Election 2018: Second All-Candidates Metting

I attended the second all-candidates meeting September 19. Held at the Stewart Community Centre in Pakenham, it show-cased candidates running for councillor in that ward, plus for mayor and deputy-mayor.

There were several common themes:

  • As with the first meeting, every challenger, except David Hinks, said town finances are a mess or the town over-taxes or over-spends.
  • Four challengers said they represent change, including John Levi, who’s been on Council three times already. (Change, without attribution, can mean anything you want it to be.)
  • Six of the “contestants,” including two incumbents, want to open up the rural wards to more severances, and several openly advocated for the return of rural subdivisions. (The two-decade-old ethic of balancing growth while maintaining rural character seems threatened.)
  • The majority of candidates supported affordable housing, without presenting clear ideas about how to provide it. Several blamed the town for not forcing builders to provide it. Those same candidates said we should encourage builders to develop here. (None saw the obvious conflict there—if you force someone to build low-profit housing, they will either say no or go elsewhere—unless you provide a subsidy.)
  • As with the previous meeting, many newcomers advocated for greater openness, transparency and communication. Some provided ideas, like a quarterly newsletter and insisted the message get to everyone, even if they don’t read papers or online info. (The town has looked into greater communications. To do what the candidates asked would involve at least two new staffers and mail-outs to all residents. )
All challengers criticized the current Council, often vehemently. The contenders ignored any successes of the current Council or found a negative approach. For example, the town sold thirteen industrial park lots in the last eighteen months—more than all previous Mississippi Mills councils combined; yet, John Levi complained that the town has no plans for the next phase (we do); and, Steve Maynard complained because the town has not already serviced the next phase. (Plans are underway but the sudden sales boom depleted lots faster than predicted.)

Mayor Candidates

Ken Laframboise criticized the official plan because of the natural heritage system and protection for wetlands (two policies mandated by the province). He supported affordable housing, a change in severance policy, landowner rights, minimum tax increases, a reduction in the use of consultants, and a reduction in legal fees. (The town hires consultants because staff does not have the time to do the studies. You can reduce consultants by increasing staff. Legal fees are high because so many people challenge the town at the land tribunal or other provincial body. Ironically, two of the biggest generators of these fees were in the room: another mayor candidate and the meeting organizer.)

Christa Lowry, a current Ramsay Ward councillor, supports the agriculture community and rural development. (She created the agriculture advisory committee last year; so she has creds in this area.) She advocates for fiscal responsibility and continued improvement of roads and bridges. She noted that Council has already fixed ten of fifteen old bridges on the to-do list.

Paul Watters, a current Ramsay Ward councillor, supports a change in severance policy, the introduction of broadband internet into all rural communities, and more natural gas access in the industrial park. (Paul has bugged Enbridge Gas for years to get gas in the park.)

Steve Maynard began by addressing his negative reputation and said he is no longer like that. (On his Facebook page he mentions "my court missteps from 8 years ago," forgetting, maybe, it was just two years ago he sued Jill McCubbin and the town because he didn’t like her employment arrangement with the library and the town.) He harshly criticized the town’s taxation and debt level. (This is a favorite complaint of contenders and rarely based on reality.)

During question period, Maynard said that, because of the natural heritage system addition to the official plan, no one will be able to dig a hole to plant a tree. He believes that the definition of “site alteration” means nothing can be done. (Professional planners tried several times in the past to convince him his interpretation is wrong. He stubbornly clings to it, likely because it suits his agenda.) 

Observation: People who shine at candidates meetings are those who realize these events are a specialized form of theatre. Mr. Maynard clearly knew this. He was a chatty, smiley, and witty populist. He was unabashedly critical of the current government, he agreed with every critical remark made, and he stretched facts when it suited him. I saw a bit of Trump and Ford in him.

Deputy-Mayor Candidates

John Levi said he stands for change. He said he’d repair relations between the town, the county and neighbouring towns. (Mississippi Mills has no problems with other towns, and we have a good relationship with the county except for the one issue of motorized vehicles on the OVRT in Almonte.) He says the town needs to fix its financial management (the same system in place when he was mayor), needs to redo the official plan, and must allow more rural residential development.

For a former mayor, he has trouble with facts. His campaign brochure tells people they can vote by email. (If all his supporters try that, he won’t do very well.) He complained about the parks and rec study commissioned when he was mayor and then asked why the town is doing a new one. (The town is doing an operational review of the parks and rec department to find administrative efficiencies, something Mr. Levi advocated as mayor. It’s not the same.)

Mario Coculuzzi spent his allotted four minutes complaining about the town’s long-term financial plan and its budget management, and in the process showed an incomplete knowledge of both.

Jane Torrance, a current Almonte Ward councillor, presented an upbeat road map for Pakenham growth: promotion of the OVRT, tourism, broad-band connectivity, and residential growth around the village.

David Hinks promised change, to build bridges in the community, and to fight for Pakenham’s fair share in Mississippi Mills.

Dieter King will be on the ballot but dropped out of the campaign.

Pakenham Ward Candidates

Vicki Barr McDougall said change is her goal but her platform is very similar to her one opponent. She advocates openness, transparency, and accountability. She is critical of town financial management. She wants more attention paid to parks, roads and bridges.

Denzil Ferguson is the current Pakenham Ward councillor. He advocates for more rural residential growth, better communications, and continued attention paid to roads and bridges.


Kanata Montessori School said...

Its really great that you are taking the tie to put these blogs together. Well done.
Jonathan Robinson

The Mad Hatter said...

Thank you Sean!

Anonymous said...

Very nicely done!
You captured the essence of the meeting and the candidates beautifully.
I laughed out loud several times.
Keep the summaries coming!