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Three years of highs and lows

Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson excited about 'smart city,' anxious about economic development
2018-01-09 SarahValiquetteThompsonHeadshot.jpg
Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson

Sarah Valiquette-Thompson wants Orillia to smarten up, and it looks like she'll get her wish.

The Ward 1 councillor is part of the "smart cities" committee that is working to bring free wi-fi to downtown Orillia — one of the highlights of this council's term so far, she said.

"It will set us apart, especially from a tourism perspective," said the first-term councillor.

The city is working on requests for proposals, and Valiquette-Thompson is hopeful the free internet access will be in place in time for the boating season.

As council continues on the final leg of its four-year run, Valiquette-Thompson reflected on the hits and misses so far. She acknowledged the strides made on the transit file, when the city added a sixth route to better service west Orillia. She had hoped for the route to be operational last fall, rather this winter, but it seemed like a minor setback.

"We moved mountains this year with transit," she said. "We listened to the people of West Ridge who were complaining, and rightly so."

While she voted against the sale of Orillia Power Distribution to Hydro One — a deal that is yet to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board — she is hopeful Hydro One will hold up its end of the bargain, bringing an advanced technology hub and, with it, well-paying jobs and spinoff industry to Orillia.

"We're all anxiously awaiting those decisions," she said.

That's not her only cause for anxiety, however.

The city's economic development department is "in limbo" after the departure of its director, Ian Bromley, late last fall, a year after he was hired.

The city has revamped the department and Valiquette-Thompson was excited to have someone at the helm.

"It was quite a shock to have our director depart so soon after he was hired," she said.

It left the councillor asking herself if there was anything she or her colleagues could have done to change the situation.

"My regret is not spending more time with Ian, not realizing that department was going through what they were going through," she said. "Is there anything we could have done differently?"

The circumstances of Bromley's departure have not been made public.

Valiquette-Thompson was upset when council voted against spending $25,000 to hire a recruiter to find a new director, but she acknowledged there was concern around the table about whether it would be fair to the next council — to have it inherit such an uncertain file.

It's unclear if there is the will to reopen the matter as the clock ticks on this council's term, but "we're a working council and we can still do a lot," she said.

While she hasn't always agreed with the majority of council, she is proud of the progress that has been made.

"Knowing we have been that effective together is amazing. We have a really good council."

Valiquette-Thompson hasn't committed to a run for re-election. She gave birth to her second child last year, and her young family will factor heavily into her decision.

"I love politics," she said. "I definitely want to run again, but I can't say right now if I will."

She is eligible to do so, though. While she lives in Severn Township and sold her Orillia business, Era 67, during this council term, she still owns residential property in town.


Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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