Central Manitoulin candidates square off in Providence Bay

Central Manitoulin Councillor Alex Baran moderates the all candidates’ meeting at the Providence Bay Community Hall last Wednesday night. Three candidates vying for the two seats in each of Central Manitoulin’s Wards 1 and 2 are joined by Rainbow District School Board trustee candidate Linda Erskine, right, and Fern Patterson, spokesperson for Rainbow District School Board trustee candidate Margaret Stringer. photo by Michael Erskine

PROVIDENCE BAY—Moderator Alex Baran (a Central Manitoulin councillor who is not running in the October 22 municipal election) gave a brief outline of the voting procedure in Central Manitoulin before introducing the candidates taking part in an all-candidates meeting held 7 pm at the Providence Bay Community Centre on Wednesday, September 12.

Mayor Richard Stephens was in attendance, but as he is acclaimed in his position, he did not take part in the debate. There are three wards in Central Manitoulin and two councillors are elected in each. Councillor Linda Farquhar has been acclaimed and there is one vacancy in Ward 3 which will be likely be appointed by council following the election. In each of Ward 1 and Ward 2 there are three people running for the two available seats.

Councillor Baran noted that the Municipality of Central Manitoulin utilizes a mail-in ballot system, but that if someone does not receive their ballot, electors can go into the municipal office. “You will need photo ID with your name on it as well as your address,” he noted.

In addition to the Central Manitoulin candidates, candidates for Rainbow District School Board were also invited to the session. Linda Erskine was in attendance, but Margaret Stringer was unable to attend. Ms. Stringer sent a representative to the meeting to speak on her behalf. Former Central Manitoulin principal Fern Patterson read a statement from Ms. Stringer. See this Friday’s Recorder for a report on the trustee portion of the meeting.

There are three candidates running in each of Wards 1 and 2.

The first candidate to speak was David Gilchrist of Spring Bay who is running for Ward 2 (Campbell) councillor. Mr. Gilchrist relayed his strong military experience as where he obtained his straightforward approach and noted the electrical tickets he obtained from his time in the service.

Mr. Gilchrist said he is committed to bring the electors’ concerns to council and said he was looking to the community to “direct where you want me to go.” The candidate noted that his phone number is in the phone book and he invited electors to “phone me anytime with your concerns.”

Incumbent Ward 1 councillor Dale Scott, a retired veterinarian, thanked the audience for coming out and noted that he has been honoured to serve the community as a councillor over the last four years. “I have enjoyed it very much,” he said.

Married with four grown daughters, Mr. Scott said that his experience as a family man and the operator of a small business, as well as his time on volunteer boards and as a member of the Lions Club, have been great assets in conducting his duties.

Mr. Scott’s priorities include a passion for assisted living. “So many of our elderly need assisted living,” he said. “Some have had to move away from the community.” While the seniors’ housing in the community is a start, Mr. Scott said much more needs to be done. He also listed the landfill situation in the community as a concern that will need to be dealt with and cited the need to create efficiencies in municipal operations—a process the current council has already started with the hiring of a specialized company to assess town assets. “We also need to keep taxation under control,” he said. “I ask myself ‘is it good for the community and is it worthwhile to spend taxpayers’ money on’?” He said that he makes it a policy to not let his own feelings take precedence over those of his constituents.

Ward 2 candidate Angela Johnston (nee McDermid) was born and raised in Central Manitoulin but moved away for school and work. Her first stop was Guelph after leaving the Island, and also lived in various other cities (Calgary, AB, London, ON and Ottawa, ON) before returning to the Island in 2011. She said she believes her experience of living in other communities helps her to understand different ways of doing things.

Married with two sons, Ms. Johnston said she believes she would bring the voice of a parent with young children to the council table, a demographic she believes would be an important asset.

Ward 2 candidate John Bisaillon has been a resident of Providence Bay for the past four years, but has spent many summers over the past 37-odd years in the community where his five children have enjoyed their summer breaks.

“I know Providence Bay and the local interests,” he assured the audience, noting that he was very familiar with Mindemoya as well. “I intend to better our communities,” said Mr. Bisaillon, adding that both Providence Bay and Mindemoya have important and complementary roles to play in the well-being of Central Manitoulin—“both at the same time.”

Mr. Bisaillon has worked in the construction industry and he said that he felt that his experience will serve well in dealing with important infrastructure, citing such efficiencies as LED lighting as examples. “There is a better way of doing things,” he asserted. “I can offer my experience to make things better.”

He cited a “home for the elderly” as a priority, noting that the community has an aging population. “It is something we have to address,” said Mr. Bisaillon. Another pressing priority is the town’s infrastructure. “Roads and infrastructure,” he said. “You have expressed a lot of issues about roads to me.”

But Mr. Bisaillon noted that he wanted to acknowledge “what you can and can’t do with the tax dollars. It is costly to upgrade a road.”

Ward 2 incumbent Derek Stephens said that “it is good to see a good crowd coming out tonight. I want to say thank you to the folks running for councillor. It is a challenging position.”

Mr. Stephens cited his 27 years on the local fire department and his work in the long-term care industry. “I decided I wanted to represent my community,” he said. “As a council we have tried and tried to bring assisted living to the community,” he said. “Far too many people in the North are in nursing homes that don’t need to be there (if there were more supports in place to live at home). We do have irons in the fire, hopefully we will soon see something come to fruition.”

“I look forward to serving the municipality for another term,” he concluded.

Ward 2 candidate Steve Shaffer and his wife Lise live in the community and have “five children and six grandchildren” between them. Mr. Shaffer was raised in Spring Bay and went to school in the old Providence Bay school as well as the Mindemoya Old School.

Although many people may know Mr. Shaffer as the post master, he notes that he has retired from that position. But he pointed to his experience as a senior administrator, serving five years in Ottawa as a senior manager involved in process simplification.

