Manitoulin Votes 2018: Meet your candidates in the Township of Billings

stock photo

Candidates for mayor

Ian Anderson

by Warren Schlote

BILLINGS—“I’m committed to ensuring Billings remains a good place to live for you, me, and your family,” says Ian Anderson, who is running for the top seat in Billings township in the upcoming municipal election.

He has lived on Manitoulin Island for 45 years, with 43 of those spent in Billings township. “We’re one of the few townships on Manitoulin where our population is actually increasing, and there’s a reason for that,” he says, adding that past councils have been good at taking care of the community and that Kagawong has been named one of Ontario’s prettiest villages.

“I support that and think we are,” he says. “Billings has been a great place to live and I want to ensure it stays at that level.”

Mr. Anderson is new to municipal council but he has been a public servant for many years. He worked as a conservation officer on Manitoulin for 36 years and has been involved with volunteer firefighting and the recreation committee.

“I’ve spent my life listening to the concerns of people; listening is a very important part of the public servant’s job and one of the most important aspects of the role of mayor,” says Mr. Anderson.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Anderson says the most pressing issue that he hears repeatedly concerns the township’s roads.

“Without question, everyone I spoke to wants to make sure the roads are safe and well-maintained. That’s no surprise, because that’s one of the fundamental things tax dollars go towards in most places,” says Mr. Anderson.

Some of Mr. Anderson’s other priorities include ensuring the township’s fire protection abilities stay at good levels, ensuring taxpayers are updated in a timely fashion on capital projects occurring in the township and having local needs heard when dealing with governments. He says he wants to balance infrastructure improvements that benefit all citizens equally, and those that mainly benefit those in either Kagawong or the surrounding rural area.

Mr. Anderson says he has a wish list of what a mayor should do. It includes being an effective communicator, working well in a team environment and being a facilitator to ensure meetings run “smoothly, efficiently and effectively.”

He says he is also a strong supporter of the library, museum and township recreation programs but also believes in “ensuring Billings taxpayers get good services with a reasonable tax burden.”

“I’m committed to listening to and acting on the concerns of residents of Billings Township, within our financial ability,” says Mr. Anderson.

Barb Erskine

by Warren Schlote

BILLINGS—“Open, accountable, effective.”

Those are the three words Barb Erskine uses to describe her platform to become mayor of Billings Township.

“What I mean by ‘open’ is increasing the level of communication between the township and the taxpayer,” says Ms. Erskine. By that, she says she wants to get a more user-friendly website and publish quarterly reports about progress on township projects and inform residents on upcoming activities.

“I promise to deliver accurate information and updates. That should improve community engagement and, hopefully, interest in involvement in our community and in the discussion of issues,” she says.

For accountability, Ms. Erskine says she hopes to set short- and long-term priorities for infrastructure issues the township is aware of, based on a facility condition assessment report from December 2017.

“We need to get together, mayor and council, and look at priorities of what will come first. We have some serious decision-making to do,” says Ms. Erskine.

In terms of effectiveness, Ms. Erskine says she wants to keep council focused on meeting goals from the township’s strategic plan. She says the township’s strategic plan runs between 2018 and 2021 and includes things such as infrastructure repair priorities. Ms. Erskine says she wants to establish annual goals for decision-making and track the progress on the strategic plan in terms of infrastructure issues and economic development, while always working to preserve the environment.

Ms. Erskine is currently serving in her first term on Billings council and has been involved with a number of committees. She is the chair of the recreation committee, had started the Go Green committee, was involved with the Canada 150 committee and various subcomittees within that award-winning initiative.

The most pressing issue Ms. Erskine hopes to deal with is setting priorities in terms of infrastructure work.

“I want to take the infrastructure committee and bring it to the next term, really define what our schedule of meetings is going to be, define our membership and get started on renewing facility assessment and its implications,” she says.

One of Ms. Erskine’s key interests is interacting with her constitutents.

“I want to make that connection with the residents and the taxpayers,” she says, adding that she hopes to grow Billings’ volunteer base.

“Any community could always use more volunteers and what I’m talking about specifically is committee work, which requires a bit of an extra commitment,” she says.

