MORRISBURG – Unusual circumstances elevated SDG Counties councillor and North Dundas Deputy Mayor Allan Armstrong into the warden’s position six months ago when the previous warden was deemed ineligible to hold the position and was removed.
At the same time, a career change meant that for the first time, he was able to give the time needed to be head of the upper-tier council.
Armstrong was elected on June 21. Shortly after he was sworn in, he said he had three goals while serving as warden: advancing the rural education file; enhancing shared services, specifically land ambulance; and pandemic recovery.
Armstrong handed over the chains of office to newly-elected warden Carma Williams on December 17. The Leader sat down with Armstrong to look back at his short term of office, the three goals he had set in taking the position, and to see how he felt about the progress made.
On the shared services file, Armstrong characterized the progress made in 2021 as “huge.” This year is the first ever that representatives from SDG Counties – Armstrong and CAO Tim Simpson – were invited to the shared services budget meetings with the City of Cornwall. Cornwall and SDG Paramedic Services is managed through the shared services contract between SDG and Cornwall.
“We made great strides because we had never been invited to the budget table, and we were this year, for the first time ever,” Armstrong said. “The manifestation of those discussions is that there is another land ambulance being added, not replaced. So we’ve added to the inventory that services the townships.”
He said for him it is not only about reducing average response times for paramedics, but shortening the longest wait times for service.
“The extra ambulance is almost immeasurable to Dundas County,” Armstrong explained. “North and South Dundas are under serviced just by the nature of geography, not anything to do with Cornwall. Having the extra ambulance means we should have better service.”
The second of Armstrong’s priorities was dealing with the effect the COVID-19 pandemic was having on the community, and making sure all areas had a voice. Around the council table, that included making sure the 11 other council members are heard.
“I feel like [councillors] all have had an opportunity to speak,” he said. “I feel like there has been good communication and that extends to businesses and individuals in SDG.”
Growth in programs like the Regional Incentive Program, and marketing initiatives the Counties’ economic development department has run like “Shop Local” campaigns have helped the local business community.
“We reached out to businesses and let them know things like the RIP program are available,” he said of the expanded program.
An important part of the RIP program for Armstrong was making sure that the selection committee had representatives from all six municipalities.
Fairness and equity plays into the last – and biggest – of Armstrong’s three goals, rural education.
In the spring, before Armstrong was elected warden, SDG commissioned a report on rural education. That report was delivered to council in November.
“We identified [rural education] as our number one priority in 2019, and it has now been followed through and completed as far as the report,” he said adding that there was no “I” driving the report. “It was a group effort and credit to councillors Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas), Jennifer MacIsaac (South Stormont) and Stephanie Jaworski (South Glengarry) for leading this.”
Now delivered to council, Armstrong pushed to have the rural education conference scheduled before he left office. That conference is set for February 3, 2022.
Now that the report has been out for a month, Armstrong said he feels like pundits are focusing on only one of the 10 recommendations made – reorganizing the school boards based on language.
“There’s 10 recommendations,” he exclaimed. “You’re going to discount a report because you don’t like 10 per cent of it?”
Armstrong said that the key point with the rural education report, and the conference in early 2022 is to start, and continue the conversation on education.
“We’ve got 10 ideas here. Maybe someone else will present 10 ideas, some of which are better. Great. We need to have that discussion. That’s how we make rural education better.”
Armstrong chose not to run for a second term as Warden, a decision that he does not regret. He recently began a new job and would not have the same amount of time in 2022 that he has had this year. As for the next municipal election, he said he hasn’t thought that far ahead yet and was still focused on doing the work he was elected to do in this term.
Armstrong did admit that he will miss the job of Warden, not for any perks that come with the job, but for work that can be moved forward in the role.
“I will miss being in a position where everyone at the council table is included in the discussion,” said Armstrong. “There are some quiet people and some strong people at Counties. Making sure that everyone’s voice is heard is important to me because I am interested in hearing what all the people at the table want to say.”
This article was originally written for and appeared in The Morrisburg Leader.