He has also been very involved in minor hockey.

Mr. Shaffer admitted that he has been a vocal member of the community, often challenging decisions that have been made and that he would like an opportunity to be the voice of the people.

A key part of his platform involves simplification of communication and making things easier for businesses to prosper in the community. “We need to be fiscally responsible,” noted Mr. Shaffer.

In the question period following the candidate statements, former Central Manitoulin reeve Perry Anglin was first out of the gate with a question concerning the fate of the Mindemoya Old School building. Mr. Anglin distributed a copy of the question to the media when it was determined that the format did not fit that of the debate.

Following a preamble that describes the Mindemoya Old School as “a part of our local history and was important in the history of education in Ontario” and noting that council has applied for federal funding, Mr. Anglin’s question was: “Whether you will promise to keep the Old School if it can pay for itself with perhaps a minimal support from the township such as covering its insurance?’” Mr. Anglin’s question continued on to note that another option for council “is to designate it as a heritage building and putting it up for sale on condition that it not be torn down. “Will you promise to support one of those options, or would you rather have council level the Old School and use the ground to build some modern facility in Mindemoya?”

Councillor Stephens noted that his concern over the Old School building is that there are “too many repairs needed to go on” and that those costs were pegged in the range of “about a million dollars.”

But Councillor Stephens did note that the current council has set up a committee to try and find a way forward and said that he would support any fiscally sound and sustainable solution found by the committee.

Mr. Gilchrist wondered if it was in the council’s power to dispose of the property.

Mr. Bissaillon noted that he had been “caught at the Farmers’ Market” on that issue. He noted that as an “elevated building” it would be difficult to repurpose the building in a cost effective manner. He voiced a preference to have the private sector find a solution “rather than the taxpayer.” The alternative, he noted, would likely be to tear the building down and replace it with a modern facility.

Mr. Gilchrist noted that selling the building would bring in tax dollars to the municipality.

A question aimed at Councillor Scott asked about the form any “efficiencies” would take that council might find.

Councillor Scott noted that any major decision would likely be foreshadowed by a public meeting, but that he did not see a single move, rather a series of actions that would see more cost effective operations.

“I have always been an advocate of town hall meetings,” interjected Councillor Stephens. He cautioned that if the new Ontario government takes a page out of the former Harris government, municipalities may find any grants few and far between, while downloading may once again become a serious concern for municipalities.

Mr. Gilchrist suggested putting questions directly to the electors on a ballot.

Councillor Baran explained that putting questions on a ballot has serious time constraints and that the timeframe for this election had passed.

When Mr. Gilchrist asked why questions are not placed routinely on the ballot Councillor Stephens rejoined “because it would take four years to make a decision.”

Jan McQuay asked about the candidates’ concept of the future of Wagg’s Wood.

Mr. Bissaillon noted that he had the opportunity to discuss the question at length at the Farmers’ Market. He responded that he believed that the community should have parks. ‘I come from a community with a lot of parks,” he said. He noted that Wagg’s Wood is “relatively pristine” and that “you have to maintain what you have got.”

Mr. Bisaillon noted that some things must be covered out of the public purse because of the value they have for the community, using arenas as an example.

One gentleman identified as “Steve” suggested that council should lobby the federal government for a Canadian Coast Guard facility in Providence Bay, noting that while money has been spent on the east and west coasts, there has been virtually nothing spent on the Great Lakes.

“Good question,” responded Councillor Stephens. “I don’t think it has ever been thought of before. There was a plan many years ago that looked at the benefits of a port here, but nothing has really been talked about since.”

Ms. McQuay brought up the question of affordable housing in general for lower income families.

Mr. Basaillon noted that neither Providence Bay nor Spring Bay have the infrastructure that would tend to support an assisted living facility, but Mindemoya was better suited. “There is nothing the matter with Mindemoya being the centre,” he suggested.

An audience member referred to as Roxanne wanted to know if the candidates favoured “going forward or going backwards.”

Mr. Gilchrist said that he did not “want to re-invent the wheel.” He noted that he had seen a lot of new lieutenants come into a unit in the military and “want to drop everything.”

Mr. Bisaillon said that he wanted to “take a different slant” to the question. He noted that most of the construction work that he had been involved in during his career was municipal in origin. He noted that there is a lot of balancing that must take place in making decisions as to what infrastructure work gets done. But he added that a lot of the concerns that he had heard in his canvassing of the community centred around very small projects that mean a lot to the local neighbourhood.

Lyle Dewar noted that Blue Road and Monument Road were in terrible shape and that with the poor work done to the highway by the Ministry of Transportation many more people were using those roads in order to avoid the highway.

“I have been a major proponent of Blue Road and Monument Road,” said Councillor Stephens, joking that if it were not for being where the mayor lived the work would have been long complete. “There are plans to get Blue Road done,” Councilllor Stephens assured Mr. Dewar, adding that he was in favour of getting the work on Monument Road done as well.

Maja Mielonen, the driving force behind Manitoulin Island Cycling Associates brought up the poor condition of the tar and chip, noting that 6,000 cycling tourists make the trip to the Island each year. It was generally agreed that the materials need to be improved.

Questions were then raised about the emergency measures in the community, noting that many seniors could not drive to the warming shelters set up by the municipality.

Councillor Scott agreed that it was an issue and Mr. Shaffer said that emergency planning was “one of my interests.”

Challenged to bring a sense of vision to the meeting by Ms. Mielonen, Councillor Stephens noted that he would like to see both the Old School and the Community Centre in Mindemoya replaced by an energy efficient accessible building that could better meet the needs of the community.

Following a couple of statements by audience members on what they would like to see in the community, each of the candidates gave a closing statement that reiterated their main campaign approach.