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Opinion: Dave Dale, Debate opportunity squandered

All Johanne Brousseau had to do is demand more detail from mayoral candidate Peter Chirico and force him to expand on vague points and she would have gained more ground
2022 09 29 YourTV Mayoral Debate
The North Bay mayoral debate produced by YourTV provided ample opportunity for candidates.

The North Bay mayoral debate produced by YourTV last week was more revealing than some might think. Kudos to moderator Clarke Heipel and all three candidates for a good job, it came across as a real debate for a change (same for the Callander mayoral event Tuesday night).

Unfortunately for Johanne Brousseau and her supporters, I don’t believe she capitalized on the opportunity to gain vital ground between her and Peter Chirico, who came off as more polished and forceful. Leslie McVeety, a newcomer to North Bay politics impressed as genuinely concerned about community issues. While I don’t see her being able to run up the middle of Chirico and Brousseau, her vote count may well include those unimpressed with either Chirico or Brousseau as options.

I rank Chirico as the front-runner in the race, based primarily on a longer tenure as a councillor (multiple terms as deputy mayor), chamber of commerce leadership position and experience/exposure as a Conservative candidate for Nipissing MP. Working against him is a penchant for negative campaign tactics and a history of stepping down from elected positions for other opportunities (Conservative candidate for Nipissing MP and taking a city management position).

For the past couple of months, my assessment going into the silly season of municipal elections was: “Only Peter can beat Peter.” I still believe that is the case and he might just pull it off, although Brousseau and whoever she can attract as endorsements in the next couple of weeks might improve her chances. I didn’t notice her scoring any touchdowns although a few field goals made it through the posts.

Brousseau’s experience as chairperson of council’s community services committee last term and a solid record of additional volunteerism provide a solid foundation. She has the requisite passion, determination and pragmatism. Being a successful business person is a plus, as is her bilingualism with francophone roots.

I’m not sure who ultimately convinced her it was enough to beat Chirico, especially after former North Bay mayor and veteran MPP Vic Fedeli celebrated another Conservative provincial majority, but it started as a considerable challenge and remains so.

Physical reality made Brousseau look up to him but she also didn’t use her best ammo against Chirico to level the playing field — there were a couple of salient points raised at the end yet it was too little, too late.

The two-time elected deputy mayor left a lot of openings she either didn’t notice or couldn’t capitalize on.

Chirico twisted into conflicting statements several times, including points about Memorial Gardens and the capital infrastructure financial plan. Complaining it was nine years ago when he managed the arena renovations that went over budget, Chirico said he accepted responsibility but then shifted blame and said it was council that decided things and he didn’t write any cheques for the arena. Sounds like not taking responsibility. Of course, there was definitely a lot of blame to share with other officials at the time — including Mayor Al McDonald and then chief administrative officer Jerry Knox.

Chirico said council may have tweaked the infrastructure renewal financial plan he helped entrench 14 years ago but they didn’t change it enough. It worked, but now it doesn’t work and a new plan is needed. Okay. What is the plan then?

He also said the city can’t afford a twin pad, and he’s against the proposed location at the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex, but he’ll get one built. Where? When? And will the price tag include the sunk costs for the proposal on the table and the possible loss of federal funding on the table?

I also heard him say the waterfront is ripe for commercial enterprise. Is the community going to get a say in it? What exactly does that mean? A restaurant and bar that competes with downtown businesses?

All Brousseau had to do is demand more detail from Chirico and force him to expand on vague points and she would have gained more ground, as she did by noting the cost of his plan for a third-party review and moving department director offices to the ground floor of city hall.

She also missed opportunities to correct Chirico and put him in his place on a few issues, which may yet become fodder for upcoming discourse.

Personally, from my assessment, his platform and statements provide all kinds of opportunities for a political opponent.

Chirico wants the authority to choose the chairpersons for council committees, for example, and that’s something that should be fought tooth and nail.

While I believe the budget chief should be chosen by council vote, to avoid having inexperienced but highly successful candidates being given the important role merely by popular vote, the mayor shouldn’t get that privilege or even want that power.

Not only is it a step toward undemocratic authoritarianism it’s a minefield of troubles for even those who wield such power.

Imagine a mayor bypassing the election hierarchy to appoint like-minded friendlies — effectively muting the leverage of a popular candidate who is representative of a minority and oppositional view.

It’s a bad idea and there are many, especially if the province keeps giving mayors more and more power that changes the delicate balance of city politics.