An often-maligned group, sometimes you might wonder what motivates a person to enter politics. And then you might ask yourself what makes someone successful once they’ve chosen that path. Wordless answers to both questions are quickly communicated, speaking to Doug Moffatt.
“On top of being generally interested in politics and events, I felt more people needed to become involved in decision-making,” he says resolutely. “I’ve never been bashful about speaking up, because I believe that if you’ve got an opinion, you have to be prepared to get up and state it.”
Doug speaks with the conviction of one who walks the talk. That guiding philosophy has inspired him to seek political office at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.
His interest remained latent for extended periods: he didn’t enter the political arena immediately after graduating with a degree in Political Science and History from Trent University.
Initially, he pursued a teaching career. His Teacher’s College studies would provide more than simply steady employment. As fate would have it, among Doug’s fellow students was his now-wife of 30 years, Saundra.
He progressed through a number of schools, eventually as Principal in north Bowmanville. Here, he first tasted political success as MPP in the riding of Durham East.
“I was elected in 1975,” he laughs, then continues: “Then I was un-elected!”
The couple settled in Toronto’s Beaches area when Doug chose to leave the classroom for a satisfying 17-year career with United Parcel Service.
Then, a dream-purchase, a historical (1847) stone cottage, brought them to Scugog. Not only did this relocation offer both a dramatic lifestyle shift from big-city living, the move afforded Saundra the luxury of pursuing her personal passion. An active artist who works with paints and pottery, she was able to create a gallery (Unicarvel) in her new home.
A series of events then rekindled Doug’s political flame.
“Scugog Township proposed to bring a construction-trade training school near where we were living,” he remembers, still bristling slightly at the memory. “In my opinion, putting the school there offered no benefit to the local economy, no spinoff industries. My involvement with that issue encouraged me to run for council.”
And the outcome of his campaign against the proposal?
“Eventually, the school chose a location near Kingston, where they turned the land-scape into moon-scape, then went bankrupt.”
A single term on council led seamlessly to a pair as Scugog’s Mayor. Taking office in 1998, his administration faced some immediate and critical challenges, as his term coincided with significant funding cuts implemented by Mike Harris’ provincial Liberals.
“After the election, I sat down with the councillors to sort out our next-steps. On top of routine community needs, we had a lot of roads in dire need of repair. Scugog’s geography presents unique complications, with a system of roads on the island as well as both shores.”
Their handling of this problem, he recalls, was particularly satisfying because its resolution was unprecedented.
“We convinced the Minister responsible, Chris Hodgson, to give us a 2% cut of the Casino’s revenue, which was unheard of at that time. We’d anticipated half a million and wound up with $1.4 million that first year. Council established a fund with the money to improve roads, as well as replace some very outdated township trucks and equipment.”
He points with pride to other initiatives he and his councils passed during the years he served.
“We brought about the new municipal building, a new pool and second ice pad.”
Doug’s mayoral work had become his full-time pursuit. Beyond those responsibilities, he served on Durham Regional Council, as well as the Police Service Board, a group he ultimately chaired.
“We had interesting discussions there!” he recalls with a twinkle. “They wanted to add more officers but cut expenses and taxes at the same time – you can’t do both!”
Stepping aside as Scugog’s mayor in 2002, at the conclusion of a self-imposed two-term maximum, Doug harbours no regrets.
“People comment on the Mayor’s job, that you’re always getting complaints about one thing or the other. Not an issue for me, really. And as far as the inevitable conflicts of the political process go, you do the best you can, recognizing you’ll never satisfy everyone.”
“After experience with both, I’d say municipal office was more satisfying than provincial. Less bureaucracy in the local job – you can actually see the effects of your decisions.”
Doug then made a second unsuccessful bid for Federal office in the 2005 election (the first coming in 1988).
“I may have been popular as mayor, but it sure didn’t translate into federal votes!” he chuckles.
Outside political office for the first time in several years, Doug remained in demand as a political force.
“I was approached by an Ottawa-area firm to be an unpaid spokesperson on a local issue which first surfaced during my time as mayor. Their technology, ‘evapourative condensation,’ will address problems with Port Perry’s sewage lagoons and save taxpayers money.”
Pride in his Scottish heritage – there’s a wee town called “Moffatt” in Scotland, he reports – encouraged him to accept yet another volunteer position with the Highlands of Durham Games. He’s been 15 years involved – 2010 was his swansong with the ‘games’, which showcases his ancestral culture.
That reduced schedule of activities will give Doug and Saundra more time to pursue shared passions, like travel and golf. “We also have a family cottage and a growing family!” he reports.
In addition to a pair of grown children, Morgan and Shannon, that family has grown to include three grandchildren: Alex, 12, Roxy, 9, and William, who’s now 6.
While Doug’s formal involvement with politics may have decreased, a keen eye and ear for political issues never diminishes, even if exercised now only on a casual basis.
Like a radio station, certain people receive more clearly than others and choose never to tune out, former politicians retain their acute analytical voice beyond their days of office.
You can plainly hear it in the tone of his voice – passion, conviction, decisiveness, and a drive to make things better – that’s why people like Doug Moffatt gravitate to political life.