Rain didn’t put a damper on the spirits of some of Collingwood’s more politically engaged citizens on Tuesday night.
People started lining up outside the Collingwood Legion on Ontario Street at 5 p.m. for the 7 p.m. all-candidates meeting for the councillor candidates, hosted by the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce.
While the rain was a main topic of conversation among those standing in line, the issues that matter the most to Collingwood residents were also being discussed.
Pat Bollenberghe, a Collingwood resident, thinks there is much more interest in this municipal election compared to 2014.
“There’s tremendous interest,” he said, pointing to nearly 300 people being turned away at the Sept. 12 meeting for the mayor and deputy mayor candidates. “We couldn’t get in last time, so we made sure we were here early. I think it’s really healthy for the town.”
Terry and Elizabeth Sweet only moved to Collingwood two months ago, but attended Tuesday’s event to try to get to know more about the candidates.
“We just moved, so we came here tonight to see what the candidates have to say,” said Terry, adding they chose Collingwood because they love the town.
Top concerns on the minds of people waiting in line in the legion’s parking lot were issues surrounding the waterfront, maintaining a healthy downtown, plans for the grain terminals and a multi-use recreation facility, controlled growth and adding more green spaces.
Many people in line said they felt overwhelmed by choices for the seven positions, most saying they had decided on maybe one or two candidates but were still reserving judgment for their other votes.
The venue filled to capacity by 6:30 p.m. – 286 seats were available – and the meeting got underway at 6:50 p.m. The meeting was also broadcast via speakers to the outside. About 10 community members listened to the meeting from the parking lot.
Each candidate was given two minutes to introduce themselves, and were given one minute to respond to a randomly drawn question submitted by community members. John Eaton of 95.1 The Peak FM moderated the event. Candidate order was drawn randomly.
Kathy Jeffery was the first up and asked a question about how she will ensure resident complaints will be acted upon.
“There is an online complaint form already in place... and the CAO is looking into that further in the next term,” answered Jeffery.
A question was asked of Kathleen Knoll about help-wanted signs in town, and what she thinks is the cause of job vacancies.
“Affordable housing,” she said, frankly. “I plan to work in participation with the federal and provincial governments on this issue... and focus on affordability in town.”
Stuart Beeston fielded a question on his thoughts about getting public transportation in place from Collingwood to Toronto and back.
“I’m in favour, but it’s a bit of a challenge,” he said. “I would probably contact GO Transit to try to work with them on it.”
Deb Doherty got a question concerning what she thinks is the most unnecessary expense for which the town has lost control.
“I’m not sure how to answer that,” she started. “Congratulations to the current council on budget deliberations. Instead of going line-by-line we look at it by the project, which makes it easier to not lose sight of the forest through the trees.”
“I can’t think of any waste around town,” she finished.
Bob Madigan breathed a sigh of relief when his question involved his opinion on the implementation of a ward system.
“Thank God Deb got her question and I got this one!” he said, to laughter from the audience. “Collingwood is changing, but I think the ward system shouldn’t happen,” he said. “We shouldn’t put walls up. We all belong to Team Collingwood. You should be able to call on anyone.”
Tina Comi considered a question on her viewpoint on the use of in-camera (closed) meetings.
“This is a hot topic,” she said. “Transparency and communication are important. We should refrain from doing them whenever possible.”
Cam Ecclestone was asked about the value of the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce.
“I was a member about five or six years ago,” he said. “Networking is good from a business point of view, getting together and sharing ideas.”
The number of illegal short-term accommodations was the topic of Tim Fryer’s question.
“This is a bylaw issue that is driven by complaints,” he said. “We need to constantly review the bylaw department’s efforts to control the situation, but it’s hard to control the internet. We rely on citizens to report it.”
Stephen Aldred was asked if, in his opinion, he thought Collingwood was being over- or under-developed.
“Collingwood is not being developed in a way I want to see it developed,” he responded. “We’re not reserving enough lands for parks and recreation. Development is going to come. I’d like to see growth a lot smarter than we have in the past.”
Yvonne Hamlin was asked what the biggest fiscal challenge the town is facing is and how she would address it.
“The terminal buildings. We have to decide what to do with it. It’s the hugest decision we’ll face as a community,” she said. “Money has come in from the airport and Collus sales. What we’re going to do with it is the biggest challenge going forward.”
Sal Greco fielded a question about how he plans to work and deal with other council members when it conflicts with his vision for the town.
“We would discuss, decide and debate, and then a vote will happen,” he responded.
Elaborating on the town’s weaknesses was Shawn Cooper’s question.
“I think the biggest weakness is communication from council,” he said, adding he would deal with the issue by continuing to survey and canvas regularly both in-person and online after the election is over to find out about the community’s wants and needs.
Dale West was asked about how he would reduce the overall operating budget to bring it inline with non-GTA municipalities.
“I don’t know the operating budgets of other towns, so it’s hard to say,” he said. “I would take care of needs first and deal with wants if we have the money.”
Steve Berman was asked how he would study the need for a multi-use recreation facility.
“I would bring back the steering committee report,” he said. “Work on the first phase has been done already. I’d pick it up from there.”
Mariane McLeod was asked about her thoughts on local recreation activities.
“Join the curling club!” she said, to laughter from the audience. “We need to leverage the energy of new people moving into town.”
George Dickenson fielded a question about how to ensure there are sufficient doctors for all the new people moving to the area.
“This is a more provincial or county issue,” he said. “I would work with other council members to try to find solutions.”
Before answering his question on his 10-year vision for Collingwood, Christopher Baines chose to respond to the question asked of Madigan about the ward system.
“I’m actually an advocate for ward systems, there’s more council accountability and it’s more fiscally efficient,” he said.
“My 10-year vision for Collingwood includes sustainable growth,” he finished.
Jason Booth and Nick Brindisi did not attend Tuesday’s event.
The full meeting will be broadcast on RogersTV in the coming days.
If you missed Tuesday night’s event, the next opportunity for community members to meet with the candidates is at the Speed ‘Candi-Dating’ event being held Sept. 30 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Collingwood Legion. For more information on that event, click here.
If you’d like to see full profiles for every candidate, click here.