The Konstantino Round Table was hosted at the Ten-Seven Café and Lounge on September 25, 2018, where Ben Labadie invited potential candidates to participate in an open discussion about the upcoming municipal election of Chatham-Kent. The discussion was broken down into three Round Tables, with The Universe Featuring Ray, an Indie Rock Artist playing during the intermissions. The structure of the evening being separated into different segments allowed for each candidate to have the opportunity to share their opinions and platforms, as well as cover a variety of different issues that are currently relevant in Chatham-Kent. While there were many in attendance at the café, there were several live viewers at home who were able to join in, totalling at over 1800 views.
The evening began with Quick Chats between Ben and two different candidates, framing the conversation with a diverse precursor to the following discussion, as this would be Henry Svec’s first term on council, whereas Doug Sulman has served for the past fourteen years. Coincidentally, Sulman commented that the blend of new and experienced leadership in the upcoming council would be one of the biggest challenges in developing an effective team, and finding a balance would be a focal point for success. Sulman expanded, identifying his interest in being re-elected for Council stems from the satisfaction of effective problem solving that is accompanied with the job. In turn, Henry Svec, who has previously appeared on Live with Ben, stressed the importance of verifying how problem solving will take place, and pushes for an authentic means in improving Chatham-Kent’s municipality as a whole. He also commented on the importance of accessible information to the public, and how the Round Table discussion is an effective way of instant and direct communication between candidates and possible voters while also giving a personal indication of who the community will be electing.
Round Table Session #1
Participating in the first Round Table were potential councillors Penelope Duchesne, Michael Bondy, Bryan Fluker, Art Stirling and Mary Clare Latimer, who instigated the first topic of discussion involving accessible transportation. Transportation is an issue in Chatham-Kent which provokes conflicting views, as whether or not it is a necessity for our community was heavily debated. Latimer specifically targeted the lack of resources that are available for public accessibility transportation, while Duschene and Bondy also commented on the challenges that are posed for students and for youth who are restricted by the transit schedules and routes. However, in opposition, Fluker criticized the necessity of this service, arguing that based on the lack of ridership, investing more time and money into this service is not an effective way to be spending tax payers’ money when the public transit is not being utilized. He noted the private services that are available that deter the need for government intervention, which was countered by Latimer who defends the fact that privatized options are not a possible reality for many people. Recalling the fact that Councillor Bondy had previously proposed a Ministry of Transportation which received a great lack of support. Many of the candidates discussing at this Round Table determined that it is important this subject be revisited, as there is a clear lack of coordination between the existing resources.
The second issue that was touched on during the first Round Table was the size of the Council, and whether or not the division of six wards within Chatham-Kent is the most effective means of government. The idea of amalgamation that was effective in Toronto has the potential to be imposed in Chatham under the new Conservative government at the provincial level. The most agreed upon fact between the participating candidates was phrased effectively by Stirling, as he states the need to develop a ‘home made solution’, where the people of Chatham-Kent proactively decide what is best for Chatham-Kent.
The idea extends into Art’s personal platform expanded upon in the final moments of the discussion, which involved implementing internal improvement as a way to maintain youth engagement and to promote Chatham-Kent as a future home. This is an idea that may be supported by building a new sports complex, another topic that was focused upon throughout the evening’s discussions, which both Bondy and Latimer also touched on, weighing the pros and cons of a new building and how it will impact existing resources. In further closing thoughts, Penelope Duchesne pledged to protect water bills in addition to stressing the importance of accountability and transparency in government, while Bryan Fluker predicts seven new members on council.