Ms. Erskine says she feels ready to take on the top job in the township.

“I look forward to a challenge and I think this is going to be a really good one,” she says. “It looks like there’s going to be a number of new faces on council; that’s exciting too.”

Marg Tuomi

by Tom Sasvari

BILLINGS—Fiscal responsibility is at the forefront of Margaret Tuomi’s campaign. The former councillor said, “I want to make sure we take care of and manage the ratepayers’ money in the best possible way for all residents of the township. So fiscal responsibility, accountability and honest open discussion is what I would focus on as mayor.”

Billings township covers a vast area and is not just the Village of Kagawong, said Ms. Tuomi. “We have boat launches that need repair or replacement, roads in poor condition, a high cost of water for residents, a fire department that needs to be brought up to standard, infrastructure requirements and bridges that need to be replaced. Our municipal water system is old and more and more homes are being built, putting more demand on the system, so we need to be planning and saving to replace lines, repair leaks and find a way to increase the number of users. We need to be planning for the problems associated with a waste site closure.”

“We need to work as a team and be ready with plans and costs in place to apply for funding as it becomes available from government for municipal projects,” continued Ms. Tuomi.

“I am very concerned with the low water levels everywhere, but especially concerned with Lake Kagawong,” said Ms. Tuomi. “The water levels of Lake Kagawong are supposed to be controlled. We need to find solid solutions to these problems and monitoring carried out on a regular basis.”

Ms. Tuomi noted her education consisted of a diploma in Accounting Finance, a degree in Business Management, a certificate in Customer Service, the council and heads of council training courses through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), a certificate of Community Emergency Management Coordinator Course and a certificate in Adjudication for Administrative Boards. Her experience consists of seven years on Billings council, (a three-year term and a four-year term), acting as deputy reeve in the second term. She served 10 years on the Council of Nurses of Ontario, chairing several committees and discipline hearings and is now retired from the College of Nurses. She spent three years on the Manitoulin-Sudbury Community Care Access Board and many years on the Western Manitoulin Royal  Canadian Legion executive. She has spent the past 25 years working as  an accountant, tax preparer, consultant and is now semi-retired.

Ms. Tuomi noted, “we will be walking into two major projects that are set to move forward in the summer of 2019. We need to be prepared and we need to repair and replace infrastructure instead of putting bandages on problems.

“My husband and I chose to live in this township 33 years ago and as a team we built a wonderful home and property and made many great friends,” said Ms. Tuomi.

She added, “most of the people on Manitoulin enjoy the beauty of the rocks, trees and starlit sky, so you can ask yourself what amount of change do you want? In the words of the old Joni Mitchell song, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone—paved paradise put up a parking lot.”

Candidates for council

Sharon Alkenbrack

by Michael Erskine

BILLINGS—Sharon Alkenbrack is running for the position of councillor in Billings Township. Ms. Alkenbrack was first appointed to the Billings council in 2014 to fill a seat that had become vacant.

“I love our community,” said Ms. Alkenbrack as to why she is seeking to retain her council seat. “I have been in the community for about 30 years, we moved here in 1992 and I have been active for many years in working to improve the community.”

Ms. Alkenbrack has spent a great deal of time on the board of the Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) which she notes is “now financially in good shape.”

“The waterfront project is one of my main priorities,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. “I feel it is really important to have it upgraded and to plan for that. We are a big tourist area. I am not a big water person myself, but there are a lot of people who are.” The waterfront is one key area where the community can leverage its assets to maximum potential.

“One of the big issues I see is the Lake Kagawong water levels and the power generation plant,” she said. While the water use is an agreement between the Ministry and Oakville Power, “people on the lake are not part of that. We have to be involved in that. We have to ensure folks have the water they need.”

Parking issues are also on Ms. Alkenbrack’s radar, especially at Bridal Veil Falls. “We have established new guidelines and met with Staff Sergeant Mike Patterson (Gore Bay) and we intend to meet with the OPP again. We have to maintain community safety.” So far the council’s efforts have proven to be partially successful, she notes, but there is still an ongoing issue there.

“We need to make sure that we maintain the community’s green spaces and to be good environmental stewards,” said Ms. Alkenbrack.

