Thirteen candidates sat on an elevated platform at Settlers Ridge in Smiths Falls October 4 in front of a crowd of over 350 who were listening and deciding between the four women and nine men running for a councillor’s position.
Incumbents — John Maloney, Dawn Quinn, Jay Brennan and Lorraine Allen — were interspersed among the other candidates — Louis Daigle, Wendy Alford, Christopher McGuire, Sheldon Giff, Dennis Buckley, Peter McKenna, Niki Dwyer, Perry Weagle and Ken Manwell.
Each introduced her- or himself and Paul Howard, moderator for the evening, began the questioning. First question: From the 60,000 household catchment basin that uses the hospital, do candidates support $41 from each household on an annual basis to support the core capital funding of equipment for the hospital i.e. MRIs, heart monitors.
Daigle and Manwell suggested looking at other options than residents paying, like service clubs and grants. As an example, Manwell said $1000 had just been contributed to an organization from the weekly Cruise Night.
Maloney suggested using some of the Town’s savings; both Alford and Allen thought taking the necessary $175,000 out of, or adding it to, the Town’s budget was the way to go. McKenna wants to lobby the province.
A question on many minds Thursday night was policing — should there be an OPP costing. For instance, Smiths Falls pays double the rate of Carleton Place’s OPP services.
McGuire’s suggestion was to hire a ride-along mental health nurse to help with the de-escalation if a mental health problem was identified. The nurse could give care and also stay with the person at the hospital freeing the officer to get back to the road.
Alford gave a bit of history: in 15 years, an OPP costing has been asked for three times and three councils have chosen not to proceed. In 2016, she explained, it was learned the town would not know the actual cost of the OPP “until three years after abandoning its own force.”
Victoria Park campground, which always raises strong opinions with the public and councillors, was next on the bill. It’s been in the same location since 1925 and both it and the marina have been operated by the Chamber of Commerce for at least the last 15 years. It was opened to attract tourism and create economic benefits to downtown core; 93 years later the town derives $70,000 and the Chamber $80,000. The restaurants and other service providers, plus Parks Canada who owns the property have decided that 2019 will be the last year for the campground in its present location. If elected, would you vow to lobby Parks Canada and the federal govt to keep Victoria Park campground and marina open indefinitely, or work to find another solution.
“Smiths Falls has to decide the value of its current location,” Dwyer said. “It brings revenue to the Town and partnership with other businesses. Having it not located anywhere is not a desirable option. I would not like to see it moved, or closed or even threatened to close until we find an agreeable solution with the Chamber of Commerce.”
Weagle, Quinn and Manwell all agreed the campground should be kept where it is; McGuire called it a “core driver to the community. And there were others who wanted to keep, reconstruct and further maintain the old Confederation Bridge. Brennan suggested it had not been ”fixed because of marketing the old water treatment plant,” Giff felt it should be kept as a “vehicle and pedestrian connection to the park,” and Dwyer agreed it was a “natural flow for traffic.”
Should Committee of the Whole be open to questions and answers from the public? Dwyer liked the idea of an electronic question and answer, as did Buckley.
Who would support a fully-staffed volunteer fire department to save the town money, Howard asked next. Daigle jumped in to explain that “volunteers are still paid for training and events, so even switching to volunteers isn’t going to save that much. It’s harder to retain them as they move onto other interests,” he added, concluding “I like having a mix of both.”
A rail line between Smiths Falls and Ottawa brought the response from Dwyer that the Town should be playing a “lobbying role, and to push at the provincial levels; both Giff and Alford said the Town needs “affordable housing” not social housing, and in the final wind-up Maloney took the opportunity to say “chicken” five times which solicited $100 for the Food Bank.