardens are aware that deficits are climbing in both Canada and Ontario, so it’s been important to communicate just how cash-strapped these communities are. If upper-tier levels of governments want to balance their budgets by cutting funding to the lower tiers, he said, it’s just not going to work.
Ginn’s tenure as the chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus can actually be traced back over two years, he said in an interview with The Citizen. He and another warden were the longest-tenured leaders in the organization, so they were approached about leading. The two men agreed, saying one would take one year if the other would take the second.
Ginn was acclaimed to the position in January of 2020, just weeks before a worldwide pandemic would take hold of the region and present entirely new challenges.
He said it’s been challenging, but he’s proud of all the caucus has accomplished during his time as the chair. That is thanks in no small part to the strength and leadership of Huron County Chief Administrative Officer Meighan Wark, Ginn said, who served as the organization’s secretary during his time as chair, as is tradition for the caucus.
Without her, he said, it would have been impossible to do all that the caucus did over the past year.
That leads to another aspect of the role that makes Ginn proud, which is to raise the profile and level of influence of Huron County on the provincial stage.
Having elected officials and/or staff members serving on provincial bodies, he said, is good for the flow of information back into Huron County and it’s good for Huron County to have someone in such an elevated position.
To that end, Ginn has now been appointed to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Mayors’ Advisory Council on Coastal Resilience. His appointment was approved at Huron County Council’s Feb. 3 meeting, another feather in the county’s cap, he said.
Ginn is succeeded as chair of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus by Simcoe County Warden George Cornell, who was acclaimed to the position at the Caucus’s annual general meeting, held virtually on Feb. 5.