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Travelling Pickering, Ont., councillor out as Durham police board chair

Click to play video 'A Pickering councillor is out as Durham’s police services board chair amid travelling controversy' A Pickering councillor is out as Durham’s police services board chair amid travelling controversy
Councillor Kevin Ashe is no longer chair of the board after he took his name off of the ballot. The move comes after criticism of a trip he took during the lockdown in December. Frazer Snowdon has more. – Jan 19, 2021

One of two local politicians who recently travelled will no longer hold the position of Durham police board chair.

This comes after former chair Kevin Ashe took his name off of the ballot this year, a move he said he made strategically to take the focus off the work of the board.

“I made the decision not to move forward as chair,” he said.

“I really didn’t think the board needed any distractions,” he added, referring to the talk surrounding his choice to travel back in December.

The police board nominated Bobbi Drew to Ashe’s spot. Drew, who is also mayor of Scugog, formerly held the vice-chair position.

But after the board says it received several letters from people voicing their concerns about his desire to run again, they knew it was something they had to listen to.

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“We wanted to make sure these that these people recognized their letters were received,” says Drew. “And we will move forward from there.”

Read more: Pickering, Ont., councillors under fire for travelling during coronavirus lockdown

Durham regional chair John Henry nominated Drew for the position. He has also been publicly critical of the pair of councillors’ decisions to travel.

He says more should be done at the provincial level to prevent these types of actions.

“We don’t have the tools in our toolbox to simply say you broke the rules, these are the consequences,” says Henry. “That’s not how it works. So we really need help from the province.”

And on top of that, Henry is hoping for change in how councillors can access meetings.

“Hopefully the minister of municipal affairs can look at this and see the need for some parameters around this,” says Henry.

“When we put all these pieces in play, we would never have thought someone would do it from outside of the country.”

Ashe and fellow councillor Bill McLean have both admitted to taking trips. This while Pickering’s Mayor, Dave Ryan, said in a statement he didn’t even know they had travelled.

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McLean took a trip to Costa Rica with his wife, after he says he had to observe a property inspection of a home he purchased. That was now three weeks ago. He has yet to return our requests for an interview.

Read more: Member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force resigns after out-of-country vacation

Ashe says his trip was to honour his stepson’s memory in the Bahamas, where he and his family spread some of his son’s ashes. But now he realizes that may not have been a good thing to do.

“In hindsight, if I had to do it again, I would not have done it,” says Ashe. “But I did it. I’ll live with the consequences of it.”

Experts, however, wonder if it’s too late, as until now, both Ashe and McLean argued their reasons were valid.

That’s a move that political marketing specialist Dennis Matthews says was their first mistake.

“I think this has really hit a nerve with people big time,” says Matthews.

Click to play video 'Rod Phillips out as Ontario finance minister after Caribbean vacation' Rod Phillips out as Ontario finance minister after Caribbean vacation
Rod Phillips out as Ontario finance minister after Caribbean vacation – Dec 31, 2020

“It’s hypocrisy of not following the advice that you’re asking people to do. It makes it seem like there is one sort of standard of the political class and one for the people.”

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While politicians around the pair of councillors have taken different approaches, with even MPP for Ajax, Rod Phillips, resigning from his cabinet position as finance minister, neither of them have plans to resign.

Ashe says he has no plans to stand down, and hopes to rebuild trust with residents.

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