Manitoulin’s biggest municipal race, Assiginack, sees all candidates’ night

The Manitowaning Agricultural Society hosted the Assiginack all candidates’ night last Thursday evening at Assiginack Public School. photo by Alicia McCutcheon

MANITOWANING—All Assiginack’s candidates for mayor and six of its candidates for councillor attended the all candidates’ night hosted by the Manitowaning Agricultural Society at Assiginack Public School last Thursday night.

Chris Prosser was the master of ceremonies for the event, who first introduced the candidates for mayor, beginning with Mike Phillips.

Mr. Phillips explained that he was Manitowaning born and raised and continues to live in the community with his wife and two sons.

He began by noting that having 5 pm meetings of council is a concern for him. “People have a right to hear those meetings,” he said, going on to express concern by the fast turnaround of those meetings and seeming lack of debate.

Mr. Phillips said he believes there is currently a lack of accountability to taxpayers. “There doesn’t seem to be any real goals,” he said.

Mr. Phillips said, if elected, he would look at downsizing municipal properties, staffing, pointing to the continuous use of contractors when he believes that work can be done in-house, and more staff accountability.

“How are we attracting business and new people?” he questioned. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Mr. Phillips said he hopes to “rejuvenate a once-prosperous town. We need to be more accountable in all areas. We can’t afford not to.”

Mayor candidate Brenda Reid began by speaking of Assiginack as a great place to live, a small community with most of the benefits of a larger municipality, such as a health centre, arena, bank, grocery store, library and more.

Ms. Reid, who had completed several terms as a municipal councillor, explained to the crowd that most of Assiginack’s taxdollars are immediately spoken for, listing policing, the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB), the Rainbow District School Board, Manitoulin Centennial Manor and so much more. Ms. Reid reminded those in attendance that Assiginack’s mill rate has either remained the same or been lower in the past number of years.

She listed issues that she feels need to be ongoing and at the council table such as: the landfill and its shrinking life expectancy, noting the need for mandatory recycling; the new fire hall and a new budgeting strategy for it; and the resurfacing of hard-top roads.

“The most important things a good mayor can offer is experience and leadership,” she said, adding that conversing with taxpayers and encouraging honest and open discussion is also paramount.

Ms. Reid is also calling for more meetings of council and the naming of long- and short-term goals while keeping in mind the strategic plan.

First time candidate for the mayor’s job Rodney Deforge was next to speak. He shared that he was raised on Manitoulin, leaving as a young man but choosing to return to Manitowaning with his wife when they began having children, “because of the school.”

If elected, Mr. Deforge said he would first enact a Community Improvement Plan. As a former Manitowaning businessman with Barney’s Bargain Barn, he said it was hard to expand his business. Such a plan would include tax breaks to expand and grow.

He said he would also like to see an economic development officer hired who is proficient in grant writing. Mr. Deforge also said he would call for a staff audit if elected. “Do we need all the jobs that are in the office right now?” he questioned.

He also spoke of a youth committee that would report to council and would work with the goal of keeping youth living their lives in Assiginack in mind, “so they don’t leave like I had to.”

Incumbent mayor Paul Moffatt thanked the people for choosing him to lead them as mayor for the past eight years. He noted his background as the deputy fire chief in Oshawa, where he oversaw 200 personnel and was responsible for a budget of over $15 million.

Mr. Moffatt is president of the Lake Manitou Area Association, past chair of Manitoulin Streams, sits on the Manitoulin Planning Board, Manitoulin Municipal Association, Manitoulin East Municipal Airport, DSB, Provincial Offences Act committee and is currently the chair of the Manitoulin Centennial Manor board, he shared.

Being mayor, he said, has allowed him the opportunity to liaise with other councillors, reeves and mayors.

He explained to the crowd that a significant part of Assiginack’s taxes is already spoken for, naming the OPP, school board and DSB as a few examples.

Mr. Moffatt listed the library expansion, purchase of the new municipal building and accompanying lots, new sewage force main, public works building solar panels, LED streetlights and upgraded water systems in Manitowaning and Sunsite Estates as accomplishments in his time as mayor.

Former Assiginack Dave Ham was next to speak.

“I’ve been a businessman in Manitowaning for 55 years,” he said, noting his 18 years of combined municipal experience as councillor and reeve and 30 years with the LAMBAC board.

“Let’s get Assiginack moving again!” he enthused. “It seems to me we’ve moved in a backward direction and I want to see that change.”

Economic development is important to Mr. Ham, he explained, saying that perhaps a special Assiginack Economic Development Association could be formed.

Mr. Ham said he also believes that, “those on the south end of Assiginack deserve the same attention as those on the north end,” pointing to to the Rogers Creek bridge on the border of Tehkummah as being of special concern to him.

“It’s a bridge that’s been in the township for over 100 years,” Mr. Ham said. “I think it should be acknowledged as a heritage bridge,” he added to much applause from the audience.

