SD candidates square off in opening debate

DIXONS CORNERS – The first of three all-candidates debates got off to a timid start Wed., Oct. 3 at Matilda Hall, but finished with a few lines drawn in the sand as all 11 candidates attempted to differentiate themselves from their opponents.

The event was smoothly moderated by outgoing North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan as the evening began with opening statements from all the candidates. For many in attendance, it was the first time they were being exposed to specific platforms as each council hopeful, some battling nerves more than others, attempted to put their best foot forward.

The spotlight focused on incumbent Mayor Evonne Delegarde as she broke the ice in the mayoral race.

Delegarde deftly outlined the numerous hard-earned accomplishments during her tenure. She also admitted that municipal staff turnover had been a “challenge,” but believes that South Dundas is better off than it was before her term began.

“Four years ago, the atmosphere and negative cloud hanging over our beautiful municipality was disturbing. There was a reluctance to do business with South Dundas and this had to change. We all needed to work together to achieve this goal and rebuild relationships,” she said. “During the first two years, significant changes occurred in the administration and a new staff began cold turkey. These transitions take time; however, the municipality is in a much better place today.”

Mayoral hopeful Steven Byvelds was the next to speak and said the reason he is seeking office once again is simple – change.

“I believe South Dundas has an amazing future ahead if we all work together to create the change we want to see in our communities. For this to work we need to set a realistic plan and we need to take action. We need to follow through on that plan. Change won’t happen without action,” he said.

All 11 candidates in South Dundas took part in the first municipal debate at Matilda Hall Wed., Oct. 3. The event was well attended and a large range of questions kept council hopefuls on their toes. Press Photo – Schoch

He identified the landfill as a key issue.

“This is a big money issue and it needs to be a priority of the next council,” said Byvelds.

People also saw a more humble Byvelds than the one swept out of office four years ago.

“After spending the past four years in the penalty box, I’m prepared to change my ways. I will listen more and I will talk less,” he said.

Kirsten Gardner, Jim Graham and Bill Ewing, all candidates for the deputy-mayor position, each accounted themselves well in their introductory statements. Potential councillors, Archie Mellan, Lloyd Wells, Donald William Lewis, Del Jones, Michael Burton and Joyce Latulippe, were also afforded some time to make a brief introduction, but given the brevity of the time they are allotted only a few managed to break through during the debate.

One of the more talked about issues was the Carman House. Current council members Ewing and Delegarde were asked why nothing had been done when budget had been allocated and direction given.

Delegarde was the first to answer, but side-stepped the question.

“I did declare a conflict of interest way back in the early part of this year, being related to the tenant. When the four members of council had decided to permit the tenant, they had also attached with it the amount of [$35,000] to go towards the repairs. Why it hasn’t been spent at this point in time, I’m sorry I cannot answer that,” she said. “However, what has transpired just in the last couple of weeks, is that there are going to be the renovations done as soon as possible that can be done without the need to fulfill the Ontario Building Code requirements.”

Ewing was direct in his reply.

“Someone dropped the ball in the office as far as I’m concerned. They went on a different path looking for more engineering studies to be done. Since it’s come back to our attention, they’ve been instructed to do the repairs up to the $35,000 and hopefully it’s done before the end of this year,” he said.

Mellan and Byvelds were also afforded an opportunity to reply later in the debate. Byvelds delivered a shot across the bow with his reply, laying the blame for what he called “the Carman House fiasco” solely at the feet of Delegarde.

“My question to you is, who on this council table needs to make sure staff gets their job done? That’s the mayor,” he said.

Mellan added, “during the whole process staff realized they needed another engineering report. Sort of blew us away. That then snowballed up to $94,000 [in repairs]. We didn’t accept that. We didn’t think that was right.”

He added that repairs would be completed “before the snow flies.”

A question on how council plans to address an emerging health care problem, including a lack of doctors and shortage of long-term care programs for seniors in the community was also posed to potential councillors Jones and Lewis.

Jones proposed a long-term strategy that would “identify and target physicians that would be interested in being in small communities and want this lifestyle. We can’t afford to compete with cities that are offering $100,000 tuition reimbursements.”

Lewis thought additional funds could be used.

“[We] have to sweeten the pot. I know at one time there was money that came through the municipality for doctors to move here and I think that time has gone by,” he said.

When the question of staff relationships with council and constituents was brought up, local business owner and council hopeful Burton provided an interesting take.

“The biggest problem is no HR person is there. People go blindly through their jobs every day without any direction or guidance,” he said. “The staff, I’ve spoken to them, they’re disheartened, they don’t know which directions to take.”

Byvelds thought an assessment of staff was needed.

“Figure out if right people are in the right job and if they’re applying themselves well,” he said.

One of the biggest reactions of the night came when a farmer from outside of Brinston asked why it had taken the municipality six years to provide a bill on ditch work that had been done on their property.

Current councillor Mellan fielded the question saying that the delay was “a very sore point and has been a sore point for quite a few years.”

He went on to say that the delay is partially due to grant wait time and that the municipality had carried more than a million dollars in uncollected bills on the books for several years on money paid out to contractors.

“It’s something we’re going to keep working on. I would like to get it down to two or three years. Not five. I’ve seen some at seven. It’s ridiculous and we’re still working on it,” Mellan said.

When the subject of how farmers interests could be heard, Gardner made it clear that she believed communication with agricultural groups was an issue.

“I’m a big believer in the advisory committees… but you actually have to have the conversations. There’s no point in having the committee if you’re not going to access it,” she said.

The line of the night went to councillor candidate Lewis who, during his closing statement, made sure to distance himself from the municipality’s director of building, planning and enforcement that has come under fire for the Carman House debacle and happens to share the same name.

“I am not that Don Lewis,” he said to a round of uproarious laughter.

In the end, it was apparent which candidates had council and municipal experience as they generally made a stronger impression. Those on their maiden election had a chance to get their feet wet and measure the temperature of the race, but it is expected they will offer some sharper assertions if they hope to make inroads in the mental real estate of undecided voters and find themselves in the council chambers this fall.

The next debate is slated for Thurs., Oct. 11 at the Iroquois Civic Centre at 7 pm.