She also identified the need to “be cost effective and maintain the public buildings in the community and its infrastructure.”

“Road issues are one thing that keeps coming up,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. The route into the village is one that is of particular concern and the town will need to access funding to help offset the cost of that work.

“For me personally, I am running because I love the area,” she said. “There are changes, that’s inevitable, but there has to be development with wisdom. We need to maintain the essence of who we are and to do that I want to maintain the quality of where we are.”

Bryan Barker

by Michael Erskine

BILLINGS—Bryan Barker’s parents first came to Billings more than 50 years ago and immediately fell in love with Manitoulin, a passion they passed on to their son. “I found the Island to be an enchanting and charming place,” he said. “It is not hard to understand why people return to the Island year after year. Mr. Barker (“that’s Barker with a B,” he laughs, referring to the similarity of his name to that of a current councillor who is not running this election) lives on Lakeshore Road in Kagawong with his wife Susan. His three grown children live all across the province but come home regularly. “They consider Manitoulin their home away from home,” he said.

Mr. Barker retired from over 30 years in law enforcement and then took up the role of instructor at the Ontario Police College. “My career as a police officer has given me the tools to tackle the challenges of office,” he said. “Over my tenure as a police officer I was responsible for setting policies and procedures, preparing budgets, managing staff, case management, developing operational plans, taking part in the preparation of a five-year strategic business plan and setting service goals and objectives,” he said. “I also interacted with officials from municipal, provincial and federal governments.”

His community involvement includes the Gore Bay and District Fish and Game Club, an Angel Bus volunteer, the Providence Bay Curling Club, the Caledonia Lions Club (where he was past president and past secretary), a volunteer firefighter, since retired, the Board of Directors of Children’s Aid Society, the board of directors of Project Concern (past service), volunteered throughout the years in various minor sports (hockey, soccer and baseball) on the board of directors, coaching and/or as a trainer. He is also a certified instructor/examiner of the Canadian Firearms Safety Program and Ontario Hunter Education Program.

“Our community has a certain charm and I, as a resident, would hate to see that charm fade away through unnecessary change for the sake of change,” noted Mr. Barker. “However, I do believe that we, as a community, must be progressive and efficient to protect that charm.”

Mr. Barker said that council also “has to ensure transparency in our elected officials and know that they are doing the best possible job for the community.”

“Tax dollars must be spent responsibly in areas that benefit the entire community,” continued Mr. Barker. “You should expect an efficient and productive council that can get the job done in an effective and timely manner.”

“I believe in open and positive communication and as councillor I will make sure that the constituents of Billings Township, as stakeholders, are kept informed,” he said. “I will make myself available and work with people to ensure that their concerns are addressed. I believe in community partnerships and encourage input from community groups, businesses and all residents, both full time and seasonal.”

When it comes to concerns, Mr. Barker said that he is committed to seeing that “your tax dollars are spent responsibly, to get the best bang for your buck and to efficiently use existing tax dollars.”

“We also need to ensure that all Billings Township employees, residents and visitors are kept safe and risk free by maintaining roads, township buildings and beaches. Developing an effective strategic plan to ensure that visitor parking at Bridal Veil Falls is addressed, to ensure safety and reduce the liability risk.”

Paul Darlaston

by Warren Schlote

BILLINGS—“I want to see fairness, balance, and the decisions made by council getting good value for money,” says Paul Darlaston, Township of Billings council candidate.

Mr. Darlaston has worked in IT and consulting throughout his career. He has worked with the central Ontario municipalities of New Tecumseth and Aurora and has served as president of a provincial Liberal riding association. He is currently a board member with Manitoulin Family Resources.

If elected, some of Mr. Darlaston’s priorities are to be smarter about managing tax revenues, to increase openness and transparency and evaluate the way Billings residents are represented.

“Anyone in the outlying areas says the only time they go to Kagawong is to pick up mail or collect their taxes so they don’t seem to get much benefit for their taxes,” he says.

Mr. Darlaston says he would be open to holding a referendum over whether or not Billings should adopt a ward system to ensure council representation from areas outside Kagawong.

