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Opinion Dave Dale: Never too much info

I was convinced veteran councillor Mac Bain was ready to be relieved of civic duty to make room for new energy and a fresh set of ideas ... but now I'm not sure.
Can a twin-pad community centre on the Sam Jacks Recreation Complex property be better than the one proposed at the Steve Omischl Sports Field Complex?

The danger of sitting down and talking to people at length is that you may come away with a different viewpoint that challenges your previous perspective. It’s a lot of work to keep updating the data bank and go through the process of constant analysis. Who has time for so much computation and consideration? It’s much easier to make a decision on limited calculus and move forward without evolving circumstance and facts.

I have fun mocking elected officials and assorted experts for close-minded tendencies. Of course, we all do it. I can be just as stubbornly ignorant as any other human.

And sometimes your assessment is reinforced the more information you add to the equation, further entrenching a position or cementing a polarized position.

My recent series of video interviews with candidates in the municipal election (I’ve posted nine so far, completed two others and have several scheduled) has provided both such experiences.

I was convinced veteran councillor Mac Bain was ready to be relieved of civic duty to make room for new energy and a fresh set of ideas. He’s not exactly dynamic on the public stage and presents at public meetings as someone who might be taking up more oxygen than what he contributes – especially with a herd of new horses champing at the bit.

To be honest, every time he mentions a regional or provincial organization representing municipal members I want to bring a hammer down on my thumb. When he describes his work regarding the provincial ‘blue box’ and recycling initiatives my eyes roll so far back in my head I see where I went wrong in making past life choices.

Last week, when we talked, he brought up the ‘green box’ recycling issue as an example of his hard work and three million of my remaining brain cells initiated self-destruction mode – until he explained how it is a net negative for a city the size and orientation of North Bay.

And before then, he explained how the Canadore College addiction and mental health treatment centre for Lakeshore Drive came into being, seemingly out of the blue and incongruent with local strategy decisions as far as I could tell. It still might have some loose footings in reality and practicality, as well as those involved having much to prove. I’m not saying he convinced me it will work out swimmingly and I’m not sure he is either. But Bain answered the questions in a way where I understood both the concept and steps to approval better. Basically, the provincial government wants to go in that direction and Canadore was in a position to be part of a pilot concept to address these important issues. We may as well go with the flow and get behind it rather than the alternative.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that Bain and his institutional municipal knowledge gained over the past 19 years on city council will make or break the city’s future potential. What the conversation did, however, was remind me to weigh what some candidates can bring to the table and contribute in a more thorough way. And when you’re calculating what would be a good balance of experience and fresh blood, it’s probably wise to consider the big picture of the individuals and what the next council might need. There is a real danger of having all new faces who will need to build up knowledge, networks and political experience. As well as giving the experienced councillors a second look, there are several experienced business people running for their first time who might also have something to offer.

I also had an interesting conversation with Maggie Horsfield, one of several young first-time council or school trustee candidates. Just as I wouldn’t want to ditch a councillor option because of the length of time they have been in the chamber, it’s unwise to vote in someone merely because of their youthful energy or the fact they are not an old, straight white male. In my interview with Chris Mayne, he said it would be nice if there was another woman elected (presuming Tanya Vrebosch is re-elected) to have two and my cackles got up. I said I wouldn’t mind if there were a majority of women elected, but voting for anybody based on their sex or gender doesn’t make much sense – better your vote is based on a person’s character, ability and demonstrated potential (or something to that effect).

For those in the back who didn’t hear clearly, sexism and racism will never defeat sexism and racism.

What I got out of my interview with Horsfield is that this was a person who has the necessary passion and determination, plus the ability to converse with someone who doesn’t see things their way. I have some doubt her working experience at Nipissing University is the best preparation for the animal that is municipal politics and bureaucracy … but it’s better than some have going into the fray.

The topic of a ward system came up and Horsfield is eager for that electoral option to be researched as an option for North Bay, a way to connect people to an elected official accountable to a certain area of town rather than the current at-large system of the top 10 of 29 candidates representing everyone. I’ve brought up the ward system and looked at it as well in the past. I suggested it might be better and easier to start with simply assigning councillors as the lead contact for different neighbourhoods or sections of town. Instituting an official ward system is a major undertaking that has drawbacks as well as enhancement in representation.

Her ability to consider such an idea as a possible test of how it might work as part of the due diligence in making such a change helps me evaluate whether she would be a potential candidate. I suggest voters who are considering new candidates have at least one conversation with them so they are better informed about their suitability.

New candidate Jamie Lowery and I had our first long-form conversation the other day. You’ll recognize his name from the media coverage of the clash between North Bay Mayor Al McDonald and the Casselholme Board of Directors. Lowery was the chief executive officer of Cassellholme and considered either the hero or villain in the painful public fight over how the refurbishment, minor expansion project now underway. And yes, we got into peeling some of that onion – with the chief takeaway was his assurance everything they did can stand up to legal and moral scrutiny, as well as there being enough contingency in the construction agreement to keep the cost under the $122-million total (which includes everything from cement to the ceiling fans). Guess we’ll see. One of the mayoral candidates is proposing a third-party review of city operations, they should include a review of the largest construction project involving city financing ever.

Lowery, as part of his election campaign, revealed a counter-proposal to the twin-pad recreation centre slated for the Steve Omischl Sports Field Complex on the weekend, complete with draft architectural drawings for the park behind the existing West Ferris arena.  

Of course, the devil is certainly in the details with plenty for the local residents and others to chew on – including many unknowns and questions for how that is better than the current plan that is heading toward the tender process.

Lowery’s contention is that the Omischl design, cost and location have plenty of people in disagreement, including myself. My preference in infrastructure investment at this time was always leaning toward adding a pad to Memorial Gardens, but reviewing city documents on site selection issues it wouldn’t make sense until traffic issues are mitigated when the bypass snakes around the other side of Northgate Shopping Centre (sometime in my next lifetime).

The West Ferris idea Lowery proposes has enough merit to consider. The more I look at the Omischl site and building design the less I like it for being impractical on almost every count in my books. Even the dressing rooms added to make up for not having those basic amenities for the newly-named Mike O’Shea football/soccer field are too far away. But hey, I’m only basing that on my limited experience as a hockey tournament convenor, sports reporter and parent of a multi-sport athlete. I might change my mind if they add two more storeys to it to block out the sunsets that blind the ball players.

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