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City Hall transparency, accountability dominate mayoral debate

'Everything should be open and transparent. It shouldn't be up to a council to determine.'
2022 09 14 Pride Mayoral Debate (Campaigne)
North Bay mayoral candidates Peter Chirico, Leslie McVeety and Johanne Brousseau (L-R) and debate moderator Geri Atrick.

Moderator Geri Atrick adeptly led the three candidates through the North Bay Pride-hosted mayoral debate, touching on topics such as the direction of the city, Indigenous relations; online hate; and, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Political debates have softened over the years. Once the realm of mudslinging and accusations among candidates, many recent debates have morphed into packaged event programming accompanied by a friendly exchange of ideas. The spontaneity is often missing but Wednesday evening's debate did have some sparks.

The moderator consistently teed up mayoral candidates Johanne Brousseau, Peter Chirico and Leslie McVeety with loaded (Geri Atrick is fond of wine references) questions that provided opportunities for real debate but those were mostly missed or ignored by the participants.

Taking the political high road is a choice every candidate must face as an election campaign unfolds. Peter Chirico has fielded questions about his role in the cost overruns at Memorial Gardens. He has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his role and the resulting loss of employment. At his campaign launch last week, he did not dismiss Memorial Gardens as relevant to his mayoral hopes but did distance himself from the affair, noting it has been nearly a decade since those events unfolded.

See related: BayToday's aggregated municipal election coverage

While the debate provided candidates with the opportunity to introduce themselves and their platforms to a wider audience, the tried and true method of going on the attack by questioning the record of one's opponent is almost non-existent. Almost.

While Chirico received a pass on his own past, Brousseau opted instead to stay in the present and go after his pledge to audit all City of North Bay departments as a step toward bringing culture change to City Hall. 

"I just happened to read your platform this morning," said Brousseau while glancing Chirico's way. "You're pretty aggressive, saying you are going to shake up City Hall. How do these workers feel? How can you get 100 per cent out of them every day if they don't even know if they are going to like that working environment if you become mayor? That's a concern for me. It's the CAO that deals with the staff and distributes the work via the senior managers. The mayor stays in his office and represents you and the mayor is the head of council and speaks for council once decisions have been made."

Chirico responded, "If I am fortunate enough to be elected mayor, I'm not going to be sitting up in that office. At all. I will be involved. I will be talking to our staff. Councillor Brousseau says she read my platform but I don't think she read it enough. When I say 'change the culture,' what I'm saying is, if we can't do better each and every day, as employees, as management, as people, then are we going to accept the status quo? No."

Chirico later added, "We need some changes. We need it to be open. We need it to be transparent...I didn't vote that City Hall was the most secretive and closed off. That was an outside agency that said that. Those aren't my words."

The moderator later revisited the topic of municipal transparency.

Brousseau observed issues with transparency are due to a lack of two-way communication and noted recordings of meetings are available on the City's YouTube page and the minutes and agendas can be found on the City's website.

"Everything we read, you have access to, except for in-camera items," she said. "With communication, transparency will get better."

The newcomer McVeety says she is every homeowner and taxpayer. She comes across as eager and gave straightforward answers throughout, admitting there are subjects she will have to brush up on. While there will be a learning curve if elected, McVeety clearly believes in her decision to run for office based on safety concerns associated with crime and other social issues such as homelessness, mental health, and addictions in the community.

"I believe in 100 per cent open transparency," said McVeety. "The taxpayers deserve to know where every penny is going. There will be no secrecy if I am mayor."

See the full debate below, courtesy of North Bay PRIDE:

With less than six weeks to go until the polls close on October 24, one's political record is prime fodder in an election campaign. McVeety gets a pass due to having no political history at all. It was the sitting councillor, Brousseau, who was the one left defending her moves over the past four years as Chirico questioned her stance on the Valin Report and transparency in municipal affairs.

Directed at Brousseau, Chirico said, "You are saying you want to be transparent on communication but you didn't demonstrate in just the past six months. How much money are we spending on Freedom of Information requests? The frustration level grows because people are not getting the information. Quite frankly, I don't know why they're not."

See also: FOI filed to see contents of Valin invitation

Chirico added, "Everything should be open and transparent. It shouldn't be up to a council to determine...I will invite Judge Valin to come to the first council meeting, to talk about the code of conduct and how we can do better. It's about creating a better future for us."

Brousseau is being forced into either defending the current administration or forging her own path with her own ideas as a means of separating herself politically. She deflected the Chirico salvo, saying she initially voted in favour of Valin's proposed visit but later followed advice from the city solicitor and changed course.

"A year went by and the Integrity Commissioner had concerns about the Valin Report and so did our solicitor. The solicitor asked us to renege on inviting Judge Valin. I voted yes on that," she explained. "At the end of the day, it was a 5-5 vote so we sent an invitation and he has declined."

Are you on the voters' list for municipal elections? The municipal elections for mayor, city councillors, and school board trustees take place on October 24 and will be preceded by advance voting options and, for the first time, online voting.

Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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