Election 2018: First All-Candidates Meeting

I attended the first all-candidates meeting September 12 at the Civitan for candidates running for councillor in two wards. Present for Almonte were Jill McCubbin, Duncan Abbott, Jan Maydan, and John Dalgity. Present for Ramsay were Ken Kicksee, Cynthia Guerard, Bev Holmes, and Tony Barr. John Edwards was away coaching a para-canoe event in Halifax.

Their three-minute speeches closely followed their brochures, so I won’t go into details on their platforms now. Tony Barr announced he’s dropping out.

All the newcomers criticized the current Council, which is expected. That happens every election and is how rookies establish their credentials. Curiously, incumbent Duncan Abbott tossed a few barbs at the people he has served with for eight years. He came across as disgruntled.

Of the eight, four said town finances are a mess and taxes too high. That is a typical tactic of newbies. I said the same in my first run in 2010. It is a position born out of misunderstanding of the scope and complexity of municipal finance. Of the newcomers, only Ken Kicksee seemed to understand the goals and benefits of the long-range financial plan.

During question period, most people at the mic asked for new programs and services. I was amused when many of the fiscal-conservative, finance-bashing candidates agreed to look at the expensive wishlist. Requests for an animal shelter for cats and crossing guards for the schools on Paterson would cost a few tens of thousands annually. One request was for a southern Almonte bypass road. A town consultant already priced that out at $6 million. A real estate agent wanted the town to open up more vacant lands in Almonte, such as the land on the west side of the river or the land near Maude Street. One study we did said the west side would require a new water tower, more wells and pumps, and other infrastructure with a price tag of close to $10 million. The Maude lands have thin soil or hard rock. No developer wants to accept the cost of servicing that land.

There is a lack of understanding about how far municipal authority goes. Bev Holmes and Cynthia Guerard criticized the natural heritage system added to the official plan. I never liked it either, and insisted we do the minimum (and we did). It is a requirement of the province. Any suggestion that a candidate can get rid of it is misleading.

All the newcomers stated Council needs to communicate better, though I heard no new ideas.
Several candidates wanted the town to live-stream Council meetings. As Jill McCubbin correctly pointed out, that item has been on the Council to-do list for years. We have been waiting for high-speed internet, which just arrived at the admin building this year.

Bev Holmes said Council should hold meetings in other parts of the community. (I made the same promise in the 2014 election. In 2015, Council voted down my request to mandate one meeting each year in both Pakenham and Ramsay.) Jan Maydan suggested Council let residents ask questions at Council meetings. (In 2011, Val Wilkinson and I suggested the same. Council turned it down.)

Several candidates said Council should hold town hall meetings. We did have one during discussions on the heritage conservation district, but should have held others. (During budget deliberations in 2015, I moved that Council hold a town hall meeting to explain the budget and the long-range financial plan. My motion didn’t get a seconder.)

My parenthetical remarks above are there to illustrate that the best intentions of candidates can whither around the Council table.

Every newcomer to Council faces a steep learning curve and disappointments. This lot will be no different.