Candidates talk priorities
Five of seven seeking to be Brantford’s next mayor take part in televised event
Brantford’s mayoral candidates offered their opinions on some of the most important city issues in a televised event on Thursday.
In what was less a debate than a question-and-answer session, candidates responded to questions posed by executive members of the Brantford-Brant Chamber of Commerce. The event was broadcast on Rogers TV.
It is the final debate before the Oct. 22 municipal election.
In front of a packed gallery in the council chamber at city hall, five of the seven registered candidates talked about their priorities and offered their opinions about some of the city’s most significant issues.
Chris Friel, who is seeking his sixth term as mayor, is being challenged by: Kevin Davis, a lawyer and former city councillor; business executive Michael Issa; Dave Wrobel, a former city councillor and past mayoral candidate; perennial election candidate John Turmel; Barbara Berardi, a former realtor on a disability pension; and Wayne Maw, a disability pension recipient and community volunteer. Berardi and Maw didn’t participate in the debate.
As the campaign enters the home stretch, candidates were asked to identify what they feel are the top three issues for the city. Planning for growth, getting a handle on taxes and spending, and finding solutions to traffic issues and increased crime and drug problems emerged as common concerns.
“We’re going to need to get our finances in order,” said Wrobel, who served as a city councillor for three terms representing Ward 4. “We’ve got to get the budget under control.”
One strategy, he said, is to focus on bringing industrial and commercial development to the municipality that pay high tax rates and lighten the residential tax burden.
Davis, who served two terms as a city councillor from 1985 to 1991, said that over the last four years, Brantford’s residential taxes have increased at twice the rate of inflation, representing an extra $10 million in spending.
He said the city, once it sets its annual budget, needs to stick with it and not make “one-off decisions” for extra spending during the year. David said the roads and sewer systems must meet the needs of all areas of the city. And development of the lands north of Powerline Road recently annexed from Brant County must be done wisely, with an environmentally responsible range of housing options.
Friel said continued growth of the city – the population has increased by 8,000 since 2006 – requires a leader with vision.
He said the city must focus on a housing strategy that takes residents through the entirety of their lives and provides assistance to those in need.
Friel also pointed to a survey of the public in 2017 about budget priorities, in which 66 per cent of respondents said they felt they received “fairly good or very good” value for their tax dollar.
“It’s not about taxes but the services we provide.”
Turmel, who says he’s a professional gambler, holds the Guinness World Records for the most elections contested (96) and lost (95). His campaign platform is largely about using what he calls bus bucks, through which youth would be paid with $2 bus tickets to ride buses or pay taxes. He also promotes the use of a time bank that would allow parents to care for each other’s children and pay with IOUs. The same system would be used to care for the elderly.
“Brantford issued Brantford dollars in 1858 and 1859,” said Turmel. “If we could do this before, we can do it again.”
Michael Issa said his top priorities centre around health-care improvements, revitalizing the local economy and improving the city’s aging infrastructure.
Issa is proposing what he calls a “free-trade zone” through which industry worldwide is invited to set up in the city, with “no bureaucracy and no red tape.”
“The only caveat is that they buy local, hire local, spend local, but export their products.”
Candidates were asked to how they would make improvements to aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges and overburdened sewage pumping stations, a priority for the next term of council.
Wrobel said it’s imperative to make improvements to pumping stations on Empey Street and Fifth Avenue, which are at or beyond capacity making it difficult to approve development in those areas because the stations can’t handle the extra pressure.
He said the cost for the improvements should be shared by the municipality and developers. He also called for succession planning so that current city staff is passing on critical information to those who will take their places.
Issa said the ice jam flood in Brantford in February could have been avoided but “the city was not prepared for it.
“We have to develop a pro-active, not a re-active approach,” he said. “We have to plan, and plan, and plan.”
Friel argued that no one could have been prepared for the flood, which he said is a consequence of climate change.
“This is happening in every community,” said Friel, adding that money needs to be invested in improved infrastructure.
Davis said the city needs to take a look at its capital project plan and “move things around” based on priority.
He said the city also needs to consider selling assets and look at how it can access funding from the provincial and federal governments.
Brantford mayoral candidates Michael Issa (left), Chris Friel, Dave Wrobel, John Turmel and Kevin Davis met for a final debate Thursday hosted by the Brantford-Brant Chamber of Commerce and broadcast on Rogers TV.