Next to speak were the councillors for Assiginack, beginning with Bill Lafleur who was not in attendance. A special statement was read by Denis Villeneuve for him, which stated that he has been a resident of Assiginack for over 39 years and, “wants to see the town rebuilt” and would like to see the community, “the best it can be.”

Incumbent Hugh Moggy began by sharing that he has lived in Assiginack his whole life, calling himself a hardworking and dedicated community person who believes in the transparency of council and municipal staff.

Mr. Moggy has 43 years of experience on municipal council, 23 of those years were spent as reeve and 20 as councillor.

Currently, Mr. Moggy acts as deputy mayor, sits on the Hilly Grove Cemetery board, the Manitoulin Municipal Association, Community Policing Advisory Committee and the Assiginack Agricultural Society.

He believes in “financial responsibility for all township affairs,” hopes to continues to improve the roads and named the Rogers Creek bridge as a priority.

Mr. Moggy said he also counts improving sidewalks, aiding the Family Health Team, seeking growth opportunities, a new and affordable fire hall, ensuring the search for funding for the Burns Wharf renovations is ongoing, the construction of new seniors housing and the hiring of a dedicated economic development person as key issues for the next term of council that he would see addressed.

Christianna Jones was not present but another candidate for council, Jennifer Hooper, read a statement to the audience on Ms. Jones’ behalf.

Ms. Jones said she believes in growth for Manitowaning.  She said she would support initiatives that would bring economic growth and engage community members for community vision.

Ms. Jones has a great deal of experience on boards and in food security. She hopes to bring her vision and voice to the Assiginack council table.

“For once, the quiet majority wants real change,” council hopeful Joyce O’Connor began.

She explained that she has been a resident of Assiginack for 12 years and is currently the proprietor of Red Lodge Resort and a real estate agent.

She pointed to high taxes, ill-maintained roads and a lack of business as real shortfalls for Assiginack.

“Having something to draw people here is key,” she said, naming senior care and manufacturing as just a few ideas.

“Communication is key,” Ms. O’Connor continued. “We need to work together and listen; so many people sit back and talk about the good old days. We’re here because we didn’t adapt.”

She urged voters to make each choice a “smart financial one.”

Council challenger Keith Harfield shared that he’d lived in Assiginack for 38 years and comes with a background in business management and accounting and even boasts being a certified auctioneer.

He’s also a past director of the Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association, Manitoulin Panthers, Manitoulin Health Centre, Little Current Business Improvement Area and the Domtar Advisory Board.

Mr. Harfield said Assiginack could benefit from better management and lower taxes. “We have to bring business people to the community.”

Mr. Harfield said he spent some time reviewing Assiginack’s financial statements, noting a surplus in 2016 and a deficit in 2017. “We need to set up a four-year plan.”

Council hopeful Dave McDowell was also not in attendance but sent his regrets and a prepared statement to be read by a friend and neighbour.

The audience learned that Mr. McDowell currently operates a cow/calf operation just outside of Manitowaning and has spent most of his working life in the agricultural business.

Mr. McDowell has entrepreneurial and small business experience as the former owner of Red Lodge Resort.

Mr. McDowell enjoys the challenges of meeting budgets, paying down debts and coming up with creative ways to fund projects. He believes in problem solving and looking at issues from all angles and encouraged anyone to reach out to him with questions.

Tom Pudas, another name on the ballot for councillor, has lived in Assiginack for a relatively short few years and said it was his grandchildren who “tipped him off” to running. “We have a great beach, but where is everyone? We have a great marina, but where are the boats?”

Mr. Pudas said his background is as a millwright so he enjoys solving problems but finds it most rewarding problem solving with the help of others.

Rob Maguire, in his appeal for support in his bid for a councillor position, said he is the self-employed owner and operator of TerraStar, which employs seven employees in Manitowaning. Mr. Maguire is a past Assiginack employee where he worked in economic development.

Mr. Maguire said he can, “improve the efficiencies of the municipal budget.”

Mr. Maguire has been successful in leveraging funds for new airport hangars, Manitoulin Living, Assiginack Curling Club, water and marina upgrades, high speed Internet and much more, he shared.

“My municipal and economic background will make me a good candidate,” Mr. Maguire concluded.

Single mom of three, Jennifer Hooper, said she decided to run for council because everyone complains that they don’t have the time, so she decided to make the time.

“We cannot be a strong community with negative attitudes,” she said. “We can’t live in the past either.”

Ms. Hooper called for a 20-year plan so that the community never has to look back again.

She explained to the audience that taxes in Manitowaning are not, contrary to popular belief, the highest on Manitoulin. “It’s what you’re getting for the amount you do pay that’s the concern.”

“I have some really great ideas to generate rather than cut and to become progressive rather than stuck in the past.”

Dave Nelder, moderator for the Tehkummah all candidates’ night, was the first up with a question on behalf of some Tehkummah residents. He asked if Assiginack would help with the Rogers Creek bridge.

