Newly-appointed St. Stephen deputy mayor looking forward to the future

ST. STEPHEN – Ghislaine Wheaton wasn’t expecting to become the new deputy mayor of St. Stephen, but that’s exactly what happened for the longtime town councillor. Wheaton said in other elections, the deputy mayor was selected based on whichever councillor received the most votes. But, as council was acclaimed, the role was determined by the mayor and council.

“We voted. It was a secret ballot amongst the councillors and the mayor. I was appointed, I guess,” said Wheaton.

Wheaton said she is going to continue to work along with council as she always has, and will be there to do other duties when Mayor Allan MacEachern is unavailable. For instance, Wednesday, June 16, Mayor MacEachern was unavailable to be at the grand opening of the new Dairy Queen, so Wheaton stepped in on his behalf, her first function as deputy mayor. She said each councillor has their own responsibilities, as does she, and they will continue to work on those duties, and others as things arise.

“I will continue to do what I was doing before,” said Wheaton. “I like to be present for all events in the town. My main mandate was tourism and promotion. There have been changes. I still will be part of that, but we officially had our first meeting the other night. It was a very short meeting to appoint the deputy mayor, and there was other business to get done that was left over from the previous council.”

Wheaton, who moved from Saint Quentin to Milltown with her family when she was nine-years-old, said she didn’t speak a word of English at first. She said things were different for her here, considering before moving she was surrounded by many extended family members, and after moving to St. Stephen, it was just her immediate family. But, she came to love St. Stephen and has lived and worked here ever since, first as principal of the St. Stephen Elementary School, and then as a town councillor.

“I did grow-up in the Milltown area,” said Wheaton. “After that, when my husband and I got married, we moved to Mayfield. I worked in St. Stephen. I worked at the school my whole career. Seven years ago we moved into town. We’ve been a lot of places. St. Stephen is a great place to live, and we want to keep it that way.”

When she learned she had been nominated to be deputy mayor, Wheaton said she felt a bit nervous, wondering if she is really up for the job. But, she said she has learned a lot over the last five years that she has been a councillor and she has enjoyed every minute of it. She hopes to be able to continue with her projects now that she is deputy mayor, and said she has really learned how to adapt to many changes, both expected and unexpected. For instance, she said the process of dealing with issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic was unexpected, but they managed to adapt and learn.

“That’s something that you would never learn out of books or somebody else doing it,” said Wheaton. “Even with the pandemic, it changes your priorities. I know that the world is changing, so we have to accommodate the world for what’s coming.

“A lot of jobs are done by computers, so people don’t really have to be in the big cities to do their jobs. We have to make sure that they can get around here in St. Stephen, to make stuff accessible. I just have a feeling with the pandemic we’re going to have to help the businesses. A lot of them suffered in the pandemic, and people lost their jobs. I think we do have our work cut out, trying to help the people of St. Stephen and move forward.”

While the election was held on May 10, no one was officially elected until May 25 when the entire province was able to fulfill their election duties. Wheaton said during those two weeks, council was unable to do much, but they will now be having their first official meeting on June 30. They have had three orientation sessions, with all councillors and town staff members present, to set their priorities and make plans for the coming four years.

“I’ll tell you, it was very, very well-planned,” said Wheaton. “We had a moderator on Zoom. We got to hear from everybody and hear everybody’s priority. We numbered them as to importance and it was really an eye opener and it was great. The plan that we have will be made public as soon as we have our first meeting.”

One of the bigger issues in the area right now is housing, or rather, lack of. Wheaton said this is definitely one of the priorities for the town, and it is an issue they have spoken about, along with many other issues. She said they never take anything lightly, because something that may not be a priority at the moment can quickly change to become a high priority, like COVID-19. She is looking forward to working with the mayor and council, as well as town staff, to deal with all issues, large and small.

“I’m really looking forward to the future, and I’m going to do my best. I do hope that people feel that I am available to them for whatever reason.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca