Highlands East mayor: Cheryl Ellis


Listen to the full interview on The Highlander’s new podcast: click here.


The Highlander asked Ellis why she was running for mayor, not councillor. “I thought maybe I could make more of a difference.” She said her background is in human resource management, including finance, payroll, compensation, and dealing with people. She spent 13 years working in the County roads department. She recently helped conduct the 2021 Census and took a casual job at a longterm care home in Bancroft to get out during COVID. She’s also travelled. 


“I don’t think amalgamation is going to solve any problems. The smaller municipalities would lose our voice and service levels and have a tax increase. In the more rural areas, we’d be paying for services that we don’t use, such as water, sewer, garbage pickup. If it wasn’t implemented perfectly and thought through very carefully, I think it could end up being a costly endeavour. I don’t think that’s something we should be moving forward with yet.” 


Ellis acknowledges health care personnel shortages. However, she said the County is trying to recruit family physicians and emergency room doctors. She said the province provides incentives, too. She said people can go to regional hospitals to see specialists and avail themselves of telemedicine. Asked whether there should be just one larger hospital in the Highlands, instead of two smaller ones, Ellis said, “I don’t like closing down any kind of health care thing. They should stay open if we possibly can do it.” 


“Homes for People [Places for People] have approached Highlands East in the past. I think that definitely should be revisited. A condominium company met with Highlands East about building condominiums in Cardiff. I would certainly be interested in inviting more interested builders like that. The Ontario government is talking about expediting the process for building permits etc. I think the rental review people should look at some of their policies and give back some more control to the homeowners. I think that would open up a lot more homes.” 


“We have the food bank. We have the outreach in Highland Grove. So, if you need something, for example, a sofa, it’s close. If you can’t afford to pay, you don’t have to pay. So, as a community, as a whole, they are pitching in to help. But as far as the municipality goes, the only thing I can think of is to encourage people to fill the vacant job positions that are available right now.” Shoreline preservation bylaw “We’re not the first place to bring that in. I think it’s a good idea. Maybe the 30 metres is a little bit much [The County actually passed the bylaw at 20 metres] but they did the studies and proved it’s the best way to go about the shoreline preservation because of the erosion.” 

Short-term rentals

“The County is looking for feedback from the community and listening. They have not moved forward yet. They’re wanting to monitor septic capacities and noise, which is a problem, as is parking. But we do have people monitoring the septic systems, and the cottage associations keep an eye on stuff like that.” She added, “Council and cottage associations should be able to find something that works for both of them.” Asked if she does not think they should be registered and licenced, Ellis said, “my fears about licensing and regulating is how much legality is that going to put on each one of the municipalities? So, we can say it’s safe for you to rent that cottage and then something happens in that cottage. What are the legalities that are going to come back on Highlands East?” 


“I’d look to other municipalities with similar demographics and see what they’ve attempted. Do the research to see which direction we should go instead of just jumping in blindly. There’s gas tax funding. I’ve read up on this on-demand service. It sounds like Uber, but it’s not Uber.” 

Vision for the future

 “I’d like to see the businesses we have stay because I think they’re actually meeting all of our needs. So, as far as bringing any new businesses, we don’t need to. I don’t believe in moving forward that way. I believe in supporting what we have.” As for the population surge, and dealing with it, she said in part, “tell the cities, you’re not gonna’ fix your problem by sending people to rural communities.” She added, “I think if we can sustain what we do have right now it will make everything more prosperous.” Asked for her plan for prosperity, she said, “I cannot because that’s a problem that starts at the federal level and trickles right down to our level.” 

Highlands East 

“There needs to be a considerable amount of change in the way council thinks.” Asked what she meant, she said, “how they’re looking at things. Instead of basically sitting there, policies and everything, start listening to the people and bringing more of that stuff into the council meetings. I just figured there needs to be more conversations between the community members and the council.” Asked how she would bring that about, Ellis said, “I would encourage all the councillors to listen to everybody and don’t brush them off. If it sounds like something that the rest of us on council need to hear, bring it forward. Everybody’s open to new ideas and let’s all explore everything.” She said the biggest challenge is post-COVID recovery. 

Cheryl Ellis the candidate 

“With human resource management, it’s all trained skills that would really be an asset to this position. I know what goes into road maintenance. I was also a volunteer firefighter. I have a feel for how municipalities are run. I have lot of ideas. I would like to see some way to keep our young families in the area. If we keep our young families, we keep our schools, we keep our stores, we keep our towns alive.” Asked how she would do that, she said, “we need more jobs.” How would she help create them? “I think we should go back to the old days. Whenever you could, you only hired within the municipality in which you lived. I know it sounds like discrimination, but there’s still countries that do it. If you’re not a resident there, they’re not giving you a job.” She would also like to see more incentives for training and transportation. “I don’t have experience sitting there and listening and approving and all that, but whenever they start talking finances or grants or legislation, road improvements any of that stuff, I understand a lot. My areas of expertise are more hands-on.”