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Former NHL player Keith Acton looking to challenge scandal-ridden Stouffville mayor

A former NHL player and coach is running for mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., promising to “bring respect back” to an office that has played host to one of the strangest recent scandals in Ontario politics.

Keith Acton is a Stouffville native and former centre in the 1980s and 90s for the Montreal Canadiens and other NHL teams, and later an assistant coach for, among others, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Throughout his NHL career, he maintained a home in Stouffville and continues to live there. He said he considered a run in the previous election, but the town’s political “dysfunction” this time around pushed him to enter the Oct. 22 race.

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“We’re bleeding and suffering in so many ways,” he said. “We’re bleeding from a respect standpoint, we’re suffering from a credibility standpoint.”

Last year, details emerged about Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann’s office washroom – specifically, an old-school detective-style wall filled with photos of local politicians, reporters and local residents, complete with arrows connecting them. Many of those featured on the wall have spoken out, saying they are “disturbed,” “shocked” and “creeped out.”

A memo submitted to town council by Mr. Altmann’s lawyer said it was “simply a mind-mapping exercise” to help with an investigation the mayor was conducting into harassment he said he was facing, and that Mr. Altmann never intended for it to become public.

Mr. Altmann told CBC News he is a visual learner and that the wall was his way of looking into the “monstrous” bullying he endured during his campaign and time in office. He is running for re-election.

Council ordered Mr. Altmann to apologize for the map in December, 2017, but he refused. As a result of a report from the town’s integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig, councillors docked Mr. Altmann six months’ pay in March of this year and barred him from speaking to his staff in person or entering his office except to collect mail or attend council meetings.

Other than Mr. Acton and Mr. Altmann, three others are in the race for mayor. Phil Bannon, who narrowly lost the previous race to Mr. Altmann in 2014 by 359 votes; Anand Daté, a local businessman; and lain Lovatt, a town councillor.

Exactly what will be in Mr. Acton’s platform is a “good question,” he said. He’ll wait to announce his plans for issues such as the town’s budget and infrastructure until after he is actually elected, he said.

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He did promise better fiscal responsibility, mentioning the more than $200,000 the town has spent on integrity investigations into the scandal since it broke.

Although Mr. Acton is a political neophyte, he will have the support of conservative political strategist Jim Burnett, who is serving as his campaign chair, and the endorsement of long-time friend and Progressive Conservative MPP for Markham-Stouffville, Paul Calandra.

Mr. Acton said his first task if elected will be boosting morale in a municipal building that has seen a slew of resignations since Mr. Altmann’s election, including the integrity commissioner herself. “These people that work for our community, they need a boost,” he said. “They need some hope.”

For the time being, Mr. Acton said he’s trying not to focus on external challenges or the other mayoral hopefuls, but on putting together his team for the campaign.

“Again, I come back to my hockey career,” he said, “and it’s focused on how we’re playing – not so much on the opponents.”

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