Round Table Session #2
Leading into the second Round Table, Steven Pinsonneault, Patricia Sylvain, Amy Dalton, Mary Anne Udvari, and Larry Vellinga were prompted with a more specific question by Ben, inquiring as to what a successful council would look like and how this can become a tangible reality. Many answers involved the restructuring of education, as teaching students that successful career options do not always include a university education, and that many job opportunities will lie within the field of trades. Vellinga, Sylvain, Dalton and Udvari all advocate from this position, reinforcing the idea that those who are in trades are equally educated to those with a university background, pointing toward the idea of growing successful careers within Chatham Kent, rather than continuing the traditional pattern of leaving the community to receive postsecondary education. These ideas are complemented by Amy Dalton, who stresses the importance of engaging and assessing the needs of our youth, which will demonstrate Chatham Kent as a united community, a position reinforced by Sylvain’s focus on instilling pride for those within the municipality. Expanding on this idea, Mary Anne Udvari compares her aspirations for Chatham as equivalent to that of her family in hopes of entertaining and prospering, particular in creating a more vibrant downtown core to engage the people of Chatham Kent.
In the variety of answers provided by the participants, Steve Pinsonneault focused on his vision of more industry and improvement in entrepreneurship opportunities, which Vellinga also establishes growth as an important aspect, both in present businesses as well as in drawing new investments to the municipality. In terms of utilizing current and new resources, the conversation turned to the rail line running between Wallaceburg and Chatham that has absorbed a large portion of the municipal budget without being beneficial to the community. The idea of creating a trail connecting the two areas has been discussed, appealing to those within Chatham-Kent as well as newcomers, while promoting both physical and mental health as suggested by Sylvain. Mental health is another subject which generated discussion, where all participating candidates agreed in unison that rehabilitation and reintegration into society is a situation that should also be prioritized.
Round Table Session #3
Entering the third and final segment of the Konstantino Council Round Table, Henry Svec returns to the table as well as Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, Steven Scott, Mark Pastorious, John Wright and Gordon Thomas. In contrast to the second discussion, Ben presents a more open ended catalyst to the conversation, offering the candidates an opportunity to prioritize the subjects that they are most passionate about. Building from the past discussion, Gordon Thomas revisits the subject of youth retention and attraction, elaborating on his own personal experiences of living in and moving to Chatham, as well as the strategy he wishes to engage in all sectors. He stresses the importance of assessing need through direct communication with those who are explicitly involved or impacted in a situation, arguing that open conversation will become more effective than the discussion taking place only between members of Council. Both John and Steven Scott mention the possibility of generating jobs which will help increase the number of youth who choose to stay in Chatham-Kent, based on both field of industry as well as wages.
In addition to discussing future plans for Chatham-Kent, Henry Svec and Mark Pastorious return the conversation to current issues regarding finances in the current and past Council. The issues in this discussion which occupied the majority of this segment involved EMS and healthcare, the railroad that has previously been discussed, as well as the lack of clean water in different districts of Chatham Kent. Between the two participants, mismanagement of funds in addition to a lack of transparency was emphasised as one of the major issues that requires change in order to correct the serious issues that are impacting citizens. The candidates as a whole defended the idea the municipality is responsible for these issues, shifting away from seeking any provincial or federal aid in finding solutions to these problems. In turn, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, a candidate for Ward 6, reinforced the need for the people of Chatham-Kent to feel that they are able to make an impact in the community, and the necessity for government to support these endeavours. As an individual who has worked in government, as a business owner, and in the non-profit sector, she advocates for a united effort on all levels in improving Chatham Kent. Concluding the evening and in the next few days, the live video of the Konstantino Round Table received 30 shares and 1800 views, demonstrating the interest in learning more about the future government of Chatham-Kent.
According to the 2014 election results, only 42.11% of potential voters participated in the election, and increasing this number should definitely become a priority. As quoted by Margaret Schleir Stahl, Liberal candidate in the 2018 provincial election, “This is the wave of the political future – live chats!” In agreement with Margaret Stahl’s prediction, I also believe that providing accessibility in a way that is instantly available and demonstrates a personal perspective of candidates has a major impact in both encouraging people to vote as well as helping people choose who they should vote for. Particularly in a tight-knit community such as Chatham-Kent, there is potential for votes to be placed based on who knows who, without the desire to learn about other candidates who may be better suited for the position. Witnessing the Round Table discussion demonstrates the possibility for an engaged and productive discussion that calls both candidates and voters to action, instilling the true responsibility of these roles in determining the future of Chatham-Kent.