He also says that maintaining strong relationships with other levels of government will be important in the coming years, given the strong relationships outgoing mayor Aus Hunt has built during his years in office.

As to the highest-priority job as part of a new council, Mr. Darlaston says an evaluation is critical.

“I hope the incoming council, with whoever is mayor, sits down with the priorities from the outgoing council and assesses them,” he says.

Ultimately, says Mr. Darlaston, the way a candidate can be successful in any election is by reaching voters in three key areas: their heads, their hearts, and their guts.

For the head, he says all plans must be clear and make rational sense. In their hearts, he says voters must choose a candidate who is disciplined enough to make decisions that will benefit the whole community. In their gut, he says people should be able to trust their candidates to be true to their word.

Michael Hunt

by Michael Erskine

BILLINGS—Township of Billings candidate for municipal council Michael Hunt is following in the footsteps of an august legacy, being the son of Canada’s longest serving municipal politician Austin Hunt, who recently retired, but he has a clear and concise reason for running for a council seat.

“Basically, I am trying to help out the people of my community,” he said. “That is why I am running as a representative on council.”

Mr. Hunt said that, like his father before him, he has lived his entire life in the community and, like his father, he has worked in the local post office. “It is a great place to meet people,” he agreed. “I have gotten to know just about everybody over the years.”

Mr. Hunt has a knack for listening to what people are saying to him and thinking about what they are saying before replying, but he is anything but unapproachable. “I am pretty easy going,” he said. “People don’t seem to have a problem talking to me.”

What people are telling him is pretty straight forward. “I am going to try and keep taxes down in our township,” he said. “On council you are responsible for people’s money, so it is important to pay attention to how you spend it. You have to make sure you are getting the best deal for the people you are representing.”

Of the challenges facing the community, Mr. Hunt was characteristically diplomatic. “It’s hard to say,” he admitted. “The upgrading of the waterfront is an important issue and we have a lot of great things that people like about our community. We need to make sure we keep them up.”

Mr. Hunt noted that a lot of what attracts tourists to the region is also what the people who live here on a more permanent basis, as summer residents or full time, like. “People are proud of the historical part of the village,” he said, “and the tourists who come here enjoy it as well. We need to protect those parts of the community that help make us special.”

Part of that commitment to the community involves maintaining the parks, beaches and boat landings, but also in holding onto the stock of public property that the community enjoys.

“You have an asset,” he said. “To liquidate that asset to pay off debts will only come back to bite you later. It’s better to not get into that financial difficulty in the first place.”

Mr. Hunt said that he recognizes the importance of continuing to apply for grants for community projects, but with an important caveat. Sometimes you do need to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“It’s okay if the grant is paying for the whole project, but you have to look closely at those projects where there is a significant portion that falls on the town,” he said. “You have to decide if this is something that the town needs and wants enough to justify the spending.” Both now and in the future costs of maintaining the ongoing cost of a project. “Sure it might look like a great deal, but it still leaves the township with carrying costs.”

Sandi Hurcomb

by Warren Schlote

BILLINGS—Sandi Hurcomb’s bid for council in Billings can be summarized in two words: “Forward momentum.”

“I’m not running on so much of a platform; I believe in being community-oriented and believe the township has the capacity to move forward. However, it has to be in a matter that’s fiscally responsible for everyone. That doesn’t mean taxes shouldn’t be raised, but it will all be based on our community capacity,” says Ms. Hurcomb.

She had served on council from 2010 to 2014, saying, “I don’t come in without past experience.”

Ms. Hurcomb has owned a number of businesses with her husband and is looking to open three more in the future. She worked for the board of education for 20 years and her family has roots on the island dating back a century.

She says she is not afraid to speak up for her constituents. “I offer a strong opinion, when I offer one. I’m not wishy-washy in any way—people know that about me,” says Ms. Hurcomb.

One of the issues Ms. Hurcomb cares about is continuing to advance the harbour improvements. She says in general, Billings has made really good improvements in the past few years with initiatives such as the playground equipment.

“I’d like to see properties owned by the township used in more of a public fashion, says Ms. Hurcomb. “Like the acreage beside the river purchased last year, I’d like to see it turned into an exercise trail, off-leash area, something more user-friendly.

