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Opinion, Dave Dale: Election dust far from settled

Election campaigns are for peeling onions and there are several in North Bay that will likely make voters cry
The former car dealership on Lakeshore Drive between the North Bay Mall and Nipissing Plaza is the announce site of the future Northern Ontario Addictions Treatment Centre of Excellence.

It’s looking more and more like a two-horse race to grab the reins of North Bay council. I’m no longer certain a third viable candidate will join Johanne Brousseau and Peter Chirico on the ballot for mayor.

There are still a couple more weeks before the Aug. 19 deadline to submit nomination papers but the scent of a possible contender vying for a run up the middle has dissipated. There still might be a fringe candidate or two, although one has already walked back their announced intention.

Regardless of who else runs, one of the wedge issues between Chirico and Brousseau (as well as a few council hopefuls) will be the twin-pad arena project currently slated for the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex.

Brousseau is a strong supporter of the community centre being built at Omischl while Chirico has other ideas that should make for great debate.

The announcement in June that $25 million in federal funds is available to make the project as ‘green’ as technology and design can manage these days won’t erase overall cost and location concerns. It’s not like the feds are offsetting half the project costs, only carbon-footprint reductions. And the most recent estimate of $50-M (including finance costs) to build doesn’t include world-wide hyperinflation impacting material and employment budget lines, among other things. This won’t be known until the tinkering for green cash is done and actual tenders are reviewed.

One businessman in town is so adamant it’s a sinkhole for tax dollars that he offered to bet me $1,000 the total cost actually exceeds $100 million. He laughed when I said I’d take $100 of that action – although both of us know the final tally will never be made available or believable.

Brousseau has said the cost will be a factor when it comes to going ahead or not at this time, although she’s sticking to that site to avoid additional delay.

Chirico, of course, will have his track record put under the microscope. He was deputy mayor through the ‘Mayor Vic’ Fedeli era and a very small part of the Al McDonald reign but stepped down to pick up a city director pay cheque. His first and last big project – Memorial Gardens refurbishment – was tainted by cost overruns and a serious health issue, with an acrimonious departure from the city payroll leaving a rift in several relationships to this day.

He’s also linked to the Battalion contract which, depending on the perspective and viewpoint, gave away too much, too quick, or pays incalculable dividends – especially if you include the peripheral benefits of the team-required improvements allowing the city to host world-class curling events.

Brousseau, after one term as a council committee chairwoman for the community services portfolio, has the benefit of not having a major project completed under her tenure and or having a large swath of their public past put under a microscope. It would require reviewing her participation on boards as a council representative. For example, if the North Bay Capitol Centre was dealing with issues, her actions and non-actions could help or hurt her chances.

Chirico has a longer record to both boast about and defend, including his presidency of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce during the past several years. How is it doing now compared to when he took the post and why? Is it in a strong position going forward?

More likely to be impactful, however, are the pros and cons of his role with the Canadore College board of governors. Once again, depending on your perspective, Canadore is either the most progressive innovator and partnership-maker in the province or the top “pre-mature scheme” headline machine.

Putting aside, for now, the multitude of swings and misses, the most recent project to make headlines this spring requires intense scrutiny: the proposed Northern Ontario Addictions Treatment Centre of Excellence.

It sounds great with a $7-M provincial funding allocation and plans to convert the former Chrysler dealership property on Lakeshore Drive into a 53-bed facility.

The project made waves in the community because all the efforts over the past five years involving local players to consolidate and better plan such services in the region were bypassed.

Why the incongruent approach? And who will own what in the end?

Canadore will need to answer a lot of questions about this move over the next couple of months with Chirico having to weather whatever storm is produced.

I wonder which of the media platforms in town will be able to drill down into the fine print and details? If I had a lawyer to watch my back, I would have already given it a go but I have to tread lightly as an independent.

Obviously, Chirico’s Progressive Conservative connections are also part of the puzzle with his affiliation with Nipissing MPP Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade a bonus in his favour. It might also bite him in the leg with the latest battleground over education and health care deepening the provincial political divide for some voters.

Privatization of health care will be the biggest news story going forward as the current system strains from lack of foresight and mismanagement before and during the pandemic. Premier Doug Ford will eventually be forced to embrace the situation as his responsibility.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website