Political speed dating evening is a hit
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.