Yesterday’s candidates’ night in West Nipissing saw no heated debates, no impassioned speeches, and no sparks. The event was calm, ordered, and respectfully conducted, and provided a glimpse of what voters might expect once the new council convenes at the table.
The event was hosted by the West Nipissing Chamber of Commerce. Candidates from Wards 1 to 4 attended, and all three mayoral candidates. Another round occurs tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcel Noel Hall at 219 O’Hara Street. The Ward 5 to 8 candidates will be there and the contenders for mayor will return.
Former councillor Jeremy Seguin presided over the evening, keeping the candidates in time as they answered questions or presented their opening and closing remarks. The main themes were moving on as a community, working together for the betterment of the municipality, and remaining accountable to the people.
Mayoral Candidate Dave Lewington dedicated much of his opening remarks to informing the crowd of his respect for Robert’s Rules—the rules governing council meetings—and he continued to emphasize the need for order and respect at council.
Ward 3 candidate Réjean Venne admitted the current council “could do a better job of serving” the people, and when asked what the biggest issue the people are discussing these days, Ward 2 candidate Roch St. Louis noted “the elephant in the room is obviously the ongoing council that is there right now.”
“That has been the biggest issue and the biggest concern” he’s heard while knocking on doors, St. Louis said, one which he wants “to rectify” if elected. He also plans to focus on infrastructure, a point also close to the heart of Ward 2 candidate Christine Riberdy, who plans to improve road work, ditching, and brushing in the community.
Infrastructure was on the minds of many within the municipality, particularly improving roads. Housing is also a key issue, as the municipality currently has very little on offer.
Ward Three candidate Denis Sabourin mentioned his son rents “a room” for $1,500, and he wants to look into allowing “smaller homes” to be built in the municipality, which may spur more development.
Improving by-laws within the municipality is also a key concern for the community, and the idea of hiring a full-time by-law officer was bandied about as well.
The mayoral candidates closed the evening with final remarks. Kathleen Rochon mentioned the campaign can be likened to “the longest job interview ever,” and assured the audience she is “not entangled with the conflicts of the current council.”
“There needs to be a seismic shift,” at Town Hall, she said. “I am the candidate that represents change” and will “foster the culture of cooperation” as mayor. “We cannot afford to be idle as a community for another four years,” she said, adding her focus will be on social well-being, economic growth—including partnership with First Nations—agriculture and fostering a vibrant arts community.
See: Kathleen Rochon is West Nipissing’s first mayoral candidate
Current councillor and mayoral candidate Dan Roveda emphasized his goals of “affordable housing, business development, strategic planning, respite programs for people suffering with Alzheimer’s, a retirement home, and a focus on family and youth issues.” He also plans to find “solutions for our mental health and addiction issues.”
He plans to establish regular office hours at Town Hall, create a newsletter for residents, and “promises to respect our staff.” While knocking on doors he’s noticed a lot of new people in town, and through many conversations, concluded “we don’t embrace diversity,” and if elected, he “promises to move toward diversity” within the community.
Roveda also wants to make West Nipissing more visible on the provincial stage. For the size of the municipality, “we’re not taking our role at the table,” and the only time the community makes the news is for “bad publicity” these past few years.
See: Dan Roveda is running for mayor of West Nipissing
Mayoral candidate Dave Lewington informed the people that after “many long conversations” with residents, he noticed “some of those conversations are almost scary.” He’s noticed a lot of “fear, distrust and loss of confidence in our leaders.”
“I want to provide transparency to the public,” he promised, and “learn from our past and not repeat those mistakes.” He noted the Province will be conducting a review of the municipality’s policies in the upcoming months, which he looks forward to as those recommendations could lead to improvements.
See: Third candidate enters West Nipissing mayoral race
He noted the next council will “hold ourselves to a higher standard,” and assured those gathered that “we can and will turn this corner.” A new council “can be an example of respecting all citizens, even those we don’t agree with.”
For those who can’t make tonight’s event, the West Nipissing Chamber of Commerce is live streaming the event on its YouTube channel.
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.