Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Montague 23 : The Second All Candidates

So, here's what we'll do, with thanks to you-know-who-you-are for the suggestion. Two posts. Here's the factual account of last night's meeting. In a later post, my personal opinions and comment. Hopefully keeping these entirely seperate will minimize the risk of misunderstanding and allow everyone to share their point of view peacefully.

The meeting followed a similar format to the first.

Opening Statements

Reeve Doyle gave a robust defence of his record, focusing primarily on the financial stability of the township. He also stressed the importance of this election as council will serve for four years instead of three. He gave a detailed breakdown of the reserves held by the township. He described the budget process, and the scrutiny given to each of the over 600 line items in the township budget. He stated that in his view the township is not divided.

John McTavish promised an open, responsible and respectful council. He promised that any inquiry would receive a response within three business days. He promised to review all contracts and agreements currently in force. In-camera sessions of council would be minimized if he is elected, and reports on their outcome would be made available. He would immediately form a recreation committee and a roads committee. He would instigate audio / video recording of council meetings, and install a PA system in the Council chambers. He would restore an open question session at council meetings.

Kenneth Hunter reprised his opening address from the first all candidates meeting.

Peter Kavanagh introduced himself as the 'new kid on the block' but assured the audience that Montague was now his home and that he was as committed as anyone else to the township. He stated that he was hearing from people that they want change. Denial of the divide in the township is not going to help; the township must move forward. To do that requires leadership and this is what he has to offer. Currently, he said, we are not seeing leadership from the current council, especially in dealings with other levels of government. He also promised fewer in-camera sessions of council, open questions and open government. He promised a communications plan for the Fire Department, to better link them to the community. He also promised within 12 months to develop a long-term, strategic plan for the development of the township.

David Schoular said he has enjoyed his three years as Deputy Reeve and feels that he has represented the township well. He highlighted the accomplishments of the term: the roads needs study, the Master Fire Plan, development charges, the property standards bylaw and minimal tax increases. If re-elected, he promises leadership and dedication.

Mark Baker described living in the township for over thirty years, and hearing the same issues raised over and over again throughout that time: taxes and basic services. Council is spending money on consultants, but it is the residents voices that need to be heard. He spoke of development being urgent and the need to be more aggressive in defending the Rideau Regional Centre. He will not take the commitment lightly if elected and looks forward to serving on council.

Bonnie Burson reiterated her business background and strengths and stated that she could bring her business skills to bear on council as well as honesty and integrity.

Vince Carroll said that the township was financially secure, that he wanted to push for more recreational facilities and more development, and sat down again.

Dianne Coates described her 25 years of experience in the federal government. She promises fairness, openness and accountability if elected. She wants to restore balance to council. She would push for prudent spending decisions, with a focus on infrastructure. She would work hard to attract industry to Montague and to make it a 'real' community once again.

Bill Dobson said that the community needs to unite in order to move forward. He would replace arrogance with respect, and put the past behind us. The future of Rideau Regional would be a top priority for him. He highlighted the experience of the Montfort Hospital, slated for closure but now a major centre of excellence, thanks to the robust campaign residents mounted in its defence. He would like to see a similar campaign for the Rideau Regional. He would encourage small business in Montague and look for development opportunities at the airport.

Bill Eckersley gave the same opening address as at the first all candidates night.

Hal MacGregor said that the overwhelming message was that the township wants change. His priorities are: lower taxes, cleaning up waste at all levels, listening to residents concerns and making sure that bylaws reflect the rural character of Montague. He would record all council votes. He would like to see parks and playgrounds created to reinforce pride in subdivisions and create neighborhoods in the township. He feels that residents are fed up with the current council.


To David Schoular: Why did you oppose the spending of $120 for a laptop for the OPP, but award yourself a 70% pay increase? Mr. Schoular explained that the laptop issue had been a point of principle; that the OPP already receives over $350,000 for policing services and that if they needed a laptop it should have been budgeted for in the agreement with Montague. On the issue of the raise he explained that the township auditor had carried out a comparison study and recommended a level of compensation to bring Montague up to the Lanark county average.

To John McTavish: Describe the divide in the township. John spoke of social functions that are now attended by one of two solitudes; the firefighters don't come to the seniors functions and vice-versa. The township is divided into groups that never overlap.

To Hal McGregor: What caused the divide in the township? Hal spoke of the confrontational attitude of the current council and suggested the question be directed to the incumbents as to why they don't attend seniors functions any more.

To Gary Doyle: Why did you refuse a $25 donation for the seniors cookbook. Doyle commented that he had been an original member of the Forget-Me-Nots, and he said our seniors need support. However, he said, the seniors club has become politicized. Council does not feel welcome. The seniors need an attitude adjustment to remove the political overtones. The decision not to give the $25 was a whole council decision, not his personally. Peter Kavanagh said that although there might be politics involved in the seniors club, it was unworthy of council to allow personal animosities to deprive all of the seniors of support. He also highlighted that council did the same thing when they refused to help with the $500 insurance deductible when the heat pump at the hall was vandalised. Vince Carroll suggested that the 'vandalism' of the heat pump had been fabricated.

