Candidates discuss the issues in Chesterville; one more meeting to go in North Dundas

CHESTERVILLE — There were no fireworks as candidates in North Dundas Township’s municipal election met Sept. 24 at the Chesterville Legion, although mayoral hopefuls Gerry Boyce and Tony Fraser tried to cut through the haze of coming marijuana legalization.

Second in the series of meetings co-hosted by the Dundas Federation of Agriculture and North Dundas Chamber of Commerce, the event drew about 150 people to see nine of the 11 council candidates set to appear on the virtual ballot when online polls run Oct. 17-22. After participating in the first debate in South Mountain a week earlier, candidate-for-councillor Michael Trolley sent his regrets as work obligations kept him from attending the Chesterville date. The absence of Tim Wasylko — who has previously announced he’s no longer seeking a councillor’s seat — came as no surprise, although he technically remains a choice for voters.

In the popular format used by the co-sponsoring organizations, every candidate made opening and closing remarks and fielded at least one question — with all queries posed by audience members. They tackled subjects ranging from the idea of cutting taxes on farmland, Cornwall-driven social services and social housing policies, the township’s current state of emergency preparedness in light of the Ottawa tornadoes, whether North Dundas might switch to a professional firefighting service, to ongoing odour concerns in Winchester and the hot topic of recreational cannabis legalization.

On that last question — whether North Dundas should take advantage of a limited opportunity to pass a bylaw prohibiting storefront retail marijuana sales — Boyce said he liked the approach of some municipalities that have chosen to delay for a year. “There’s just too many unknowns,” said Boyce, noting that North Dundas, like other municipalities, will received $10,000 in federal money to assist with policing and enforcement after legalization.

“We don’t know who’s going to do it, if our bylaw staff’s going to do it. We haven’t decided that yet. It’s up to the new council,” added the current deputy mayor, who went on to propose some sort of community consultation to determine next steps. “That’s all we know about it yet, so I think we should opt out the first year, just my opinion, and go to the community, see what they want to do, see what their feelings are, whether it’s a mailout, but I think we should hear from the community where they stand on it. It’s coming, so we’ve got to get ready for it.”

Fraser, currently a councillor, differentiated himself from his competitor, suggesting the market should decide if such shops exist in the township “much the same way the marketplace decides whether or not six or seven pizza outlets are necessary in North Dundas.”

“I’m not sure how you would hold a referendum on such an item,” offered Fraser, voicing his personal support for “businesses and entrepreneurs” and individuals with “hopes, dreams and ideas” about a “controlled future” as businesspeople with retail marijuana aspirations.

“Saying that, the marketplace will dictate if a retail outlet in North Dundas is going to be viable. I don’t think we need to decide whether or not … we want that type of store in our neighbourhood. I believe the marketplace will be that decider …”

Armstrong vs. Pinch 

The meeting also witnessed  some extra tension between deputy mayoral candidates Al Armstrong — currently an 18-year veteran councillor — and Brad Pinch.

Near the end of the previous all-candidate meeting in South Mountain, Armstrong appeared nonplussed when Pinch suggested the accomplishments of the current council were largely the doing of outgoing eight-year Mayor Eric Duncan. Reprising their seats at the debate table in Chesterville, Armstrong took a more aggressive tone with his opponent on a couple of occasions.

Pinch again heavily criticized Parmalat’s continuing odour problems in Winchester and argued the township should get tougher with the multi-national corporation. There was no risk of Parmalat shutting down the Winchester plant, Pinch asserted, given the millions of dollars it recently invested.

“With all due respect, Brad makes a lot of assumptions,” Armstrong shot back, adding, “In my time, he’s only come to one council meeting, which was the last one. Actually, that’s wrong, he was at one years earlier to complain about not having a Tim Hortons here.”

Armstrong then noted “the other meeting that Brad missed” in Winchester, earlier in the summer, when apologetic Parmalat officials outlined technological upgrades and changes intended to solve the odour issues.

Noting the Nestlé experience in Chesterville, Armstrong recalled how that European corporation pulled out of the township not long after investing $70-million in plant upgrades, after “people swore it would never happen.”

Describing Parmalat as “an important cog in the community,” Armstrong emphasized the firm has never threatened to leave. “I’ve never wanted to be aggressive with any one of our stakeholders, be it one single resident, or our largest private employer,” he added. “And so, I continue to work with them, and I would think any council would have to work with them, and we know they are doing their best, and they will continue to do their best.”

He insisted the dairy processor and cheesemaker is “being held accountable … by not only our municipal council, but they are being held accountable by the MOE [Ministry of Environment]. They had their inspectors there last week, checking out the science that my opponent has said doesn’t work. They have passed the science. They believe it’s perfectly fine. They tested it, they smelled it, they used their bare hands on what was left….”

When a broad question about setting priorities between taxes, services and programs was posed to the deputy mayoral duo, there was a ripple of amusement in the crowd as both men hesitated to answer first. A smiling Armstrong went ahead and began with a deadpan quip at his opponent: “I’ll wait till Brad figures out what his last answer was.”

“My budget approach has always been for the last 18 years is to look at the level of services we think we can provide, that we do not take a step backwards, that we provide the quality of life and bring in as many possible programs and social services,” said Armstrong, describing it as a process of “difficult decisions.”

Added the candidate, “I don’t support huge tax increases, never have. I don’t look  any particular number. I look at the services that we can provide, the quality of life I believe we’re going to reap from those services and they way we’re adjusting our budget … and the dollars going in.” Armstrong further noted that he takes into account the burden on taxpayers, particularly those on fixed incomes and struggling businesses. “Tax increases for the sake of tax increases have never been my way, but also making the hard decisions where we have to increase taxes to keep our services at a level, our social life at a certain level.”

“I actually agree with Al,” said Pinch. “I know it’s hard to believe.”

Pinch went on to suggest the township wasn’t doing enough to find additional sources of funds from organizations with money on offer. He pointed to a Canadian Federation of Municipalities program that was offering $500,000 for green initiatives as an example and asserted that North Dundas never accessed it.

“Money that’s been available out there in order to help with other programs through FedDev, and many of the other ones that are out there have never been researched” by North Dundas, Pinch said.

“Yes, we have a fixed income, and absolutely believe that raising taxes is a terrible idea,” he said, observing, “I pay taxes just like the rest of you and they keep going up.”

He recommended the township should look at areas where it can “stretch a dollar” with an eye to economic “multipliers” when money is invested.

The North Dundas candidates will have a final meeting Oct. 1 at the Joel Community Centre in Winchester.

 

 

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