The event took place at Ten Seven Café in the Hollywood Room this past Tuesday, one of Chatham’s newest and possibly most exciting event locations. The night started off with live music by “The Universe Featuring Ray” which presented a very calm and casual atmosphere for the rest of the evening’s debates.
Past liberal candidate for the provincial election Margaret Schleier Stahl addressed the crowd and introduced the Live with Ben show, “ These live events allow public access to political information in a way that it is normally not accessible, and we would like to see the Facebook Live initiative become the way of the future in all levels of government.”
Following Margaret Stahl’s blessing, Ben and his first guest Henry Svec sat down to discuss “Elect Svec”, a campaign for Ward 2 (South Kent) where Svec is running against current incumbent councillors Trever Thompson and Frank Vercouteren. Other candidates in this ward include Amy Dalton, Tanya Bondy, Mary Claire Latimer and Art Sterling. Svec noted that the Live with Ben program was great because it brings wards together when having a discussion or debate. Svec noted that people may not vote for him, as he’s not a politician, however he wants people to know he’s genuine and has a general concern for fiscal responsibility and Chatham-Kent. Ben asked Svec, “ What do you think about the issues people face when trying to access or contact their local councillors?”, Svec answered “People always message me and I deal with all kinds of issues… it’s great that councillors go to community meetings, but other than trying to get re-elected or voted for, what are they accomplishing? We need to have discussions like this.”
Doug Sulman takes the hot seat following Svec. Sulman is the one of the current Ward 6 candidates seeking re-election alongside other incumbents Brock McGregor and Michael Bondy. Other candidates in this ward include Les Banks, Marjorie Crew, James Thompson, Larry Vellinga, Amy Finn, Don Fuoco, Don Sparky Leonard, Ryan Jackson, Chris June, Kirk Hooker, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, Penelope Duchesne, Gordon Thomas and Drew Simpson.
Doug was asked what the challenges will be over the next 4 years, he quickly stated “This election is unique, 7 not running, 4 have only served 1 term, you need more than 1 term to figure out what’s going on around that place. It’s a 300 million dollar budget. There’s also every possibility that there’s going to be a rookie mayor. We need to find the balance. It is vital that we have some of these experienced councillors on council to help mentor new councillors.”
Sulman noted great opportunities will be coming to Chatham-Kent in the next 4 years, which the next council will have to decide on including the potential for a multi-pad arena. When asked if he wanted a sports complex , Doug answered “ We have sports complex’s currently, we have to decide do we need a twin-pad arena and the answer is yes, however the hard questions are where do we build it, how do we fund it and the hardest of all is what do we close after its built?”
How do you feel about the rail line the municipality purchased and what is the future of the railway?
Doug said while he was always opposed to the purchase of the railway he is now in favor of utilizing the space for a trail or other recreational advantage as seen fit by the community. Initially the purchase of the rail came from a motion brought forward by councillors a few terms back in North Kent and Wallaceburg with an unfortunate false promise of a business coming to Chatham-Kent which would utilize the rail-lines.
Round Table Session #1
Following this discussion the first round table commenced with guests Michael Bondy (Incumbent Ward 6), Bryon Fluker (Incumbent Ward 1) Mary Clare Latimer (Ward 2), Penelope Duchesne (Ward 6) and Art Stirling (Ward 2). Transportation became the topic of choice for this debate at the request of Mary Clare Latimer.
Transportation and Accessible Transportation in Chatham-Kent
Mary Clare – “ I have concern over a lack of accessible transportation throughout Chatham-Kent, and misallocation of the money to other services in Chatham-Kent to make up for services playing the role of accessible transportation, when they are not originally meant to do these tasks such as the EMS. She stated people often call the EMS service for non-emergency based calls, when they could simply have accessible transportation to and from appointments.
We need accessible rideshare, buses, changes in Chap (increased vehicles and support).”
Art Stirling - there are many services in Chatham-Kent for accessible transportation but I feel that collaboration and cooperation between these services may be lacking, causing some of the headaches to users that Mary Clare described. I agree EMS should not be used for this purpose, they are an emergency service only.
Mary Clare – “ there are a lack of services due to the current system being over-utilized.”
