Reflecting on a decade: Simcoe County warden George Cornell

Cornell spent his career working in the oil and gas sector. He joined municipal politics in 2006. Provided

For the holidays, Global News is releasing questions and answers with local leaders in Barrie and Simcoe County so that residents can get to know their officials better.

In this installment, Simcoe County Warden George Cornell reflects on the last decade and how the region has changed.

Global News: What were you doing in 2010 and how does that contribute to where you are today?

George Cornell: In 2010, I was taking a break from municipal politics. I learned a lot as a municipal councillor in Tiny Township during the previous term (2006-2010). I was fortunate to build relationships in the community and gain a greater understanding of the needs of our township. [I] was successful in 2014 when I ran for mayor. Sitting on county council since 2014 has been a tremendous experience, and I’ve truly learned the impact that levels of government can have on the lives of residents when we work together. In my professional career, I was a civil engineer for 25 years working in the gas and oil industry.
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GN: How were you hoping things might shape up in Simcoe County over the past decade (from 2010 until now)?

Cornell: I’ve always known the potential of our region, and that’s why our family moved to Simcoe County 13 years ago. Our proximity to the GTA and strong communities has always positioned us well and provided tremendous growth potential.

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GN: Were you right or wrong in terms of how you thought your community was going to develop over the last decade? If you were wrong, how so?

Cornell: We’ve experienced tremendous growth, our economy is diversified, we have [well]-paying jobs and a high quality of life. That said, no one could have predicted the impact of the GTA’s growth on our region and the growth it would bring to our communities. With Go Trains now running through our southern communities, our tourism boom, manufacturing growth, [and the] advancement of our hospitals and post-secondary education, [we have] great potential.

GN: What is the single biggest change that has happened for you as Simcoe County warden over the past 10 years that has been a game changer?

Cornell: I was honoured to be elected warden at the end of 2018. The county has always been investing in our economy, but over the past five to six years, we have made significant investments and efforts to build relationships with our businesses and to help support their growth and needs, while trying to attract investment and new jobs in our region. [We] have also seen the county and our council make a concerted effort to meet the demands on social housing, and within the last five years, the county and our partners have developed more than 1,500 new affordable housing units in our communities.
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GN: What has been your biggest win as Simcoe County warden?

Cornell: The county’s increased ownership of the Lake Simcoe Regional Airport is a huge victory for our residents, communities and our economy. Our plans to grow and expand the airport following the consultation and approval process will be a huge boost to our economy and also [to] local tourism.  During my term on county council, we have also launched our LINX Transit service. Our initial routes have been extremely successful, with ridership surpassing expectations. We look forward to expanding to new communities in 2020.
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GN: What has been your biggest disappointment or miss as Simcoe County warden? What did you learn from it?

Cornell: We should always strive to build and foster our relationships with our partners and other levels of government. When we work together, we can accomplish great things and truly impact the lives of our residents.

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GN: In your opinion, what was the biggest story of the last decade in Simcoe County?

Cornell: Growth of our communities’ economy, infrastructure and services has been significant in the past decade. We have [a population of] approximately 500,000 in Simcoe County. This number is expected to reach 800,000 by 2041. Our communities are working to plan for this growth and build responsible strategies that set our municipalities up for success, while protecting our environment and the character of our communities. While it was prior to my time on county council, the county’s vision and investment in the development of Georgian Village, a seniors community in Penetanguishene, has brought accolades from across Canada and supported our seniors in need of new housing options.

GN: How has the make-up of Simcoe County changed over the last decade? How does this drive your decisions?

Cornell: We have an aging populating, we are home to more than 60,000 newcomers and our communities are growing rapidly. Our decisions, whether investing in roads, healthcare, social housing, post-secondary education or building new paramedic stations, always address both current and future needs.

GN: What’s your biggest hope for Simcoe County for 2020-2030?

Cornell: Coming off the regional government review, I hope that we can take pride in the work we do [and] always continue to be a leader in identifying efficiencies in service delivery and our governance models. We need to ensure that residents continue to get the very best value for their tax dollars. There’s only one taxpayer and all levels of government need to continue to work toward a common goal – improving the lives of our residents.
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GN: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Simcoe County over the next decade?

Cornell: Balancing growth [while maintaining] infrastructure and investment in services will always be a challenge for our communities. We have an aging population, and housing and services need to continue to become age-friendly. Our residents are from all walks of life, and we need to continue to work with the province and our partners to find creative solutions to build more affordable housing units to ensure we are keeping up with the demand.

GN: Innisfil council recently approved the vision for the Orbit development around the Go Station, which is quite futuristic. Can we expect other municipalities to adopt this type of development in the near/distant future?

Cornell: I can’t comment on local municipal matters, but we have forward-thinking councils and municipal staff throughout Simcoe County, and we all know that this is an important time in planning our communities as we prepare for growth and development.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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