To Dianne Coates: You were 'curt' when answering a question at the last meeting. Will this be your attitude to all questions, or will you only answer questions you want to answer? Dianne gave essentially the same answer as at the previous meeting, explained that she had only spoken at council once, and that she had left after David Schoular had told her to leave the township if she didn't like the way it was run. She said that she had been passionate, as well she might as the court case was a landmark Canadian decision upholding the rights of all.

To all Reeve / Deputy Candidates: What are your views on the CRF? None of the candidates knew what CRF was.

To the current Reeve / Deputy: During the last council term, one councillor was 'forced out' and the treasurer and deputy had been dismissed. What was going on? David Schoular referred the question to the councillor who had resigned.

To Gary Doyle: What did you learn from the lawsuit experience? Doyle said that he'd learned that the council should have taken a different tack. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms 'interfered' with council's suit. He reiterated that nobody had wanted the lawsuit. He described council's role in the investigation and pointed out that the issues were to be resolved by the police and Fire Marshall, and that council should not and could not have been involved in the investigation or interviewed witnesses.

Peter Kavanagh spoke to the firefighters and identified the launching of the lawsuit as the real start of their problems - it was the lawsuit that catapulted them into the public eye and the national and local media. He said that with real leadership the matter could have easily been resolved inside the township and that even if the complaints had continued they would eventually have been starved. He also pointed out that the first threat of legal action from Gary Doyle was made just three weeks after the fire, on January 13, 2005.

David Schoular denied that council had 'jumped in' to the lawsuit and pointed out that they had consulted with all parties before suing. He said that the Charter had not even appeared as an issue until the court date.

To all Candidates: What would they do about preserving the quality of water in the Rideau system? Hal spoke of Smiths Falls occasionally dumping sewage and that the RVCA didn't take any action. Bill Eckersley pointed out that we all share responsibility for water quality, as individual residents.

To Peter Kavanagh: You travel a lot; how would you keep up with your commitment to council. If using telecommunications, who will pay? Peter explained that he would be minimizing travel and had already prepared his consulting business for this contigency. He will pay any costs personally.

To Bill Dobson: Name a positive initiative of the MRA. Bill named the first all-candidates meeting, the Rosedale road cleanup and a litany of social events.

To Incumbents: What is the Master Fire Plan and how did it come about? Reeve Doyle explained that the plan is a province wide initiative of the Fire Marshall's office, that it sets out standards and plans for fire response in the township and that Montague is one of the first in the province to complete the process.

To John McTavish: How can you stand for election when filing for bankruptcy? The moderator ruled this question out of order, but John answered anyway, that his business was in bankruptcy, but that he personally was not.

To All Candidates: The leader of the CUPE local at Rideau Regional asked why they were all talking about RRC in the past tense, and what they were prepared to do to fight for the Centre. Peter Kavanagh said that there was inertia in the current council's response and that only the union was actually doing anything at present. Council is allowing the province to set the agenda. He worries that the levels of government will continue finger pointing while the Centre gradually slides its way to closure. Bill Dobson again spoke of the Montfort example and said that he had discussed the issue with Mayor Staples. There is the chance that a change in provincial government in 2007 could bring a reprieve. Gary Doyle said that the province had agreed to consult the township and that is all we can ask for.

To Dianne Coates: Will you be able to work with the current Reeve if elected? Diane said that as a professional of 25 years standing she can work with anyone.

To David Schoular: Why were you dismissed from your government job? Ruled out of order by the moderator.

To Reeve Doyle: How did cancelling the open question session at council help? Gary said that the question session was being misused by people with 'agendas'. David Schoular claimed that people are still free to speak at council. Hal MacGregor stated this was untrue, and that he had been present at meetings where council refused to hear any questions.

To members of the MRA: Why have you not apologised to the Fire Department? Dianne Coates described how her first home had burned down and how she had ended up married to one of the founding members of the Montague Fire Department. Bill Dobson stated again, that the issue was with council and if council had been willing to talk there need have been no lawsuit.

To Dianne Coates: Clarify your statement on the outcome of the lawsuit. Dianne responded that her statement was that council had been incorrect in bringing the suit and that this was the judge's ruling. Vince Carroll said he had not come to talk about a lawsuit and we should move on. Bonnie Burson echoed that.

In Closing

Gary Doyle said that financial stability must come before all else.

Kenneth Hunter said that there is something in Montague for everyone.

Peter Kavanagh said we need to increase the tax base to achieve things like the required road improvements and that his strategic plan was required to make this happen.

David Schoular said that the township was strong, but bogged down in issues.

Mark Baker said that the township requires leadership.

Bonnie Burson said that she was here because she believes in Montague.

Vince Carroll expressed disappointment that we had not discussed taxes, garbage collection, recreation, roads, or any 'real' issues. What can voters hope to have learned from the evening?

Dianne Coates thanked all for their attendance and involvement.

Bill Dobson said he would look for a project or event to help the township come together and work for a common goal again.

Bill Eckersley read the back of his flyer.

Hal MacGregor said that everyone agrees that we need to move on, and a change in council is required for that to happen.