North Bay Mayor Peter Chirico wasted little time between taking the oath of office during Tuesday evening's inaugural meeting of the newly elected city council and reminding citizens of several of his election planks, acknowledging the group would need to work together to get them done, and then doubling down on each by adding, "And we will."
It's a clean slate. There will be no second-guessing of this council on this night. But, those who turned out to vote have presented a clear mandate for change on multiple municipal fronts. This is the easiest day of the four-year term and the mayor made it clear he feels this council is ready to address the issues.
"We're ready to work hard and carry forward the change the city of North Bay needs in order to be successful," said Chirico in his address following the swearing-in ceremony in council chambers at city hall before a packed house and those watching via live stream or television.
"We will have our disagreements," he continued, "we will have our debates. We will need time to learn the things we don't know and the time to come together as a team."
The ceremony began with the piping in of the colours by the North Bay Police Services Colour Party. This was followed by a land acknowledgment from Nipissing First Nation Councillor Joan McLeod Shabogesic and then the choir from Saints-Anges Elementary sang O Canada.
Justice Jean-Gilles Lebel swore in Mayor Chirico while Justice James A.S. Wilcox performed the swearing-in of each of the councillors. See the full ceremony below:
Coun. McLeod Shabogesic also delivered greetings and a message from NFN Chief Scott McLeod seeking a meaningful partnership with the City of North Bay "beyond land acknowledgments and attending pow-wows," to which Chirico agreed.
This council — the most gender-balanced of any in northern Ontario — also represents a significant shift in the priorities of voters. Much of the campaign focused on the increasingly evident social upheaval in the city, centred on mental health and addiction, and their downstream manifestation in homelessness. The location — and need for — a new community centre with twin-pad ice surfaces was also a divisive election issue. A desire for improved transparency in the municipality's dealings also came to the forefront in the lead-up to the October 24 election.
"The people of North Bay expect us to be accessible, open, and transparent — and that we will do," stated Chirico who takes over the mayoralty after three terms under Al McDonald's watch.
It's an interesting mix of councillors, representing more walks of life and boasting even more varied life experiences. Whereas many councils are often business-minded and filled with local business leaders, this group's expertise includes various social services and healthcare fields with the presence of strong local business owners and operators plus Mayor Chirico's own business background to tie it all together.
They will need it as they navigate what is sure to be a challenging budget process, led by Deputy Mayor Maggie Horsfield as chair of the general government committee and budget chief. Councillor Lana Mitchell will chair the infrastructure and operations committee and Coun. Justine Mallah is the chair of community services.
Coun. Sara Inch will serve as vice-chair for the general government committee. Coun. Chris Mayne is vice-chair for infrastructure and operations and Coun. Mark King will take on the role of vice-chair for community services. Councillors Tanya Vrebosch, Jamie Lowery, Gary Gardiner and Mac Bain are members of all three committees. All councillors serve on each of the three committees while Mayor Chirico is an ex-officio member of them all.
"The people of North Bay told us they are concerned about the cost of living in our great community and they worry about affordability for themselves, but more importantly for their children and grandchildren."
Making North Bay an even more attractive place where families can put down roots and prosper was a prominent aspect of the Chirico campaign and he often likened it to a wish he has for his own family.
"I want a better North Bay and one they can be proud of — and that is what we will do," he added.
"As we embark on the journey of the next four years, I am mindful of the promises I made during my campaign and I'm mindful of the promises made by my council colleagues," Chirico said. "There are many common themes and with many new faces around the table, I am very excited to be able to lead this new journey, with the support of each of my colleagues."
Mayor Chirico thanked all those in attendance including his family, who he half-joked, took up half of the seats in the chambers.
He concluded his remarks with, "None of us are perfect and I know that I'm not. And, yes, we will make mistakes. But, we will also work incredibly hard to make the right decisions as we aim to make our community a much better place. To all the citizens, I will be in the mayor's office first thing tomorrow morning and I will arrive every day, ready to lead, and prepared to work."