A 66-year-old political rookie is Orillia’s new mayor, winning the city’s top municipal job by more than 1,500 votes over a two-term councillor.
Don McIsaac garnered 4,861 votes, finishing ahead of Mason Ainsworth, who had 3,345 ballots cast for him. John Maxwell finished a distant third with just 280 votes. These results are unofficial.
"This is a moral victory as well as an electoral victory and I'm very excited about that," McIsaac told supporters at a party at Couchiching Golf Club. "The view is always better from the high road ...and we won."
McIsaac’s electoral win has to be considered an upset as Ainsworth, 30, had won back-to-back four-year terms as a Ward 3 councillor in the previous two municipal elections.
He originally filed his papers to run as a councillor a third time, but when Rob Kloostra decided to drop out of the race to be mayor, Ainsworth opted to take his place.
Steve Clarke, who is wrapping up his second term as mayor, opted not to seek re-election.
The mayoral campaign was, at times, bitter.
On Sept. 29, Ainsworth issued a statement on social media claiming he had been subject to bullying, bribery, and intimidation on the campaign trail.
Ainsworth called the tactics “an early sign of a seemingly desperate campaign” in what appeared to be a veiled reference to McIsaac.
The next day, under pressure for not naming names and providing specifics and for not taking his complaint to the police, he asked the Orillia OPP to investigate.
Fourteen days later, the Orillia OPP announced there were no grounds to lay criminal charges and closed the case.
Ainsworth did not respond to multiple requests for comment in the days following the OPP’s decision.
McIsaac did not weigh in on the allegations by Ainsworth, saying he would take “the high road” in his campaign, which was supported by many high-profile Orillians.
McIsaac was born and raised in Orillia. He often talked with pride about graduating from Park Street Collegiate Institute and shared fond memories of flipping burgers at Webers, an iconic eatery on Highway 11.
His father, Burt, and his mother, Pat, both served as mayors when he was growing up.
But his rivals often pointed to his long time away from Orillia. McIsaac spent the past 20-plus years south of the border, where the chartered professional accountant had leadership roles with several American companies helping, he noted, to save “thousands of jobs” along the way.
Upon retirement, he decided to move back to Orillia in January and, a few months later, decided to make a run for the mayor’s job.
“My time in the States was certainly an interesting time, but Orillia has always been on my mind. I’m born and raised here,” he told OrilliaMatters in June. “I retired last September. My wife and I had a choice of where to live, and I’m passionate about Orillia, so we chose (here).”
McIsaac becomes the 16th mayor of Orillia since it was incorporated as a city in 1969. The first mayor of the city was his father, Burt McIsaac.
The new mayor and the new council will be inaugurated on Nov. 21 and the first meeting of their four-year term will take place the following week: Nov. 28.
— With files from Greg McGrath-Goudie