Billings’ Austin Hunt running in 2014

Canada’s veteran municipal politician seeks to extend record

BILLINGS—While he hasn’t yet made it official at the Billings municipal office, Mayor Aus (Austin) Hunt has confirmed with The Manitoulin Expositor that he will throw his hat in the ring once again during this fall’s municipal election, thereby vying to keep his title as Canada’s longest running municipal politician.

“I really am not trying to make a record, I’m running because I think I can be useful,” Mayor Hunt told the Expositor in a Monday interview.

As the municipality of Billings has just begun its journey on its 10-year strategic plan, Mayor Hunt believes he can be of help in getting the process underway. “I don’t plan on being around for the full 10 years though,” he added.

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As part of this 10-year plan, the reestablishment of the Kagawong waterfront is in the forefront—a topic that is near and dear to the octogenarian’s heart.

He also noted the funds received for the retrofit of the Billings water treatment plant, with the engineering firm just recently hired by the municipality. Billings was fortunate to receive funds in the last round of Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund grants to replace the current water filtration system when its filtering membranes became obsolete.

“There’s always a concern to keep the budget in line and to refrain from overspending,” Mayor Hunt said.

As he has done for many years, the mayor said he would continue to lobby Kagawong residents on the perks of expanding the municipal water system. “Like many other smaller areas, water costs are above average in Billings,” he explained. “We have the capacity to expand (to several subdivisions that aren’t currently on the water system), but we have to convince residents that it will be a good idea, thus reducing household costs.” (The more water system users, the lower everyone’s household costs.) However, he said, it must be the will of the people and the issue shouldn’t be forced, as has been done in other Island municipalities.

“I will continue to lobby, but I can’t do it unless there are grants available, but most important is that it is the wish of the residents,” the mayor added.

“The last term has been a good term,” Mayor Hunt continued. “We had major expenditures but haven’t had a rise in municipal rates in a number of years. We also have over half a million dollars in reserves and will have all of our equipment paid off by the end of the year with the exception of our new fire truck. We have really no debt.”

This year marks Mayor Hunt’s 61st year in municipal politics. He is the longest serving municipal politician in Canada with Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion (who announced she won’t seek re-election this fall) coming in at second place. The two are often asked to pose for photographs together at Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) meetings. “I’m not really sure why,” the mayor said.

Over the years, Mayor Hunt has served on the executive of AMO, attending monthly cabinet meetings at Queen’s Park, and he continues to serve as the Manitoulin representative on the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities executive.  The mayor also sits on the Manitoulin Planning Board, the only remaining member who has been at the table since its inception and if there’s ever a planning issue that arises in his municipality that he’s not aware of, he gets in his car and searches it out on his own, he said proudly.

“Some people will say, ‘heck, he’s been there long enough,’ but that’s a chance I’ll have to take. That’s just politics, that’s just life.”

So far, the municipality has received only one nomination paper for mayor, from David Yurich, a Sudbury and Kagawong resident, and none for council.