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Published on Saturday, November 11, 2006

Development still the hot-button issue

By JESSICA LEEDER, Toronto Star

Oakville voters have a rich menu of mayoral candidates compared to their last trip to the polls.

The political duel that brought long-time mayor Ann Mulvale within a hair of surrendering the chain of office and coloured the last election has been upstaged this season by a four-way combat that's giving the 18-year incumbent a run for her job.

"With Mulvale, you either love her or you hate her," said Robert Patrick, acting president of the River Oaks Association of Residents. "The ones who love her are still going to vote for her ... I have the feeling there will be enough left that she'll still be mayor."

Campaigning against Mulvale are second-time challenger Rob Burton, city councillor Chris Stoate and regional councillor Janice Wright.

Whether any have a realistic expectation of unseating her is still anybody's guess.

"I talk to a lot of people and people do want change," said Laura Knowlton, president of the Residents' Association of North Dundas. "Mulvale's finally got competition," she said, adding that the election still seems like a "go-either-way thing."

The way Mulvale has handled development issues has been among the most contentious elements of her leadership. Last election Burton, who ran on an environmental platform, came within 28 votes of unseating her.

But that could be as close as anyone will come, Knowlton said.

"I do think sometimes they say the devil you know is better than the one you don't," she said.

Liz Benneian, of the Oakvillegreen Conservation Association, said the fact it's not a two-person race is a "complication."

"Now people who don't necessarily want to vote for Mulvale have a choice of three other candidates. Who knows what will happen. The vote-splitting may give Mulvale another term."

Jason Speers, head of the Oak Park Residents' Association, said Mulvale still has a good cross-section of supporters.

"Around 50 per cent of the town was happy with (Mulvale) last time. I don't see where anything's happened in the last three years that's going to seriously alienate anyone who voted for her last time." But in another part of town, where Stoate won a council seat last election, there is a sense change is coming.

"There's a lot of momentum going," said Jane Hawkrigg, president of the Oakville Lakeside Residents' Association.
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