With the 2018 municipal election rapdily approaching, Thompson voters squeezed into the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre on Oct, 3 to get a better idea of what each city council candidate has to offer.
Throughout this three-hour public forum, all of the nominees, aside from an absent Paul Beck, got the chance lay out their vision of how to tackle the various challenges that will be facing the Hub of the North over the next four years.
While there are currently 20 prospective councillors in the running, many of them fall into three distinct categories.
Establishment candidates like Blake Ellis, Kathy Valentino, Judy Kolada and Duncan Wong highlighted their experience on the current council as an immediate advantage over their opponents.
Meanwhile, prospective councillors Les Ellsworth, Dave Tugwood, Godfrey Buhagiar, Rita Werstroh and Chiew Chong used their status as the current council’s most vocal critics to generate support.
“Over the last term there have been more questions than answers at the council meetings,” said Ellsworth. “In order to make an informed decision on any resolution, the councillors must set the information to properly represent Thompsonites. Council is spinning their wheels with no long term vision for this city, and I hope a newly elected council will rectify this issue.”
And then there were individuals like Bryan Young, Jeff Fountain, Andre Proulx and Serena Puranen, who hope to bring a fresh perspective to council through their work outside of politics and break through the partisan lines that have formed throughout the last four years.
“What I think I can do better than the last council is I think can come in and work better as a team,” said Young. “I think I can look at ideas independently … and I think that, as council of eight with the mayor, everyone needs to work together.”
One of the biggest questions of the night revolved around how each nominee would deal with the influx of crime that’s been a growing concern for members of the community.
Even though several candidates repeated the same points about increasing community pride, tackling poverty and lobbying the province for more mental health resources as an antidote to this problem, many were split on the issue of using a youth curfew to clamp down on petty vandalism.
As someone who’s been on council for around 20 years, Kolada reminded the public that she was one of the biggest advocates for establishing a youth curfew bylaw back in 2005, until it was repealed in 2007 after the city faced an expensive lawsuit from local parents.
“I worked long and hard to bring a curfew to Thompson,” she said. “The RCMP later told me that there’s no legislation that authorizes them to pick up an eight year old at three o’clock in the morning. The curfew did that.”
However, speaking from her experiences as a lawyer, Puranen said that this approach would only serve as a Band-Aid to a larger problem.
“I see kids breaching curfews that are imposed by the court all the time,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think that that’s going to be an effective use of our RCMP resources when they already have a ton of other, unfortunately, violent crimes to be dealing with.”
City spending and financial transparency was also a big point of contention between the establishment candidates and their critics, especially now that the city will be receiving significantly less money from Vale through their grant-in-lieu agreement.
“I would go so far as to say we should hire an external auditing firm who are going to look into the way the city’s books are kept,” said Tugwood. “Because I remember a few years ago there was an increase in the expenditures under a very generalized category, something around $600,000, and no matter how many times I asked I was unable to get an answer to exactly where that money went.”
Ellis, on the other hand, believes that such an action would be a waste of time.
“As a city councillor, I have full confidence in our administration,” he said. “I think if we did an external audit we’d only find out that the cost of this external audit is what we need to cut.”
Voters who missed out on this lengthy forum discussion will get another chance to grill these candidates in person at an upcoming “speed dating” event, which is taking place at the Thompson Public Library Oct. 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Public forums for school board and mayoral candidates will take place Oct. 11 and Oct. 17 at the Letkemann Theatre and Ma-Mow-We-Tak-Friendship Centre, respectively.