Bryon Fluker –“ the province gives 80 to 90% funding towards transit, and the current busing systems are empty on an average daily term. Bryon also says smaller communities have volunteers who take people with accessibility issues to appointments. They do not however pay for trips to Wal-Mart or luxury based travel. “
Michael Bondy - “ Yes the bus often runs empty or with one person. I like the interurban buses however changes could be implemented. If we can have buses running later, that would be great, as one of our biggest social draws (The theatre) has the limitation where you can get there but you can’t get back. “
Penelope Duchesne - “Our kids can get to the movies, but then they cannot get back on a bus. It hurts business out there.(Wal-Mart , Smart Centres Plaza and Galaxy Theatres Plaza’s)
Bryon Fluker- “ We don’t need or want government interfering in rideshare programs.”
Art Stirling – “the interurban bus has improved not only my ward but other wards in Chatham-Kent as well. We need to do a better job at promoting these services and piggy-back our resources. We should build on coordination between transportation services. We need an overarching transportation commission, similar to the oversight board that Michael Bondy proposed in the past (a motion that was turned down in council).”
Bondy stated this motion could come back around this next term.
Question: “What would you say is the most important thing for council to consider in working together?”
Penelope Duchesne - “The council needs to listen to the tax payer, we need a council to work for a tax payer, we need to have people elected that have the same ideas. Smaller council would be better”
Michael – “ We generally get along , the ward divisions can present challenges, I would hope the next council we re-divide the wards and redesign the wards system”, “It would be more successful if we bring forward a plan for re-division of wards as opposed to just an idea”
Art - “the next term of council needs to revisit re-distribution of wards and the number of councillors, we need to propose a homemade solution before the provincial government takes over the council seats. I would wish to proactively work on CK, rather than be nailed by the province. People like the Wards they are in because of the representation except South Kent at one time Ward 6 / Ward 2”
Mary Clare – “What about the Pie option?”
Bryon –“ Poor Idea , it died. What a lovely death it was. The boundaries for amalgamation have worked very well despite the fact in my ward the initial plan was to join with the Wheatley / Leamington and Essex area until pressured by boundary lines delivered by the Harris government at that time.”
Candidates were given 90 seconds each to talk about a topic they chose:
We need to be responsible, it’s a Great idea but what’s the burden on taxes?
If we do explore this we need to figure out what we are going to give up?
Do we need to close underutilized arenas? We have arenas, theatres, and they have struggles filling seats.
Mary Clare Latimer:
We have 2 arenas that are underutilized, I want to know why these are not being used. Why is the library not open on Sundays, and attached to a municipal centre such as the arena?
Freeze the taxes, an arena would not be in the agenda for me. We need to protect our water bills , families of 4 or 5 pay a lot of money for water. I am a proponent of accountability.
There’s going to be at least 7 new members, some of the old guys might be beat. I am hoping to be lucky enough to be re-elected. I think any new members to council will find administration is open to new discussion.
Failing Our People and Our Youth
- We need to address the water situation in North Kent immediately, we need to deal with the issue!
-There is some moral obligation to deal with water from the municipality, the developer needs to be involved in it too.
- We do not have a youth strategy, we have crimes effecting our youth, including bike thefts,
- we do not have good entrepreneur projects, or enough support for young entrepreneurs,
- we need to keep our young people active, engaged and feeling good about CK.
- We need a dedicated infrastructure to keep our citizens here, and local. Lets offer trades education so people aren’t being left behind and we can fix the trade skills deficit.
Round Table Session #2
Round Table 2 – Featuring Mary Anne Udvari (Ward 4), Steve Pinsonneault (Current Ward 3), Amy Dalton (Ward 2), Patricia Sylvain (Ward 4) and Larry Velinga (Ward 6).
What does Success Look like to you?
Steve Pinsonneault – “The municipality prospers, theres an influx of entrepreneurs and industry, our economy is good, we do the work we need to for our EMS services. Health care is also huge, infrastructure is underfunded currently and roads are in terrible shape. One of the challenges is there is only so much money to go around. Chatham-Kent is one of the best playgrounds in the world as we as citizens can live comfortably and affordably.
Pat Sylvain – Success looks like fewer people on social assistance. We need to instill pride in our communities and have less garbage laying around on our streets and where people can see it.
