Debate draws packed house
Ward 1 and 5 councillor candidates outline their priorities and answer voters’ questions
Timmins city council candidates for Ward 1 and Ward 5 put their platforms out to the public at a twohour debate held at Collège Boréal Thursday night to let voters know what they stand for.
Only one candidate – Ken Pye in Ward 1 – didn’t show up.
This was the third debate hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce to provide the public with a chance to meet the council candidates for the Oct. 22 municipal election. At previous debates, the five mayoralty candidates have been presented, as have the councillor candidates for Wards 2, 3 and 4.
On Thursday night the voters were presented with candidates for Ward 1: Veronica Farrell and Rock Whissell.
Also on hand to meet the voters were the 12 candidates for Ward 5: Michelle Boileau, Mike Doody, Karina Miki Douglas-Takayesu, Rick Dubeau, John Ivanovs, Andrew Marks, Kristen Murray, Noella Rinaldo, Cory Robin, Jean Roy, Jason Sereda and Alex Szczebonski.
each candidate was given two minutes to outline who they are, along with what they plan and propose to do if they get elected to city council. it was the usual stuff of outlining achievements, qualifications and well-intentioned plans.
the only surprise came from newbie candidate Jason Sereda (Ward 5) who said the voters must consider which candidates are best qualified. after listing several things voters should be asking themselves about candidates, Sereda, who sports a ponytail, put some comic relief into the mix when he said: “Finally, most important of all, who has the best hair?”
it had the desired effect with a round of laughter throughout the audience.
One of the first to offer an opening statement was Mike doody, the most senior of the Ward 5 candidates. he said after 35 years at the city council table he felt he could continue to contribute to the betterment of the city.
doody said he would be working with organizations and other communities in the North in the hope that when timmins lobbies other levels of government, it is done with a united voice.
after opening statements, moderator Melanie Verreault put questions to the candidates on a variety of issues that have been discussed in the weeks and months leading up to the election.
in the first round of comments, candidates were asked their opinions on the new aquatic centre for timmins that is being proposed by the city.
Murray (Ward 5) said research told her that developing an eightlane pool would make the project open to more funding from higher levels of government.
“So in my mind i thought OK, if we’re going to get more funding for this opportunity then obviously that’s a good thing,” said Murray.
She added she is aware of the funding challenges are in the millions of dollars.
“are we worth that? i think so,” said Murray, who added that serious fundraising would be required but she was confident the city could do it.
She said she would support the project only if more funding comes through.
“if i sit on city council i will move toward getting that,” she said.
Sereda (Ward 5) spoke against the pool idea.
“unfortunately, i think with the living cost, we need to be realistic about what we plan,” he said, adding that timmins council has to distinguish between what people want from things that people really need.
“to me when there’s almost a thousand people who are homeless in the community, our money could be better spent elsewhere,” he said.
Farrell (Ward 1) said she supported the pool project because many timmins families are travelling regularly to cochrane to take advantage of the newer pool facility there. Farrell also said she would not vote to support the pool construction if there is no funding commitment from higher levels of government.
Other candidates did not respond to that specific question, but in a discussion about promoting better lifestyles in the city, rinaldo said yes, she is a supporter of the pool.
She said the city needs to promote healthy lifestyles and the pool is an investment in the community.
the next question from the moderator asked the candidates if they supported having another Stars and thunder festival in 2019.
Sereda (Ward 5) said he is a music lover, but said he was told that the concerns of local musicians were ignored in the planning of the event. Sereda asked what’s the point of having a big music festival if local musicians cannot be showcased and promoted.
douglas-takayesu (Ward 5) voiced her support for having a festival but only as a three-day event, featuring more local artists and she would push to have a financial audit done.
also speaking in support of continuing the festival was Farrell (Ward 1).
in a comment made earlier in the evening, candidate dubeau (Ward 5) said he remembered the original concept presented to city council in 2016 for Stars and thunder as part of a unique canada day celebration for canada 150.
dubeau said he voted with all council members to investigate the possibility of having a threeday festival. instead, he said the mayor came back with a proposal for an eight-day festival.
dubeau said a deferral on the full eight-day festival was requested at that time by coun. Joe campbell and supported by himself. the rest of council opposed the deferral and rushed through the approval for the festival.
