Peterborough Editorial: Veteran politicians back in the game

A decade ago this summer, a groundbreaking ceremony at Fleming College featured the smiling faces of Peterborough’s political triumvirate of the day: Mayor Daryl Bennett, MP Dean Del Mastro and MLA Jeff Leal .

They’ve been lumped together in dozens of photo ops and announcements over that time, but for the past four years all three have been out of politics, none by choice.

In 2018, Bennett lost hands down to one-term councilor Dianne Therien. Leal ran third in the election that punished the Liberal McGuinty-Wynne government for aging in office for 15 years.

Del Mastro’s story is different. His eight years as a Conservative MP ended with a brief prison sentence for convictions under the Elections Act.

Last Friday, Del Mastro made a trifecta of campaign ads, joining Bennett and Leal in the pool of local city council candidates.

The moves of Bennett, a former two-term mayor of Peterborough, and Leal, who served 18 years on city council and 15 years as an MPP, including time as a cabinet minister, were expected.

Del Mastro’s story is, again, different.

If anyone outside of his closest circle knew he was considering an attempt to return to politics, he would keep it quiet. Now the owner of Willow Bend Marina in Cavan Monaghan, Del Mastro is a candidate there for the office of deputy mayor.

If all three won, it would somehow change the patterns of local municipal elections. While Del Mastro is only 50, Bennett is 74 and Leal is 67. All three would be referred to as “old whites in suits” in today’s landscape.

Bennett was replaced by Therrien, then 32, in an election that saw Peterborough council become younger and more diverse. The first two black councilors were elected, including a young woman.

Leal lost to current Tory MP Dave Smith, who was in his 40s. Sean Conway, a 26-year-old from Curve Lake First Nation, earned a solid second place finish.

Del Mastro was replaced by Mariam Monsef, then 31 years old. She in turn lost in 2020 to Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri, a 42-year-old political rookie.

There’s no guarantee that Leal, Bennett or Del Mastro will break the pattern of election wins of younger, newer faces. Leal will come up against another longtime and respected council veteran, Monaghan Ward’s Coun. Henry Clarke and the Advisor. Steven Wright of Northcrest Ward, one of two black councilors who emerged from the 2018 ‘change’ election.

Bennett may have an easier path since current Cavan Monaghan mayor Scott McFadden said he will not run again. Del Mastro is running unopposed at this time, but current deputy mayor Matt Graham, 39, who ended former township warden Neal Cathcart’s comeback bid four years ago, will run probably again.

A Bennett win could be good for Peterborough. It would end a string of township leaders with a divisive attitude towards the city, which could help in the current stalemate over a deal to transfer future industrial land to Peterborough.

Unfortunately, Bennett has a conflict of interest because he lives near the proposed annexation lands and was unable to play an active role in the discussions.

While Del Mastro’s story makes him a long shot, Leal – and Bennett if he objects – would be among their campaigns’ favorites.

Youth and diversity are welcome and necessary in political leadership, but there is also a place for experience and demonstrated ability. Voters will be able to weigh in on that balance when municipal elections close in October.

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