Larry Vellinga – Success starts with growth. Everywhere is exploding around us and Chatham simply is not. Big factories are not coming here, we need to support our small business owners to inspire larger investments. We need to grow our internal jobs before external partners will see interest in us. We need to ask the province to start showing us the money to grow.”
Amy Dalton – “Success would include the need to start looking at things that retain youth and engage youth. Let’s ask them what they actually want instead of making assumptions. People want to be entertained to stay. We need to look like Chatham-Kent as a community and start unifying ourselves between wards. We need youth as these young guys are our future employees.
Mary Anne Udvari – “What would success look like for your family? This is the same for Chatham-Kent. We need places to go, to have fun, to be educated and have the opportunity to learn new and valuable things and of-course to live affordably and safely as well.
How do we make this happen?
Steve Pinsonneault – “We started a program this summer to allow people money to start up a business, some will fail, some will succeed. By putting this out to the youth we will incubate new business. We currently have 2 post secondary academies but we have very little jobs. We need to plant the seeds for the community to grow. It’s always a struggle to find tradesmen and this should be a focus of ours. Guidance councilors are great at steering trades, college or university”
Pat Sylvain- We need to instill trades at a grade 8 level to get these students into programs easier and develop interests. To keep the youth here we will need better amenities. We need to promote healthy activity in CK.
Mary Anne Udvari- “Both teachers and parents have a role to play, we need to educate kids about trades and We need to encourage young women in trades.”
Larry Vellinga – “I look at growth as new money coming in. We need the traffic from the 401 to be able to turn onto Charing Cross Rd for people to get to Downtown Chatham and even towards Blenheim. People need to get off the highway and spend money here. Council will need to think outside box and change the status quo.”
What are your thoughts on the current issues surrounding Drug use and Mental Health Issues in our communities?
Larry Vellinga – There are a lot of mental health issues on the street (drug use) What do we do? Can we talk about control or housing?
Steve Pinssonneault – I don’t know of a magic wand that will make that better. I Don’t know the answer, CK is not alone in that issue unfortunately.
Amy Dalton – Programs need to help addicts who recover to get jobs, this will encourage addicts down a straight path
How do you feel about the rail line the municipality purchased and what is the future of the railway look like to you?
Steve Pinsonneault – We need to dispose of steel, ballasts, etc, tracks still good, hopefully someone needs it, we need to move on to next phase.
A general agreement was observed by all round table participants during this time.
Candidates were asked to take time to talk a little bit about what they want known to the community about themselves or the election:
Steve Pinsonneault – “There’s going to be a new dynamic in council and I feel that we need some experience in there still. I’ve proven leadership and my track record has proven itself very well. Going forward we need the experience behind those doors and in those seats.”
Pat Sylvain – My major concerns for this term are infrastructure, pumping schemes, bridges, we have to bring bridges up to par. I want to turn over all stones and look at all jobs in the municipality, streamline processes and when businesses want to open they should only deal with one person in the municipal system. We have to sharpen our pencils this term and focus”
Amy Dalton – “We need to grow communities through young people, how are we going to do this? I think we can do this with outside partnerships such as farming. There are no succession plans currently and we need people in for sustainability”
Mary Anne Udvari – “ I would like to see more Vibrant downtowns and communities. The work the current BIA’s are doing is amazing but theres always room for more. We need different places to go and to build more pride and attraction for new businesses, tourists and residents.
Larry Vellinga – Growth – “I love this community. I’ve stuck around 25 years ago because I love it. I do however believe we need to do things different , such as we need money to incubate entrepreneurs, we need new money, not the base (current internal citizens based) economy as it’s not the way to plan sustainability and growth. I believe if I was elected to council, I would bring a different set of tools to the table.”
Round Table Session #3
Round Table Three : Karen Kirkwood-Whyte (Ward 6) , Gordon Thomas (Ward 6), Henry Svec (Ward 2), Mark Pastorius (Ward 1), John Wright (Ward 3) , Steven Scott ( Ward 4) and Les Banks (Ward 6)
Gordon Thomas – “I would like to revisit a topic here which leads into housing as well with the attraction of youth to Chatham. The cost of living in Chatham Kent is low, it is affordable for young couples to live here and this is why I live here. Unfortunately taxes are high though. Young couples can afford to purchase their homes here, there is a great quality of life and we can get out and socialize. There are a lot of events and lots to see and do.
