The newcomer in Collingwood’s mayoral race said he was drawn into politics by controversy.
Michael Blair is one of three candidates for mayor in the October municipal election.
Blair was born in Moose Creek, Ontario, and has been coming to Collingwood on weekends with his family for most of his adult life. He moved here full time in the 1980s and again in 2016. He’s now retired and settled in Collingwood and has found the time to make a contribution to his community.
“I didn’t start out intending to get involved in municipal politics,” said Blair. “But I became familiar with the terrible news … related to the, I’ll call it contentious if I could use that word, decision to put bubbles over the swimming pool and the skating rink … For whatever reasons, the town would benefit from having a fresh face with significant administrative experience in large organizations.”
Blair has been a member of the board of directors for 20 public companies over the course of his career, which includes a ten-year stint as a fighter pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, a vice president position at general electric and his work building an auto-parts manufacturing company, starting the modern-day Rexall drug company and work as a consultant.
“I have a good understanding of business and a good understanding of finance, and a real desire to make sure that the administration of our beautiful town is transparent and of high integrity and properly done,” said Blair. “And don’t misunderstand me, I don’t know that it hasn’t been. What I know is when you have controversy … the controversy almost always reflects a lack of openness and transparency.”
Blair’s dream is to see Collingwood remain a young, vibrant, and active community. In order to accomplish that, he thinks town council needs to take a look at property taxes.
“Property taxes are higher here than in The Blue Mountains or Wasaga Beach,” said Blair. “There’s no apparent reason why our taxes should be so high. From the outside looking in, that doesn’t make sense to me.”
He would like to use his background in finance and managing multi-million dollar corporations to find ways to bring in more money and relieve the pressure on property taxes while still maintaining a vibrant town.
“To make sure Collingwood is an affordable and attractive place to live for people that want to move here with young families, we need to expand business in the town and attract business,” said Blair. “We don’t have an attractive package today. We don’t have enough serviced industrial land. We have very high real estate prices because the people moving here, the demand is great and yet the supply of housing stock and serviced residential land is low in relation to that demand, I think, that’s my observation. Those are things the town is in charge of.”
“If the town has a vision of how big it wants to be, what the demographics it wants to attract are and what businesses it wants to attract are, then it can make sure that the services, the land, the zoning, the services, the official plan, all align with that vision.”
Blair thinks the town should reconsider its stance on short-term rentals and allow Airbnb units in town so long as they are regulated through a licensing regime. He owns a place in BC and has recently obtained a license to list the property on Airbnb.ca.
As a cyclist, he also sees a need for improvement to “linear assets” like roadways to allow for better access for cyclists.
He said he would like to see a first-class multi-use recreation facility that includes space for arts, music, sports, and meetings. And he thought the Collingwood General and Marine hospital needed to be rebuilt in the 1980s.
But beyond bricks and mortar, Blair’s greatest desire is to lead the town in a direction where the people “enjoy each other’s company.”
“What makes people happy is simple,” he said. “It’s not things. Friends, relationships, simple things make us happy. And those things come to life in a community where’s there’s not friction, where there’s not camps fighting one-another. Where there’s not politics. It’s the absence of that, it’s leadership instead.”
According to Blair, the method for finding balance and harmony where there might otherwise be friction is a “properly-framed official plan.”
“Reality is this, if it’s not in the official plan, it’s not going to happen,” said Blair. The official plan must incorporate the parks vision and the heritage vision as well. If you get it right and you’ll be able to build consensus behind it.”
In fact, consensus-building is one way Blair describes his own leadership style.
“I’m an interesting leader,” he said. “I recognize I have very little talent, so I surround myself with people that are way better than I am. I empower them and I discipline my organization in a different way.”
Blair said in the companies he has previously owned, he would deal with people who don’t fit because “they’re disruptive or there is any sexual harassment or violence or they are loud voices,” by escorting them off the premises but continuing to pay them while he looked for another job for them.
Though he will be new to municipal politics if he’s elected, he said the mayor’s role still makes the most sense for him, because he sees the mayor’s role as a leader who is charged with listening to the community and making sure the council functions smoothly.
“I’ve always been most effective in my career when I was the senior person,” said Blair. “When it comes down to the nitty gritty I don’t have that much talent. My ability is to lead. And to recognize talent, to motivate it … You need leadership that has the ability to decide and then move ahead and not react to every person’s want or need, but to deal with the vision of the town.”
Blair is running against former OPP detachment commander John Trude and current Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson for mayor. Watch CollingwoodToday for profiles of Trude and Saunderson.
The Collingwood Chamber of Commerce is hosting a meet the candidates event for the mayor and deputy mayor candidates on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) at the Royal Canadian Legion.
The chamber will be posing questions received by members of the public to each of the candidates during the meeting.