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Discourse heats up in Verner after mild exchange in SF

Election candidates face off in two debates

by Isabel Mosseler

The WN municipal election is drawing much interest this year, as evidenced by the crowd at two candidates’ debates held Wednesday and Thursday of last week. Over 250 people packed into the Sturgeon Falls Complex on Sept. 12 to hear the four mayoral candidates and 12 council hopefuls from wards 1 to 4 present their cases. The following evening, Sept. 13, around 140 observers attended the Verner arena hall to watch the mayoral candidates face each other again, and hear from the 10 seeking seats to represent wards 5 to 8.  The sessions were organized by the WN Chamber of Commerce, who chose to do break the event into two evenings because of the large number of candidates, thus allowing more time for questions which were solicited from the public beforehand as well as during the debate.

The first evening in Sturgeon Falls was categorized by many attendees as less than stellar. The format required the mayoral or ward candidates to answer the same questions. One question concerning economic development was asked to all 16, which resulted in repetitive answers that candidates would like to see an Economic Development Authority or Commission reignited. Moderator Dan Marleau invited the candidates to answer in the language of their choice. Most responded in both official languages, excepting mayoral candidate Russell Dunne, who explained that he understood French but did not yet speak it fluently.

Mayoral candidates

Of the mayoral candidates, Ron Demers came out swinging with two themes, fiscal responsibility and building trust at the council table. “In my opinion, without trust nothing gets done,” alluding to the conflicts that have plagued the current council. He also told the audience that if there was “a slate” being run during this election, “I am not part of it.” Demers presented himself as a family man, business man, former labourer and long-time chair of a school board, saying he is well prepared for the job at hand.

Dunne introduced himself as a retired mechanic and businessman, a recent newcomer to Sturgeon Falls who loves the community and would like to bring new jobs to the area. “We can do it, we have wonderful people,” he stated enthusiastically. Appearing at ease in front of the crowd with no notes, he added he would have an “open door policy” and devote full time hours to the role of mayor.

Donald Leblanc reminded people that most know him as Don The Butcher, having been in business for 19 years with a record of supporting schools, sports teams, charities and other social causes. “My passion is there for the community,” he summed up. He added that managing 42 employees showed his ability to work well with staff and council.

Incumbent Joanne Savage boasted her enthusiasm, experience and energy, saying she was ready to keep working despite recent challenges. “We also have to focus on the economic progress of West Nipissing,” she noted, adding that she plans on holding community feedback sessions every two months if elected. She countered Demers’ opening statement about trust by saying that the issues faced in the last two years were “not a trust issue but an issue of fair, open and democratic process.”

Ward 1

Ward 1 candidate Serge Bourgoin said he has already brought 80-95 businesses to town through his business Great Northern Flea Market. He called for change and accountability. “There’s always room for improvement”. Two-term incumbent Denise Brisson noted that no single candidate can perform miracles, but teamwork was essential. She focussed on infrastructure, the 1200 km of roads in West Nipissing and aging sewers, the funding for Au Chateau, and the contentious issue of the police transition to OPP. “The forecasted savings of $800K per year versus no savings with the WNPS… we cannot pass on these savings,” she said. Her rival Lise Senecal said every councillor has the responsibility to justify, explain and rationalize their decisions to their constituents, and this is why she was running. “The decisions must be made based on the needs of community, not on personal preference, not on personal agenda and certainly not on grudges,” she said pointedly.

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