John Wright – “Good paying jobs are a priority for youth retention”
Steven Scott – “ We need to attract tech Jobs”
Henry Svec – “ We have too many councillors, nothing gets accomplished. There is too much government red-tape with all these councillors, if we can’t get something as simple as a culvert (New Scotland Line Culvert) figured out, how can we even support our youth?”
Karen Kirkwood-Whyte – “Changes start with conversations by people affected. If we talk to the people affected such as the youth, we will find the solutions we need”
Gordon Thomas – “ Why are decisions being made by 17 councilors and one mayor who are all disconnected from the place and the people being affected by the issue at hand? We should as Karen said get out and talk to the people effected, take the time to understand the issues and then act on a solution that is in the best interest of the people.
Henry Svec – “ I would also like an increase in high-speed internet coverage in all wards. We still have people on dial-up, can you even imagine? Also a concern is all these major decisions council makes in “In Camera” sessions behind closed doors. Stop these decisions from being made secretly and add transparency. We don’t have complex problems to worry about if we just use common sense.
Mark Pastorius – “Can I also bring up the fact that the Fire Department bought a high-tech training dummy (meant for the EMS workers to train with) for $80,000 as well as a trailer at $100,000 meant to haul this dummy around, and the dummy has sat in a storage unit since its purchase. The EMS response time can also be at times terrible, not because of the staff, but because of what they go through in a day. We need to stop the approval of useless spending by council and departments who have no business making these requests.”
(Note: The fire department oversees all EMS requests for Chatham-Kent as the municipality does not oversee the EMS contract like the municipality does Police and Fire Services.)
Gordon Thomas – “Fiscal responsibility is important. It means to me, to spend the time with the people who need the money to make sure the money is allocated where it needs to go. Take the time to go to the places where the money is needed or being requested, and get to understand the services. We do not need to tie money into an abstract budget from the comfort of a desk, when it is especially not clear where the funds are going”
Henry Svec – “Mismanagment of the money includes hiding things during these “In-Camera” sessions or by hiding things buried within the books. We need to stop taxing the people for these horrible decisions.”
Mark Pastorius – “A good example of that is the Water in North Kent. The municipality was given 4 Million Dollars, so why did the municipality not install water lines for these people who are now suffering without clean drinking water?”
Henry Svec – “And where did the 4 Million go?”
Steven Scott – “ We are not a third-world-country, and we need to take accountability and provide water to everyone”
Karen Kirkwood-Whyte – “ It is appalling that we have to deal with an issue such as water quality like this in this day and age.”
Gordon Thomas – “There’s a way that current council deflects responsibility to the provincial government, however there is nothing stating that Chatham-Kent can not have someone at Queens Park to advocate for issues such as the Water Well issue. We also could have avoided this issue if we had a better connection with our provincial counterparts. We can do a lot to make sure this kind of thing never happens again.”
Freetime Discussions – Candidates choose a topic of their own for 90 seconds:
John Wright – “The red-tape that community events face when trying to set up great things for our community is astounding and we need this to stop if we want these events to continue, especially in the not for profit or charitable sectors. Also, I would like to see a life-cycle revisited for bridges , roads, buildings, sideways and more”
Henry Svec – “ I also believe the public should stop paying for the councilors lunches, and this wouldn’t end here, there are many other useless expenses that are just silly when you think about it. I think this is a time for a new approach to council, we need people to fight for the tax payers. I think together we can set priorities. It’s time for the people here to make a change. We’re going to work together to make it better for all of Chatham-Kent”.
Steven Scott – “ I would like to see projects be completed and not just done half-way. We need to bring clean water to every resident.”
Karen Kirkwood-Whyte – “ My vision for Chatham-Kent is truly NO ONE LEFT BEHIND. We work better together, and should work together as a council. I believe my experience in the Not For Profit sector, owning my own business and past government experiences will add experience and perspective to council.
Gordon Thomas –“ We need to change the way we pursue decision making, for example we need to handle infrastructure differently. The current norm is to estimate a products life based on time, however in the real world we often see usage as a contributor to decay and we need to base future life cycle on this. Transportation does not help the people it should, we need to talk to those affected by the transportation. Students don’t typically drive and young people aren’t getting their licenses anymore, in-fact the number of young people getting their licenses is on a decline.