Thompson’s four mayoral candidates had one final chance to broadcast their respective platforms on a large scale during an Oct. 17 public forum at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre.
For around two hours, Ron Matechuk, Penny Byer, Colleen Smook and Ryan Brady talked at length about why they should lead the Hub of the North through all the public safety issues and economic uncertainty that will be facing this community over the next fours years.
Byer and Smook opened up the debate by presenting a more optimistic view of city’s prospects moving forward, citing the fact that Thompson has faced workplace reductions at Vale back when it was Inco and that the city is in a better position to deal with these obstacles today.
“When I moved here in ‘78 Thompson was just coming out of a very similar situation to what it’s at now,” said Byer. “But Thompson didn’t have as much going for it back in the ‘70s as it does now. We were not ‘the Hub.’ We did not have tourism. We did not have the medical services that we do now. We did not have the experienced people that we have now.”
Matechuk presented a much more dire picture of the cutbacks at Vale, and believes that he is the only candidate who can steer this community in the right direction.
“I’m running for mayor because I’m a realist,” Matechuk said during his opening statement. “I understand that we cannot continue on as the status quo as my opponents, at least some of them anyways, suggest that they would. As mayor, I offer you leadership, integrity, with my experience on city council … I come to you prepared and ready.”
Unlike the rest of his opponents, Brady fully admitted that he has no experience in the realm of politics, but maintains that he still has a drive to make Thompson a better place.
“This is my first time ever voting or getting into politics really and I think the reason for that is I want to be part of the change,” he said. “I want to be the change that I want to see it in our community.”
Brady’s appearance at the Oct. 17 forum may have come as a surprise to some voters, since he previously said he would be “withdrawing” from the race after his racist comments on the white supremacist website Stormfront from 2009 and 2010 were brought to light in late September.
While Brady claims he doesn’t hold those views anymore, he said the ensuing backlash from these revelations affected his family greatly and initially encouraged him to abandon his campaign.
However, in a conversation with the Thompson Citizen during the Oct. 16 candidate speed-dating event, Brady said he decided to jump back into the race because he’s a determined individual who isn’t going to back down from something if it needs to get done.
Once opening statements wrapped up on Wednesday night, the floor was opened to questions from the public, which included inquiries about the candidates’ positions on the community safety officer program, the Mining Community Reserve Fund, infrastructure projects, community pride and, of course, city finances.
Business owner and council candidate Andre Proulx asked all four candidates what department or sector they would emphasize in the city’s next budget to get the most return on investment.
Both Brady and Byer emphasized the importance of recreation programs and after-school activities for youth, since they said a lot of the crime and vandalism in this town stems from a severe lack of these programs.
Meanwhile, Smook and Matechuk said that it is too premature to make this kind of determination before the new council is elected.
“When you look at Thompson as a whole, there’s really not any one department that you can pick. It all works in collaboration and they all meld together,” said Smook. “That’s why I think it’s very important to get our employees’ input as to what the efficiencies in their departments can be [prioritized].”
Resident Sylvia Green brought up the current council members’ voting history during her time on the mic by asking Byer and Smook if they regret approving the new grant-in-lieu (GIL) agreement with Vale.
Both candidates stood by their voting record, echoing the point that the city’s bargaining ability is very limited in this situation.
“I don’t see what we could have done any differently under the circumstances,” said Byer. “If you look at the grant-in-lieu discussions, they are not negotiations. Let me be very clear, according to the way the ‘56 Agreement is written, Vale can come in and say, ‘This is what you’re getting,’ and walk out. They don’t have to sit down and discuss anything.”
However, Matechuk maintained his status as a long-time critic of the recent GIL agreement by saying that the city needs to employ better negotiating tactics in future discussions with Vale if they want to get that money back.
“We learn negotiations when we were very young,” he said. “It usually starts off with ‘Either I’m going to get my way or I’m going to hold my breath.’ Well, we should have let them hold their breath.”
Even though each candidate made it clear on Wednesday night that they all bring a unique set of views and abilities to the table, they were united under their shared ambition to work with the eight other people who are elected alongside them as members of the city council.
“We’re going to have to work together, put aside any differences, not make things personal, keep it on the business, professional level,” said Byer during her closing statement. “Because we’re not there to be small-minded. We’re not there to promote our own interests. We’re there to make decisions that we think will help the people of Thompson.”
Now that advance polls are now closed, Thompson residents will get one last chance to cast their vote Oct. 24 at any elementary school from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For interviews with every candidate running for office, including city council and school board trustee hopefuls, please visit the “Municipal Election 2018” section at www.thompsoncitizen.net.