Po­lit­i­cal speed dat­ing evening is a hit

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - RON­ALD ZAJAC

Ted Carr came to Wed­nes­day evening ’s Brockville elec­tion mee­tand-greet with a mis­sion.

“I have a list here of four ques­tions,” said Carr, who brought those ques­tions – touch­ing on the twin-pad project, the Aquatar­ium, the Brockville Rail­way Tun­nel deficit and the com­po­si­tion of coun­cil – to each of the can­di­dates present at the Me­mo­rial Cen­tre Hall.

Carr was part of a large crowd of vot­ers who turned up for the event, ea­ger to learn more about the con­tenders for the eight coun­cil seats and the mayor’s job in the Oct. 22 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

In an ex­er­cise of po­lit­i­cal speed dat­ing, vot­ers could go from ta­ble to ta­ble to speak to can­di­dates and pick up their cam­paign ma­te­rial.

The po­ten­tial costs of the twin­pad project was one fre­quently broached sub­ject with the can­di­dates, as was the con­tin­u­ing Aquatar­ium deficits.

“Cost is the main fac­tor in who I’m go­ing to vote for, and how we’ re go­ing to spend the tax­pay­ers’ money,” said city res­i­dent Jack McNamee.

He added he is worried about the city’s plans to build the new arena while it pre­pares to con­trib­ute $4.7 mil­lion to­ward the Brockville Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal re­de­vel­op­ment and strug­gles with the Aquatar­ium and tun­nel deficits.

Asked what he is look­ing for in a can­di­date, Brockville lawyer Greg Best said: “I want en­ergy.”

“I think the coun­cil has made some very good de­ci­sions with the tun­nel and with the Aquatar­ium,” added Best.

“I think we just need some drive and some en­thu­si­asm.”

Best added he does not like the “neg­a­tive tone” around some of the cur­rent civic dis­cus­sions.

Bob Larocque, on hand with his wife Jane, def­i­nitely no­ticed some of that en­ergy.

“I think there’s a lot of youth­ful­ness in the peo­ple and the ideas,” he said.

May­oralty can­di­date Ja­son Baker’s cam­paign rented the com­mu­nity hall for the meet-and-greet evening, say­ing all can­di­dates were wel­come to present their ma­te­rial and talk to vot­ers.

And while Baker ad­mit­ted he was worried he’d end up alone in an empty room, the ex­act op­po­site hap­pened.

The hall was crowded for al­most the du­ra­tion of the event, which drew the vast ma­jor­ity of the can­di­dates.

There are 20 can­di­dates for the eight coun­cil spots. The list in­cludes five in­cum­bents, Leigh Bursey, Phil Deery, Jeff Earle, Mike Kali­vas and Jane Fullar­ton, as well as two who served as coun­cil­lors in pre­vi­ous terms, Tony Barnes and Larry Jour­nal.

The other can­di­dates are Jessica Barabash, Matthew Blair, Mark Dar­rah, Bud Eyre, John Hen­der­son, Nathalie Lavergne, Ralph Legere, Naomi McNeil, Robert Shan­non, Joy Ster­ritt, Willy Steven­son, Cameron Wales and Matt Wren.

Kali­vas, who had a prior fam­ily com­mit­ment, was the only no-show among the coun­cil can­di­dates.

Baker is vy­ing with Kelly Cole, Cec Drake and Mark Oliver for the mayor’s chain. Drake and Oliver did not at­tend Wed­nes­day ’s event, prompt­ing the can­cel­la­tion of a sched­uled por­tion of the evening de­voted to the may­oralty race.

There was, how­ever, plenty for the crowd to do with­out a may­oral de­bate.

“I can­not be­lieve the num­ber of peo­ple,” said Ster­ritt.

“I haven’t stopped talk­ing and we haven’t stopped sta­pling my bio for peo­ple.”

Dar­rah be­lieves this is an in­di­ca­tion that the Oc­to­ber elec­tion is get­ting more in­ter­est from the vot­ing pub­lic.

“I know from be­ing at the doors, peo­ple seem to be fairly en­gaged,” he said.

And while the talk of­ten cen­tres on cur­rent civic is­sues, Dar­rah has been sur­prised at one re­cur­ring ques­tion: “What are you go­ing to do for the se­niors?”

That seems to fly in the face of the per­sist­ing no­tion – one lo­cal of­fi­cials are al­ways quick to try to dis­pel – that Brockville is a se­nior-fo­cused “re­tire­ment com­mu­nity.”

Like many of the can­di­dates and vot­ers, McNeil, who is run­ning in her first mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion, liked the meet-and-greet for­mat bet­ter than the tra­di­tional all-can­di­dates meet­ing, where each can­di­date, at best, gets a few min­utes to an­swer a ques­tion.

“I think it was very help­ful be­cause you were able to have hon­est con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple,” she said.

“With 20 peo­ple run­ning, I think this was one of the best venues,” Shan­non agreed.

“I think peo­ple are a lot more en­gaged and they ’re want­ing to be a lot more well-versed on things.”

Coun­cil’s long­est serv­ing cur­rent mem­ber, Coun. Jeff Earle, who is run­ning in his ninth elec­tion, said he was a bit sur­prised at the turnout, and at the sight of peo­ple tak­ing cam­paign brochures home.

But Earle wryly cau­tioned that, if there were 500 peo­ple in the room, that still left thou­sands of vot­ers who did not show up.

“I think you’ve prob­a­bly got the cream of the elec­torate here, the ones that are in­ter­ested, the po­lit­i­cal junkies,” said Earle.

The abo­li­tion of the ward sys­tem in 2010 has made it more difficult for new­com­ers to get their names known across the city, as op­posed to a third of the city, he added.

The next two weeks will see two tra­di­tional all-can­di­dates meet­ings: The Leeds and Grenville Labour Coun­cil is hold­ing one at Flavour Phil’s (for­merly CJ’s) next Wed­nes­day at 6 p.m., while the Brockville and District Cham­ber of Com­merce event at the Brockville Arts Cen­tre is at 6 p.m. on Thurs­day, Sept. 27.


Ted Carr, right, speaks to Brockville coun­cil can­di­date Mark Dar­rah at an elec­tion meet-and-greet event on Wed­nes­day evening at the Me­mo­rial Cen­tre. Be­hind Carr, Bob Val­ley speaks to Coun. Jane Fullar­ton. At bot­tom left is Dar­rah's wife Ju­dith.

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