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Opinion, Dave Dale: ‘Real’ debates needed

Candidates should be grilled about their positions, promises and past so electors can assess the assorted platforms decorated with platitudes, bells and whistles.
callander day
Callander Bay at sunset is a treat ... and a good ol' fashioned mayoral candidate debate would be as well. Dave Dale Photo

Turnout at municipal elections is usually dependent on whether there is a major issue to be decided but very often it comes down to voters being engaged by competing campaigns.

Money often becomes a deciding factor with deep pockets and many friends with cash donations injecting thousands of dollars toward signs and advertisements. This can make a big difference, especially for those seeking re-election as they have a head start on both supplies and branding.

Social media has provided added avenues for promotion to level the playing field a bit, although reaching eyeballs can still be a challenge with only a fraction of constituents within reach.

Knocking directly on doors is still considered a solid plan although it is time-consuming and those with mobility challenges are at a disadvantage.

In reality, there are very few opportunities for the public to adequately compare the options and measure the suitability of each individual unless there are public debates – real ones and not just ‘meet and greets.’ Constituents can gain invaluable knowledge when candidates are required to deal with the pressure of public speaking and backing up their words.

For example, there is a great three-way race to be the next mayor of Callander and the voting public deserves a chance to see them in action before election day October 24.

Robb Noon, Gay Smylie and Daryl Vaillancourt are vying to lead council and each has a solid resume for the job.

Noon has almost two decades under his belt on council and was appointed mayor to replace the late Hector Lavigne, who passed away January 6, 2020, after two full decades as a community leader. Noon, born and raised in Callander, runs two local businesses in the community.

Vaillancourt was appointed to Callander council in 2020 to replace the late Maurice Turgeon, who passed away on March 3, 2020, after almost 20 years on council. A new resident to Callander in 2018, Vaillancourt was a North Bay councillor for four terms beginning in 2003.

And Smylie is a well-known resident with a long and successful career with the former Nipissing Board of Education and Near North District School Board. She was principal of M.T. Davidson Public School from 2005-11 and now supervises elementary and secondary schools throughout the board while overseeing administrator development, new teacher induction, and Early Years programs. Her father, the late Jack Smylie, served North Bay as a mayor and council member and was a well-known veterinarian in the area.

It could be a great race under the right circumstances and a public debate – a rarity in Callander – should be organized. If one is held, I just hope it allows for the candidates to discuss the issues in a way that they can support their stances and provide critical analysis of opposing ideas.

Topics would naturally include how to develop and sustain the community, as well as other important issues raised recently such as how council meetings are recorded and building accessibility issues.

It would also help to have a council candidate debate with seven people vying for four seats. Dillon Anderson, Chantal Cormier, Mike Dell, Grant McMartin, and Michal Suszter are competing against current councillors Jordy Carr and Irene Smit while Linda Alkins won’t seek re-election.

I know there are some passionate individuals involved and I believe voters would benefit from seeing how the candidates do represent themselves in the face of potential disagreement.

Can they handle the pressure? Is their agenda good for the community and can it survive scrutiny? Pamphlets and monologue presentations do not provide this kind of insight.

The challenge for larger centres like North Bay is that there are too many council candidates with 29 individuals seeking to fill just 10 seats. You’d need to split them up into three or four pools to offer any kind of chance to judge each individual.

It will be much easier when it comes to the three mayoral candidates of Johanne Brousseau, Peter Chirico and Leslie McVeety.

Interesting to note about West Nipissing and the disaster that was the last term, long-time Mayor Joanne Savage and councillors Lise Senecal, Denis Senecal, and Yvon Duhaime have decided not to run.

They were one side of the 4-4 split that hampered municipal business and representation for two years as the conflict delayed filling a vacant Verner seat for most of the term. Also not running is Leo Mallette, who was part of the opposing side that preferred to fill the Ward 7 seat by appointment instead of by-election. The split of views infected almost every vote and frustrated residents with the vacant seat eventually being filled this year by Normand Roberge – who was a long-time councillor and runner-up in Ward 7 for the 2018 election.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs should have stepped in right away when the deadline to choose how they would fill the seat was up in September 2020.

In this election, there will be races in seven of the eight West Nipissing wards with three people seeking the mayoral chair.

No matter who gets elected there, rebuilding trust and confidence in elected representatives will be the first task.

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 editor@baytoday.ca. To contact the writer directly, email: davedale@backinthebay.ca or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca