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Opinion: Dave Dale: Triple dose of silly season at your doorstep

Masks are advisable at the Capitol Centre during the ‘Northern Issues’ provincial leadership debate May 10 . . . mostly as a precaution for the wafting variants of political promises.
North Bay Council returned to in-person meetings Tuesday evening, just in time for the political silly season.

The forecast for the next week calls for above-average temperatures with a mix of cynicism and overly rosy outlooks as election silly season gets underway.

Despite the sunshine, Nipissing riding residents will be showered with political discussions as candidates for Queen’s Park seats beat the bushes for support before polls close on June 2. At the same time, municipal candidates are popping up out of the woodwork to get a head start on the fall fun, plus there’s federal navel-gazing at work as the right wing flaps around for a leader.

North Bay in particular will be caught in the vortex of promises as the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association host a four-party provincial leaders debate at the Capitol Centre Tuesday.

Liberal Steven Del Duca, Conservative Doug Ford, New Democrat Andrea Horwath and the Green Party’s Mike Schreiner will take the stage at 1 p.m. May 10 to spin regional platforms.

Meanwhile, the Nipissing riding race is heating up with no less than eight candidates pounding the pavement and stoking social media platforms. Incumbent PC Vic Fedeli is seeking a fourth term with serious competition, including North Bay deputy mayor and Liberal Tanya Vrebosch, and East Ferris Councillor NDP Erika Lougheed. Rounding out the ballot is Sean McClocklin, Green Party, Michelle Lashbrook, Libertarian, Joe Jobin, Ontario Party, Taylor Russell, New Blue and Giacomo Vezina, None of the Above.

I’m trying to get a handle on their view points with a series of video podcast interviews for my Small Town Times YouTube channel. So far, I’ve featured Lougheed and Fedeli with Vrebosch scheduled this week. More like casual conversations than probing interviews, my intention is to give the candidates a chance to express their views beyond the usual ‘five-second’ sound bytes and media release platitudes. Points of interest will provide fodder for the BayToday columns, like Fedeli offering a gem with his views on how the Cassellholme board handled its redevelopment financing fiasco. The former North Bay mayor said he would have reacted similar to how eight of the nine municipal partners did when presented funding ultimatums.

“I fought very hard and got them through Infrastructure Ontario with a very low interest rate and finally they're in the ground and now i think they're stable and and running,” he said after describing how the board went to tender without backing. “But you know, pushing the municipalities the way they did was maybe different than I would have. I don't think the municipalities reacted any differently than I would have if I were still mayor.”

That issue might find its way into municipal debates if the rumours are true and Cassellholme CEO Jamie Lowery runs for council after giving the board notice of his possible departure.

Lougheed didn’t hold back either, noting she’s taking on Fedeli and saying his party hasn’t done anything substantial to improve the outlook and prospects for residents in Nipissing. She said people see through the Conservative approach of buying votes with driver licence fee rebates instead of working on the issues to make substantial improvements in housing affordability and health care.

See that interview here.

Lougheed said it’s a “big lie” that profitable corporations and the rich can’t be taxed more than they are, while Fedeli said there is little to be gained with that approach as it isn’t worth losing them to more favourable regions.

Interestingly, Fedeli’s former deputy mayor for two terms Peter Chirico announced this week he is running for the top job at the city with Al McDonald ending his tenure after three terms.

There is a lot of speculation about who might run against him but no clear picture of the field. Despite the controversy that followed after Chirico stepped down from council to take the planning director’s position and the kerfuffle over the Memorial Gardens renovation project that went over budget, he’ll be a challenge to beat. Chirico, president, and CEO of the Nipissing District Chamber of Commerce for the past few years has substantial backing, especially among Conservatives. And the job doesn’t pay enough to lure candidates that are not independently wealthy or have to sacrifice better career incomes with pensions.

If nobody better steps up to the plate, just for pure amusement, I’d be interested in seeing Jay Aspin and Bill Vrebosch giving Chirico a run for his money. Aspin, a long-time former city councillor and one-term Tory Nipissing-Timiskaming MP, would have to give up his Near North Public School Board chairmanship. That would be welcome news for more than a few educators and parents of students, although he retains strong voter support. And current North Bay Councillor Vrebosch, a former long-time East Ferris mayor and former provincial Conservative candidate, always brings a lot of fire to every campaign.

(Editor's note: Mr. Aspin indicated this morning that he intended to seek re-election to the Near North District School Board – Zone 1)

The big issue will probably be about the twin-pad community centre planned for the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex. Despite it being near shovel ready and about $2 million already spent on designs and other processes, there is still debate whether the location is right for an investment that might top $50M when interest is taken into account (with little funding coming from other levels of government so far).

I’m not sure which one would make the worst mayor, the upside is it means two of the three will be out of the picture for four years – while making room for some new blood in the political arena.

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