They say familiarity breeds contempt and as the campaign to be elected mayor of the City of North Bay careens into the final weeks, two of the candidates are finally showing a healthy, mutual distaste for one another.
A feisty Johanne Brousseau made her points during Thursday's YourTV mayoral debate and would not be moved off them under criticism from fellow candidate Peter Chirico.
Brousseau also decided it was time to publicly scrutinize Chirico's record as she raised his involvement in the Memorial Gardens cost overruns at the first opportunity. She suggested the Memorial Gardens affair lacked transparency, a common Chirico critique of the McDonald administration. Brousseau seems determined to win this race and is accessing all the tools in her toolbox.
"Throughout this campaign, one of my opponents has stated that this city is 'broken,' and has presented recommendations that are inadequate for our growing community," said Brousseau. His recommendations simply don't make sense and can only be implemented by continuing to raise taxes. His initiatives, such as relocating City Hall staff to the main floor is simply an irresponsible waste of taxpayers' money.
"He refers to a survey that indicates we are the most secretive city in Canada yet he says nothing about North Bay being named as one of the top-20 communities in Canada to invest. Another positive praise is North Bay was named number two in Canada to buy real estate. This community has a lot to be proud of."
"Mr. Chirico demonstrated his true commitment to our city council when he quit his position as deputy mayor to accept a six-figure position with the City as the director of community services, foregoing his commitment to the taxpayers who put their trust in him."
Chirico is getting his message across by sticking to his talking points. He's found his groove in this campaign and seems to grow more confident with each public appearance. He again defended his record but for the first time in this campaign he spent part of the night on the defensive.
Leslie McVeety has nowhere near the expertise on the issues that her opponents present but is passionate on the community safety piece that spurred her to make this impromptu run for the mayor's chair. She is strong on the talking points that brought her to this point and comes across as decidedly genuine.
The newcomer McVeety has found her niche by speaking sparsely on topics she openly admits she has little knowledge of while waiting for opportunities to weigh in on her main talking points. She spent much of the evening appearing as though she was watching a tennis match from her podium between Brousseau and Chirico.
McVeety summed up her campaign approach perfectly with, "I have no political experience but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's what we need right now." It was more statement than question.
See related: More of BayToday's 2022 Municipal Election coverage
YourTV news anchor and reporter Clarke Heipel was effective as the debate's moderator as he kept the topics flowing while allowing for real debate on the issues and holding the candidates to the rules and time limits. It was an effective wrinkle to have community stakeholders ask questions via recorded video segment. All in all, the event was a welcome return to a style of political debate that has become the exception rather than the norm.
Some highlights of the debate:
On the prospect of building a new arena, Chirico is opposed to the Omischl Complex site. He said he is committed to building a new facility but not at the current council's desired location. He cited inflation, interest rates, and ongoing building supply chain issues as reasons to re-evaluate the capital investment. Chirico is also not convinced the federal green funding will end up making a significant difference to the bottom line.
"Is it going to cost $52 million? Is it going to be $75 million? Is it going to be $90 million?" Chirico asked.
Brousseau has long been a proponent of the proposed Community and Recreation Centre project at the Lakeshore Drive location and offered some pertinent financial particulars.
"Yes, the federal funding is $25.77 million. And, the price that was put in that application was $52 million. We already have $9 million set aside for it so it would be a $17 million loan. The tendering process is about to start. Once the contractors come out with the figures — I'm not going to speculate — I'm not going to make decisions before I receive data. Once the data is given to council, probably in January," to reveal the cost of the building, "then let's make a decision."
McVeety noted the Lakeshore location "is out of the way for pretty much everyone in North Bay," and suggested new facilities should be constructed on the existing West Ferris and Pete Palangio properties.
"I don't think North Bay can afford this right now," McVeety added. "There are a lot of other things that money can go to. Our taxes are going to go up. How much is this going to cost us in the long run?"
Chirico said, "We are spending way too much money on these facilities that are not being used properly. We can't attract national tournaments to Memorial Gardens because we don't have that extra infrastructure in place, being a full-sized NHL ice pad.
"Some of the successes we've had at Memorial Gardens, and the income that's been generated not only by the OHL but the world curling. A huge success. Pinty's — not just one but a second one coming next week. In order to get to the next level, we're going to have to do something at Memorial Gardens at some time. Is it the right time now? I don't know. But, that will be a decision of council."
Brousseau responded, "This has been talked about for 10 years and as far as I'm concerned, this should have been ready in 2018, when the price was $28 million. The reason this is not going at West Ferris or Pete Palangio is we need 12 acres of land to build a twin surface.
