The road to the mayor’s office is usually paved by an “apprenticeship” as a councillor in local government. This is where a political novice can absorb the lessons of that position, then potentially apply them in a bid for the municipalities top political position.
But Scugog’s new mayor, Chuck Mercier, travelled an exceptionally different route – starting his career in municipal politics at the top. Although the path he chose may be unconventional, even controversial, the new mayor’s preparation was equally intense and thorough.
“My background in policing taught me a number of useful and relevant skills,” he says. “I’m used to accepting the time commitment of a demanding job, and I’ve had experience building a strategic plan, linking it to objectives, and ultimately measuring its results.”
Seven years in the Homicide Division of the Durham Region Police Service (DRPS) provided ample grounding in long and irregular working hours, while a later promotion to the force’s Executive Branch laid a solid foundation in administration. Another aspect of those administrative duties, he explains, which will serve him well as Scugog’s mayor as he seeks to create effective compromises among councillors.
“That (policing) job required a great deal of problem-solving, so I learned how to sort out where the real issues lie and work toward an outcome which will satisfy all stakeholders. In my experience, the majority of solutions are found ‘at the centre line’ – the middle ground – and most people are willing to work toward compromise.
“Policing, speaking generally, gave me insight into all aspects of society – I saw people at their best and their worst. I also had the opportunity to work with a very wide variety of professionals: medical experts, educators, community leaders, business owners, politicians. And it provided a daily reminder that legislation is the foundation of good governance.”
Mayor Chuck Mercier, seated, is seen here following the inauguration of the Scugog Township Council, on Monday, December 6, 2010. With him are the five former residents to have held the township’s top politcal post. From left, Howard Hall, Marilyn Pearce, Doug Moffatt, Lawrence Malcolm and Jerry Taylor. Focus on Scugog ran a monthly feature about each of the former mayors starting in August 2010. Photo courtesy Tony Mercier
This skill set may have prepared him well for his current role, but candidacy for mayor was not listed on Chuck’s agenda when he retired from DRPS in 2009.
“I intended to catch up on some lingering home-duties… working for ‘the head of my corporation,’” he laughs. “I’d been approached about seeking municipal office, and had time on my side to decide while I worked on renovations.”
After assessing the community’s feeling about his possible bid, Chuck announced his candidacy for the mayor’s job. He was “humbled” by the dozens of volunteers who rallied around his choice, and eagerly hit the campaign trail. He describes that experience as “very positive.”
“I didn’t know what to expect from campaigning, to be honest. But I quickly learned that the people I spoke to held a genuine interest in their community and the issues it faced, and were able to maintain a reasonable perspective on their issue among the community’s many priorities.”
Chuck’s agenda for his early weeks in office will ring true to anyone who has assumed new job responsibilities.
“With council, I’m going to make a thorough review of our strategic plan, integrating comments I heard while campaigning. We’ll make that plan public, then set about achieving it over the next four years.”
He identifies three key areas of focus. “Effective waste water management in Port Perry is essential for the future of the township,” he says without hesitation. “Economic development – new jobs within the tourist, agricultural, and industrial sectors – is also critical to reaching our potential, and we must continue to maintain and develop our recreational facilities.”
He wears his passion for the community on his sleeve.
“Part of our job, as council, will be to preserve Scugog’s friendly atmosphere and its vibrant culture. Yet at the same time, we can’t rest on our laurels – we need to remain progressive.”
Chuck’s love of community began with small-town roots and an innate desire to serve.
“I was born in Timmins, grew up in Elliot Lake,” he says. “When I moved away (to pursue post-secondary studies in Law and Security Management), I chose Loyalist College in Belleville. And when it came time for Paula and I to raise our family, Port Perry was our clear choice. Her family had deep roots in that community and its small-town feel was just my style.
“Policing had always been my career ambition. You might assume that desire had been passed on from a relative, but nobody in our family had a background in that kind of work. I just felt a fire inside, to serve others. I still do, and bring that passion to this job.”
Mayor Chuck Mercier, back, with his family, from left Chuck’s
wife Paula and children Jesse, Sara, Chuck, Mackenzie
and Mike. Photo courtesy the Mercier family.
Chuck and Paula, his wife of 28 years, have raised four children in the community: a daughter, Sara, 25; and three sons, Michael, 26, Jesse, 18, and MacKenzie, 14. The family skis and attends church together - not surprising, locally.
Chuck’s positive attitude permeates his statements about policing, politics, and community. It’s an outlook, he says, he and Paula taught their children. “I wanted them to think of everything as an opportunity, and I live by that philosophy myself.
“I’ll use that same kind of thinking in the mayor’s office. Government, in my opinion, is everyone’s job, so when people approach me on an issue, I view that as concern about their community, that they’re trying to make it a better place. We can never afford to be complacent, and especially not indifferent.”
There’s certainly no trace of indifference in Chuck Mercier, police officer turned politician. And there’s no hint of intimidation at assuming a demanding role in a much different arena. In fact, there’s every indication he can’t wait to get started.
“I enjoy pulling back the layers of an issue, working on corrective action. And I’m used to a very public role, so I’m not intimidated at all. I’m proud of who I am and committed to the future of our Township.”
He may have come to the Mayor’s job along an unconventional path, but you get the strong sense that political newcomer Chuck Mercier is going to fare just fine.
Scugog Township’s new council was sworn-in on Tuesday, December 6. Front left, Bev Hendry, CAO, Mayor Chuck Mercier and Kim Coates, Clerk. Back left, Larry Corrigan (Ward 1), Jim Howard (Ward 3), Wilma Wotten (Ward 4), John Hancock (Ward 2), Bobbie Drew (Regional Councillor) and Howard Danson (Ward 15).