Mr. Deforge said he was in full favour of replacing the bridge as it is important to both communities.

Mr. Ham said he fully agreed that the bridge must be replaced, “with Tehkummah (as a partner) or not, it really doesn’t matter. It’s an historic link to an historic road. It’s got to be replaced.”

Mr. Moffatt said the bridge would be an asset, but the problem is raising the $300,000 needed to do it. “Neither municipality has the funds to do it. If we can come up with the money, then let’s do it.”

Mr. Phillips said the historical approach might be the best way to find those funds and that needless spending of tax dollars isn’t going to help.

Ms. Reid said she’s never opposed to talking to another municipality about projects. “When Tehkummah is ready to talk, I’m ready.”

Mr. Harfield said four years is too long for the bridge to have been shut down, citing his own figure of $250,000. If 50 percent government funds can be found, and Tehkummah pays half, then “let’s get it done this year.”

Ms. Hooper said she too was in favour, and in fact that the whole area could use some rejuvenation.

Ms. Maguire said he supports the project “wholeheartedly. We might be able to source that in the next four years.”

According to Mr. McDowell’s friend and neighbour, “he sees that as a problem that can be solved very easily.”

“I support it, but realize it’s a joint project,” Mr. Moggy said. “I want to see it done,” he added emphatically.

“If it’s a concern, I’ll investigate it,” Ms. O’Connor stated.

“With me being a millwright, there’s got to be away to fix it,” Mr. Pudas said. “I’m in favour; we’ll go for it.”

Marilyn Wohlberg asked the candidates that, if elected, would they submit the application on behalf of Burns Wharf Theatre Players (BWTP) for funding, “that’s been sitting on someone’s desk for over a year now?”

“Why hold something up like that?” Mr. Pudas asked, offering his support.

“I 100 percent support the BWTP,” Ms. O’Connor said. “As for the theatre building (Burns Wharf), I would investigate it.”

“I think you all know I support it,” said Mr. Moggy. “Council did not. They asked the BWTP to get incorporated and I tried to stop it. Let’s get off our butts and move. It’s part of the whole social fabric of this community.”

Mr. McDowell’s spokesman believes it’s a cause, “he’d stick his nose in.”

Mr. Maguire said he believes there’s a way to leverage funding for the BWTP. “It would be my pleasure to work to help find that funding.”

Ms. Hooper said she fully supports the Burns Wharf building and the Roller Mills. “That whole area needs to be focussed on, we just need to get a little creative on how to do that.”

“I would support this project 100 percent,” Mr. Harfield said. “I love getting money from Queen’s Park. I can’t believe something hasn’t been done.”

“I support the BWTP, however I cannot support the theatre,” Ms. Reid said. “Three hundred thousand dollars for a ramp is astronomical. Having a building we can use six months of the year? I’m sorry, I can’t support that.”

“There’s nothing other than the Beer Store that brings 30 to 40 vehicles into Manitowaning in one night,” Mr. Phillips responded to much laughter from the audience. “Absolutely, I’d support that.”

“I think council’s position on this has been misrepresented,” Mr. Moffatt said. “Council as a whole supported the players. This funding, people, just doesn’t come from the air. I’m fully in support of all the heritage buildings, but I think we have to find another way.”

Mr. Ham questioned the figure of $300,000 for a ramp alone, saying that countless quotes need to be gotten.

Mr. Deforge said he was also in favour, saying “Burns Wharf is 100 percent community.”

Gloria Haner told council that if they held the current mill rate, taxes would increase exponentially, as they have for her, which is way above the cost of living and she asked the candidates what they plan to do.

Ms. Reid said that for five of the last seven years, the municipality has either held or decreased the mill rate. Ms. Reid said she couldn’t promise lower tax rates, but said it would be up to council to budget carefully.

Mr. Phillips said that while nobody likes paying taxes, the only way the community can generate money is from taxes. The municipality, he added, needs to stop spending.

Mr. Moffatt urged Ms. Haner to go to MPAC to have her property reassessed. Mr. Ham agreed, saying persistence is key.

Mr. Deforge spoke of the need for special tax breaks for businesses and incentives for property improvement.

Mr. Harfield said Ms. Haner should look for other similar properties that have been sold in her area and go to MPAC armed with that information.

Ms. Hooper reminded the audience that, “if we all lower our taxes, we can’t generate enough to cover our needs.”

“We want to seek out money elsewhere, but Assiginack hasn’t been doing that,” Mr. Maguire said.

Mr. Moggy reminded Ms. Haner that the mill rate did not necessarily mean her taxes would go up. “It’s up to council to decide how they spend your tax dollars.”

“Taxes are always going to go up,” Ms. O’Connor said. “We need to increase the tax base by increasing people and businesses.”

Mr. Pudas said Assiginack needs to increase the revenue stream and take care of maintenance items before they get “way out of hand.”

Other questions from the audience focussed on the Norisle lawsuit, openness and transparency and environmental views.