Ms. Hurcomb says she supports the history of Billings while also trying to move forward to make improvements.

“I’m a firm believer in holding onto history, keeping it alive, but at the same time moving forward to give people new reasons to come to Kagawong,” she says.

Ms. Hurcomb says she recognizes the unique challenges in managing a township the size of Billings.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of people with different needs; I’m satisfied as long as everyone is included in the process as much as possible. More public participation is something I’d definitely want to focus on across the entire township.”

Sharon Jackson

by Warren Schlote

BILLINGS—Sharon Jackson says she believes in a council that is “fair for one, fair for all.” She is running for a council seat in Billings for the first time.

Ms. Jackson has been on the rec committee for eight years and now serves as its treasurer. She is part of the Go Green committee and has been the secretary and chair/president of the Manitoulin Community Living Association’s board of directors.

“There is no one more passionate about this community than I am. I was born and raised here,” says Ms. Jackson.  “I have lived in many communities on the Island and in cities like Sudbury and Mississauga. I chose to come back here and live here.”

She says her family has been involved with the community for generations, with her grandfather serving on council and her father working as roads superintendent for 15 years.

The highest priority for Ms. Jackson is managing the lake level, based on an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) report that a power company has been noncompliant with its operations on Lake Kagawong.

“Our council is taking action to take them to task on that, so that’s a step in the right direction,” she says.

Ms. Jackson says the general consensus she has heard from people is about the importance of having safe, well-maintained roads, while also keeping taxes low.

“People want to get the best ‘bang for their buck’, and we will make sure any money the township spends on any potential future projects is … something that’s not going to be a huge burden on taxpayers,” she says.

“We need to move forward and progress, but do it as funds permit.”

Ms. Jackson says she operates under a theme of ABC: accountability, balance and commitment to community pride.

For accountability, she says she will listen to constituents and make sure their concerns are heard. Under balance, Ms. Jackson says she will support both year-round and seasonal businesses, noting that an auditor’s report called Billings healthy, financially, for which she gives the current staff and council credit.

She says Billings, and specifically the village of Kagawong, are held in high esteem in many areas and she will promote initiatives for all ages, maintain historical and environmental integrity of the region and fill service gaps.

“I’m a long-term thinker. We need to build for the future and always be looking forward,” says Ms. Jackson.

Eric Parsons

by Michael Erskine

BILLINGS—Eric Parsons is running for the position of councillor in the Township of Billings.

“I like to be involved in the community,” he said of his decision to run for council.

He said that he sees the biggest concern for the community as being the waterfront, specifically waterfront development.

“We are the only one lacking,” said Mr. Parsons. “We have one of the best sailing ports on the North Channel and with the development of the waterfront we could energize new business.” Business expansion is a key element in his approach to council business. “With new businesses expanding the town’s tax base, everyone in the township will benefit,” he said.

Mr. Parsons lived in Capreol, just north of Sudbury for 30 years and he began his working career in business and finance, working for 18 years in the finance industry before settling into the last 28 years in the retail auto business as part of Muzzuca Motors.

With two children and five grandchildren Mr. Parsons has been attracted to Manitoulin for over 30 years, coming here since 1975 and owning a cottage here since 1985.

“We turned the cottage into a retirement home last fall,” he said.

When it comes to the issues facing the community Mr. Parsons quickly identified roads and road maintenance as a main bread and butter issue in the community.

“In talking to people, it seems that roads are a big concern,” he said.

In addition to the aforementioned focus on bringing in more business to the community he noted that Billings is a growing community and that there needs to be more to be done for youth.

“You have to keep the kids involved,” he said. “If they have nothing to do, well, they will go looking for things to do.” It is best to ensure that the things that are most accessible to youth are constructive and beneficial to both their development and that of the community, he noted.

“I believe the township should have an open-door policy that will bring all matters to a resolution,” said Mr. Parsons.

“I promise to work hard for all of the citizens of Billings Township,” he said.

Mr. Parsons said that he was very interested in getting involved in the financial aspects of the municipality to “make the best use we can of the finances and to access the grants that are available” to improve the community and its infrastructure.