More than 100 sign in, question full slate of candidates pursuing Ward 3 seats
By Mike Williscraft
The all-candidates meeting series hosted by A Better Grimsby got off to a packed-house start last Thursday with a full slate of Ward 3 candidates in attendance.
Initially all current Grimsby council candidates – except Ward 2 candidate Dave Kadwell – and Reg. Coun. Tony Quirk all declined invitations to the meetings, but both current aldermen John Dunstall and Joanne Johnston agreed to take part in the Ward 3 discussion along with challengers Ryan Day, Sonja Nelles and Randy Vaine.
The result was the best-run all-candidates meeting the community has seen in decades.
While Johnston and Dunstall both said after the meeting they appreciated how the meeting was run, Ald. Nick DiFlavio, who is running in Ward 4 and initially declined to attend his debate set for this past Tuesday, also changed his mind.
“I attended the Ward 3 debate tonight and I wanted to commend you and your team for the entire night. It was as close to perfect as it could be,” wrote DiFlavio in an email to organizer Phil Besseling.
“It was fair, well-moderated, and absolutely necessary.”
In declining his initial invitation, DiFlavio noted he failed to point out a conflict with a Planning Committee meeting which also included a Public Meeting. It was too late to reschedule once organizers found out.
Besseling set the tone for the night by outlining who A Better Grimsby is, the group’s goal for the all-candidates series, and rules for both panel members and guests.
“A Better Grimsby does not endorse any candidates,” he clarified, as some confuse his group with A Better Niagara, which is a completely separate Niagara-wide organization.
The panel of candidates: Day, Vaine, Johnston, Nelles and Dunstall answered a wide range of questions through about 90 minutes of debate.
Included in the format was a series of yes/no questions.
Should the biodigester pay taxes? All said yes, except Dunstall voted no.
Should the Livingston extension through the woodlot be stopped? Vaine, Nelles and Day said yes, Johnston said no and Dunstall said “no comment”.
Would you disclose Niagara Power/Grimsby Energy’s financial reports? All yes, Dunstall no.
Do you support inter-municipal transit? All yes.
Would you honour the Town’s Official Plan for height restrictions? All yes, Dunstall no, but he noted there was some confusion with the Town’s bonusing guidelines which allows for developers to exceed the OP if they pay a levy assessed by the director of planning.
Should Bartlett Road be completed as the mountain acceess? Johnston and Dunstall yes. Day and Vaine no while Nelles did not respond at all to that question.
Should Niagara Region have fewer numbers? All yes.
Vaine noted his experience with Canada Customs and how it prepared him for a council position.
“I wanted to make a difference there and I want to bring that to the Town. It’s time for a change,” said Vaine.
“Our taxes are too high with no increase in services. Development is out of control. We could have done a lot for roads and sidewalks but we have a $10 million biodigester.”
Day outlined his experience with City of Hamilton’s public works department taught him the importance of customer service.
He got a big reaction from the crowd with his assessment of the biodigester.
“Find out what it’s worth, part it out and get rid of it,” he said.
Nelles said she was running to “get involved”.
Noting development has “gone too far” she said the Town should facilitate “bringing in better businesses that would service our community.”
“We need a canning factory back.”
One question which drew a lot of attention was the notion or reducing the amount of representation – this in light of Premier Ford’s edict to reduce Toronto council’s numbers.
While Vaine said Grimsby could use fewer, Dunstall, Johnston and Day said the current eight alderman are needed. Nelles took a different stance.
“It depends on your alderman. Are they going to be there for you? Are you going to get through to them for your zoning issue?” she asked.
Dunstall, noting he works full-time, said the committee work “where all the decisions are made” is demanding and “you’re going to be some tired people” if numbers were to be reduced.
He said he ran in 2014 with a goal of improving the commercial/residential tax base which he said was 92/8 and now sits at 85/15.
“It’s coming but I still see there is more to be done in Grimsby,” he said.
At several points in the meeting, Johnston noted her extensive volunteer experience in the community.
On the issue of development, Johnston was clear on the direction needed.
“I hear you want to turn Grimsby back to the way it was? That’s never going to happen, but what we can do is manage the growth. People want to live downtown, not just by the water,” said Johnston.
“We need more density downtown,” she added, noting traffic issues are there, but something like taking out the post office and putting Ontario Street through would allow the farmers market to be moved over to Elm Street perhaps “to relieve pressure”.