John McCharles isn’t done with Petrolia
Nearly 40 years after he was first elected councillor in Petrolia, nowformer mayor John McCharles — who also served with the school board and former Petrolia Utility Commission — is on the outside of town council looking in. Reflecting on his 12 years as mayor, a scandal the enveloped the town, and his plans post-council.
The following is lightly edited for readability.
Observer: You were first voted mayor of Petrolia in 2006. What did you want to change? John McCharles:
The town had a number of issues. One was financial; another was our staff didn’t seem to be in harmony with council. There wasn’t teamwork on council, and there wasn’t teamwork in the staff. My opinion is council and staff have to work together.
Q: So that was a priority?
We attempted to build a team within council, which we did. And we started working together very well. It was more like an accident … when I became mayor, I’d never been a leader of anything before. Sure, I had my own business. But this was big. So I had to take inventory, and that’s what I did.
In fact since 2008, 2010, we’ve grown the town by 20 per cent of the population. That’s not to my credit; that’s teamwork. We put a lot of effort into saving the hospital. The hospital is the heart of our town. If we didn’t have a hospital, I’m sure people would be moving here as much.
Q: I get the sense with council, it’s not only about having the same viewpoint.
It’s absolutely not. You want people to bring in their own ideas or you’re not going to go anywhere … when I ran for council the first time (in 1982), my goal was to get the spirit back to Petrolia … to bring back the spirit, to improve the spirit of the town.
I had a friend on council. He convinced me (to run). I was already interested in the town and in politics. We talk about it. And I thought hey, maybe I can bring something to the table. I was working at a business. I owned Petrolia District Ambulance Service. Also I was involved in real estate, a couple of service clubs. … I was a busy guy at the time. But that was all part and parcel. And I was just married, too.
Q: Why retire now?
I was losing the edge. You know how you … there’s a good time to quit and a bad time to quit. And this was a good time to quit.
Q: The last year hasn’t been easy (after former CAO Emanual Baron, 43, was charged in late 2017 for leasing two buildings to the town), but that’s not why you retired?
That wore on me, because it seemed like it was never-ending. And I thought ‘wow, is that going to carry on?’ But no, (it wasn’t why I retired).
It doesn’t matter what municipality you’re in, there’s always potholes. A guy made a mistake in our staff and they basically boiled council. … It wasn’t council’s fault; it wasn’t the other staff member’s fault. People make mistakes. We wore the colours for that.
Q: Do you think it was handled correctly?
Not according to the newspaper, it wasn’t. But according to the integrity commissioner, according to the ombudsman, according to the legal people that we went to right away, it was all handled properly.
Q: Any regrets? Any worries about giving the controls to someone else?
There is a bit of uneasiness, and the question of “will the next group drop the ball?” We’ve been going upwards for years. I’d say we’ve been going upwards for at least 10 years. … Hopefully with the people coming in and the people on staff, they can work together to keep it up.
Q: And it’s not like it’s a whole new council.
Right. There are three (councillors) returning, and there are four new ones. And those people also have a passion for the town. I support them 100 per cent.
Q: What now? You’re not retiring from everything, right?
I’m still in real estate. I’ve still got a couple irons in the fire, which I can’t reveal too much, but hopefully I’ll stay involved. I have no plans about retiring. I just can’t find myself sitting at home and doing nothing. … My council days are over, but hopefully I can get involved (in other ways). And I plan to volunteer. I’ve got a great passion for the town of Petrolia. I love this town.
Former Petrolia Mayor John McCharles.