“to make it clear, i was not against the festival. i was against the lack of transparency,” said dubeau.
the transparency concern was also spoken to by candidate Szczebonski (Ward 5).
he said he believes a future city council should return to the committee system, so than any new projects are properly planned and vetted at the council table. Szczebonski said this would bring transparency to the taxpayers.
later in the meeting, responding to a question from the moderator about transparency, Szczebonski said too many administration documents pass through council’s hands without council members knowing what goes on.
“unless you have a committee system and the council chair of that committee actually sees the documentation that staff is working with, you would have no idea and they (council) would have no idea,” he said.
Marks (Ward 5) also commented on the transparency issue when he spoke about the budget process, which he said is a key function of council.
Marks said it is important for council to hear from ordinary taxpayers when it comes to discretionary spending, things that council can decide for or against, such as new sidewalks, street repairs, snow plowing or playgrounds.
“but if we’re not hearing because people aren’t coming out, or they don’t care, or their voice isn’t heard, then it’s up to us to do it and we’ll do it. but then where is that transparency that is required?” Marks asked.
ivanovs (Ward 5) also spoke on transparency and reminded the group that he approached city council as a citizen at one meeting in 2017 to request the right of citizens to make presentations on a specific issue at the same meeting where that issue would be discussed by council.
ivanovs said council would only allow that if there was a vote taken with a required two-thirds majority that night, otherwise he would have to submit a request two weeks ahead of time to speak on the subject.
“i pleaded with council that they have a provision to allow the public to address council on only those matters with council permission,” ivanovs said.
he said the request to address council that evening was not approved.
candidates were also asked where the city might consider spending more money if additional money was allocated. the question was put to roy (Ward 5).
“We definitely need to do more for the homeless. in fact a lot more,” said roy.
he said the social system does a lot for homeless people, but said the system is still lacking.
roy said if there was extra money, the city could also look into constructing a homeless shelter. he added that the city would have to keep an eye on the budget for any spending.
boileau (Ward 5) said her priority would be to direct additional money toward providing affordable social housing.
She said it is difficult in timmins to find any affordable housing, but said the city could invest in social housing.
Murray (Ward 5) said if there was additional money to be allocated, she too has a concern for the homeless but added she also fervently believes in the need to invest in arts and culture.
rinaldo (Ward 5) said any additional money would be nice but the important thing would be to invest in partnerships with other groups and organizations to improve the city. that way, she said, the city could double or triple any funding that is available.
“Make that money grow,” she said.
dubeau (Ward 5) also commented on additional spending and said if funds were available his choice would to be spend the money on infrastructure, for things such as sewer and water. he said if the infrastructure issue is not addressed as soon as possible, it would only get worse.
also on the issue of money, candidates were asked if they had to cut a service provided by the city, what would they cut. the question was put to candidate robin (Ward 5).
robin said it was not the best idea to have cuts for sake of saving a handful of dollars for each taxpayer. he said the city would be losing out on serious services.
“What are we going to lose? We’re going to lose roads,” robin said, as he equated a 10% tax saving to the amount of money he would save on takeout food in one year. he said it might even force discussions into shutting down the Golden Manor long-term care home.
robin said all city services cost money. he said the city cannot just start slashing costs without there being consequences.
he said at this time, unless there is a major push by taxpayers to cut some specific spending, robin said he would cut nothing. the comment elicited energetic applause.
City council election candidates appeared before a full house Thursday night at the CollËge BorÈal auditorium where the Timmins Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate for council candidates from Wards 1 and 5. In all, 14 candidates argued their reasons for seeking seats on city council in the Oct. 22 municipal election. Candidates spoke about such things as who has the most effective economic solutions to who has the best hair.