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Opinion: Dave Dale: Three big onions to peel

Do you think candidates for mayor – if they win the top job – should have to disclose the property their direct family owns at the outset, as well as local business investments? It sure would take a bit of the guess work out that relies on the elected official choosing to declare conflicts or not.
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North Bay Mayor Merle Dickerson cuts the ribbon for the new Towers store in this undated Nugget archive photo. Things were different back when municipal elections were every two years.

City council candidates are being inundated with requests from special interest groups to take part in forums, debates and surveys. Several complained it’s onerous to be everywhere and respond to everything as they spend big chunks of their day knocking on doors and erecting campaign signs.

It’s specifically more difficult for those without a full team behind them, those with fewer resources, and others who have employment or other civic duty to fulfill and/or family responsibilities.

Hmm. That’s what they signed up for though, so not much sympathy for those whiners. It is a fractured market to reach voters. There’s no one-stop shopping for campaigners anymore if there ever was.

My advice would be to answer every survey with short, concise answers that address the issue and demonstrate either a vision or willingness to grow one through immediate research. Shotgun exposure is better than a bunch of small groups feeling ignored or otherwise not respected.

Candidates certainly have to weigh the cost (time) and benefits (potential exposure to the most voters) in each decision. Will the group react poorly if you don’t participate? What will they do with the answers? Is the event recorded or live-streamed for broader reach? Are they already decided on who they would support?

For some, they are simply not prepared despite entering an election campaign or are worried their words may be used against them down the road (which is likely true so say what you mean and mean what you say.) One would assume they could answer more than just the basic queries by now … or at least answer the easy softballs such as why they are running and what they have to offer. Beats saying nothing at all.

Take the Vision 2025 group on Facebook, for example, which has about 2,200 members. Many of them joined the group when it was for the Ride Share campaign that led to App-based, independent driver model of transportation service coming here to compete with and supplement the traditional cab company model.

Larry Fuld, a former board member of Invest North Bay and Nipissing Serenity Hospice among other things, is the administrator and he announced the group’s “repurposing” last August.

“The time has come to rename and repurpose this forum. While Ride Share was an important example of what citizens can do if they work together, there are bigger challenges that we can tackle.

“North Bay will have its 100th anniversary in 2025. We would like to use this group in launching what we call, VISION 2025. The keystones of this are, Leadership, Collaboration and Transparency.

“We will post both our explanations for why North Bay is where it is, and our ideas for what we hope it will be in 2025.  In order to create the vibrant community, we all want there needs to be both greater personal civic involvement and more open, progressive and dynamic leadership.  We hope to use this forum to solicit ideas, gather support for candidates that support those ideas and enlist you to participate in some projects.”

They have sent each candidate a list of questions with answers to be posted in the group.

Bruce Knox announced the questionnaire Sept. 16 and asked for responses by Sept. 23.

  • Why did you decide to seek election in 2022 and what unique qualities, professional credentials or experience do you bring to the council table?
  • The 2022 election has started off with a lot of concern voiced over mental health, addiction, and homelessness. Are these areas a priority for council or is this area of provincial responsibility? What practical steps would you propose to address these issues?
  • In 2020 North Bay was awarded the Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy by the Canadian Association of Journalists. How would you facilitate change?
  • What would your top 3 priorities be for North Bay council over the next four years? What steps do you propose to move forward on each?
  • What is an acceptable percentage tax increase for North Bay and how can it be achieved?
  • The City recently identified that infrastructure renewal is being significantly underfunded. What steps would you take to address the shortfall?
  • We all want a vibrant and safe downtown core. What steps should the council take towards this goal?
  • A twin pad arena has been proposed at the Omischl sports complex to replace the aging West Ferris Arena. Do you support this decision and if not, what is the alternative?

Of course, the people involved – like any group – have an agenda whether it’s altruistic or self-serving beyond normal expectations is the question members and candidates have to decide on their own. Same for union groups representing public service employees or teachers, North Bay Pride, North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, etc. Bias and agenda are a natural thing in politics and candidates will have to get used to them sooner than later. There’s nothing wrong with having an agenda, but a group needs to conduct itself in a manner that leaves room for disagreement and alternate viewpoints. Otherwise, it becomes a vacuum of only like-minded.

It boils down to having moderators who are fair and inclusive of opinion.

So my advice to candidates is to give each group a chance, answer as much as possible and see how it goes. If they treat you unfairly, take note and move on. And get used to it, the electorate is a predominantly fickle bunch from the outset.

Scott Kile, one of the 29 council candidates in the city council election, was among those who responded so far and his answers were posted Monday. Kile took it seriously and gave mostly fulsome and seemingly genuine answers, while also hedging his view a bit as a newbie at this level who hasn’t read all the background reports yet. Fair enough.

Extra points for being first, though.

If there are any other groups with a significant following and are doing something similar as far as soliciting council candidate positions and backgrounds, let me know. I have four more columns to write before the ballots are counted.

I had hoped to be a moderator at one of the debates, to keep candidates on their toes as much as make sure it was interesting.

Among the many topics being discussed, three are more contentious than the others: Invest North Bay past, Cassellholme’s future and Community Centre twin-pad pros and cons. Peeling those onions, at some point, might just leave voters in tears but that’s all part of making the political stew.

How many votes are needed to win a North Bay municipal election? And will the first-ever option of voting online raise the percentage that cast ballots?

By the numbers:

Mayor Al McDonald saw diminishing results at the polls over the three elections he won these past 12 years – 13,708 to 8,079 – but each time there were different circumstances.

The 2018 election provided the closest race as Gary Gardiner closed the gap by garnering 6,715 votes – 1,364 shy of the 8,079 McDonald managed. Former deputy mayor Sheldon Forgette effectively did McDonald a favour whether he meant to or not by pulling 1,532 votes out of the primary race. Mike Guillemette got 199 of the votes while Will Boisson finished two votes shy of the magic 100 mark.

In 2014, by comparison, when McDonald ran basically unopposed, he topped the polls with 84.24 percent of the votes with 12,636 supporters. Greg Gray pulled 991 votes, Dan Seguin 926 and Harvey Villneff 447.

McDonald soared into the fifth floor office at City Hall in 2010 without much trouble with 13,708 votes giving him a hair over 86 per cent of the vote. Valerie Chadbourne pulled in 1,549 and Villneff 569.

At the council level in 2018, Tanya Vrebosch also saw her numbers drop in her third election yet stayed on top with 7,025 votes while Johanne Brousseau was a close second at 6,753 – leaving a gap of 272.

In 2010, Peter Chirico topped the council polls with 9,854 votes, barely 0.10 percent more than Sean Lawlor at 9,745 votes with Vrebosch-Merry in third with 7,520 and Dave Mendicino next with 7,082.

Worth noting, Chirico stepped down in the spring of 2012 to take a senior city management position as director of community services. By October 2015 he was locked out of city hall. In December 2014, it was revealed renovations at Memorial Gardens Chirico was overseeing went over the $12-million budget. In February 2016, Chirico filed a libel lawsuit against a councillor who, it was alleged, inferred through subtext he was fired in statements to the media. A settlement agreement with the city over his departure had dictated that councillors would only stick to an agreed-to script when making comments.

Unfortunately, settlement agreements are often protected by confidentiality terms and like the one with Chirico’s old boss Jerry Knox, we don’t get to see them.

One last thought today, do you think candidates for mayor – if they win the top job – should have to disclose the property their direct family owns at the outset, as well as local business investments? It sure would take a bit of the guesswork out that relies on the elected official choosing to declare conflicts or not. I think so.

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