"What this will do is finally give changerooms and showers to all the Omischl sports fields. They've been waiting a long time for this. The Omischl complex was never finished. They ran out of money but it could have been looked at a few years later."
Chirico interjected, "$50 million or $70 million for a dressing room? I don't think so."
"It will help to grow the city at that end of town," replied Brousseau. "West Ferris, right now, needs the economic help. All the other areas are booming so we need to help West Ferris."
"Leslie makes a good point about West Ferris Arena," Chirico said in Brousseau's direction. "You say we need 12 acres for a double pad. Maybe we can only afford a single pad right now. That would be the best location for the residents of West Ferris, who need it and deserve it. Omischl is closer to Callander than it is to most of the residents of West Ferris, let alone the rest of the city."
Brousseau noted building two pads is more efficient than a solitary ice pad.
"If you decide to change locations it will be another four years of soil studies," warned Brousseau. "We have an expiry date on this federal funding, which is one of the biggest North Bay has ever received. We can't shut the door on it yet. Let's receive the data and make the decision in January."
Dennis Chippa, the executive director of the Gathering Place asked the candidates if homelessness and the accompanying social issues are a "City problem" or a "DNSSAB problem." Chippa then asked if the candidates plan for the City to be more engaged in the issue of homelessness by working with DNSSAB, if elected.
Brousseau responded there are "external forces that are creating more work for our City workers but we live here and we need to take care of it," adding it is important for all levels of government to work together. She later added, "We need to eliminate silos and create bridges."
"I am currently in discussions with medical professionals who have developed successful strategies relating to these areas," Brousseau added. "We will encourage them to share their best practices with local social agencies and community partners."
McVeety believes "we need to be more engaged. It's a city-wide problem and we need help from the other levels of government. We can't do it alone but if the City comes together with social workers, with nurses, with drug and alcohol counsellors we can come up with a plan to help the homeless population. Maybe having the low-barrier shelter run 24 hours and provide the services to provide mental health and addictions counselling. To get meals and life skills, having the shelter open 24 hours would be beneficial, especially in the winter."
McVeety added she had been in contact with a homeless advocate who has plans to make cheap homes available. "The business plan says they can build 10-20 homes for under $250,000. I think that's where we need to start."
A model from Medicine Hat that "has almost eradicated homelessness," appeals to McVeety. "It did not happen overnight but they were better able to help them and get them off the street."
Chirico agreed the problem does not lie solely with DNSSAB, that it is a City and community problem. "We have to not only rally the other levels of government, we have to figure out what is best practice. There are a lot of different agencies in North Bay that are focused on homelessness. But, it hasn't changed, it's only gotten worse. I've seen it from standing and sitting in my office on Main Street, day in and day out.
"What we need is a strong plan. We need to research. We need to engage our university and our college to get the research on what is the best practice out there."
LOW-BARRIER SHELTER & SAFE INJECTION SITE
All three candidates support a safe injection site for North Bay in principle but agreed the location of such a site is crucial. All agreed the location cannot be at the Northern Pines facility on Chippewa Street West, as was once considered. Additionally, none of the candidates feel the location of the shelter is appropriate.
McVeety cited a safe injection site in Timmins and another that opened this week in Sudbury as projects worth watching. "Let's see how that goes and, if it's working for them, why won't it work for us?"
Chirico reiterated that, although the experts support the sites, the location is equally important. "The safe injection site should not be between senior citizens' homes and right across from a high school. That's not the place for it."
Brousseau stated the effect of a safe injection site on the proposed neighbourhood must be considered before implementation. "Also, the safe injection site must not be just for injecting drugs. It is an opportunity for social workers to talk to that individual to make them feel welcome, to make them feel part of the community, and maybe, one day, when they ask, 'Is today the day that you're going to go to the addictions centre and we'll do something about this?' One day, they may say 'yes.'"
In closing, Chirico pledged to set priorities, determine the issues, find the resources and get the work done.
"Some of what I propose of ambitious and I'm well aware the change that we need will not happen overnight or even in one term. We need to lay the groundwork now," he said. "It's time for action, it's time for solutions."
McVeety remarked, "I'm running for you, the residents of North Bay. As a personal support worker, I have spent the past six years advocating for my patients and now it's time to advocate for you. I want things to change, just like you do. It's not going to happen overnight and it's going to take some work. But, if we work together, these changes can happen. People shouldn't have to choose between having a roof over their heads or food on their table."
Brousseau closed with, "My priorities as mayor will focus on community well-being, innovative infrastructure, and economic prosperity."
She added, "Transparency, communication, relationship building, and long-term planning are all areas we can improve on. I am committed, as your mayor, to address these issues."
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.