Thursday, June 13, 2024

Early Thoughts on a Baker’s Dozen of Council Candidates

By Stephen Vance, Editor

The large number of candidates running campaigns for council seats poses a number of logistical problems when conducting an All Candidates meeting.


How do they all fit on one stage? How much time can be afforded each candidate for opening and closing statements? Who gets to answer questions asked by voters?


Under difficult circumstances the Meaford & District Chamber of Commerce somehow managed to make the best of the situation as they held their All Candidates meeting on Thursday night at the Meaford & St. Vincent Community Centre.


With 11 of the 13 declared candidates attending, the stage was full, and so was the room with in excess of 250 residents packed into the community centre, many of them having to stand for the duration of the two and a half hour event.


Of course with 11 candidates each vying for as much air time as possible, another problem becomes how to write about the canidates while ensuring that they each get a mention without turning an article into a 10,000 word novella.


Naturally some of the 11 candidates were clear front-runners at the conclusion of the first two debates, and others were clearly not suited for the rigours of municipal politics, however they all made the effort to attend, and since only a small portion of voters were able to make their way to the community centre to hear the candidates themselves, it is only fair that each candidate gets representation in this article so that the reader can evaluate for themselves.


With ballots being mailed to Meaford voters today, what follows is a paragraph or two outlining my take on each of the 11 candidates at this early stage in the campaign.


Barbara Arnelien:


Arnelien is a self described “simple housewife”, who by her own admission has no political experience. Based on her statements at the two recent candidate meetings, what she does have is a love for her community. Arnelien decided to run for council because she like many in the municipality has become frustrated with recent events and ever rising taxes.


Arnelien’s best line of Thursday night came while explaining the fact that she has no signs or campaign literature to hand out as some of her competitors do, and perhaps captures the essence of what she is all about as a candidate: “I don’t believe in spending money that I don’t have, and I’d like to see council do the same.”


Peter Bantock:


Bantock was unable to attend the 55+ Club candidate meeting on Tuesday, and on Thursday evening he was relatively quiet. Bantock told the audience that he decided to run for council because “I could bitch and moan or I could put my neck on the line.” He says that taxes are a concern but they are also a fact of life, and what he would like to see is a more systematic approach to decision making on council which would result in spending money more wisely.


Bantock believes that the key to unlocking the gates to Meaford’s future prosperity are already here.


“Meaford needs to build on its strengths. We have a community with a lot of skilled and talented individuals,” said Bantock.


Wesley Cann:


Cann is a single issue candidate who manages to bring every question posed back to his belief that taxes need to be lowered. What Cann hasn’t expressed in the two recent candidate meetings is how he proposes to reduce taxes. He has stated that the much talked about five-year plan will not help right the ship, though it is not clear if Cann himself has read the five year plan.


“There is no way the five-year plan is going to work. We need to seriously cut back. Raising taxes is not an option,” said Cann, though he didn’t indicate where those cuts would come from.


He stated that he has lived in the United States for the last 13 years and returned to his boyhood home of Meaford in January. If he had been planning to run for council, perhaps some of his time over the last eight months should have been spent attending council meetings brushing up on all of the issues so that he could have a more comprehensive understanding of what the problems really are, and in doing so he might then be able to offer some solutions.


Barb Clumpus:


Clumpus is a polished, well organized candidate with a well oiled team behind her. After she filed her papers to run for council she quickly had a media release issued outlining her issues and beliefs. Her team has been visible in the community with everything from lawn signs to car decals. At the two candidate meetings Clumpus has stayed true to what she says in her campaign literature. She believes that the work that has been done over the last year with things like the five-year plan, and the Meaford Economic Development Strategy will work, and should be allowed to run their course.


Clumpus has three themes in her campaign. That we should continue to get our financial house in order by staying the course and allowing the five-year plan to be followed through. To reduce the tax burden by attracting new business by supporting the MEDS recommendations. And building a stronger community by working together.


With regard to taxes, Clumpus has continually stated that “You either pay now, or you pay more later.”


John Malloy:


Malloy has run for council in previous elections. He is likely the most gregarious of all of the candidates. Like Cann, taxes appear to be the prime issue for Malloy who has claimed that “It is all about taxes, taxes, taxes,” though it is not yet clear from what Malloy has said publicly or in his campaign literature what his solutions to rising taxes are.


Malloy’s answer to more than a couple of questions at the Thursday night meeting was that things will get better if voters “Put the right four candidates on council with me.” While the answer is cute, it lacks substance. Malloy says that he has been spending time interviewing municipal staff in an effort to gather information so that he can formulate solutions. In fact on a couple of occasions during the evening Malloy declined to answer a question because he was still gathering information. With the ballots being mailed out to voters today, Malloy would be wise to speed up his information gathering and provide voters with his ideas for addressing taxes, taxes, taxes.


James McIntosh:


McIntosh is the youngest of all the candidates. In spite of his youth, he is also confident, creative, articulate, and politically savvy. How else can you describe a candidate who hands out McIntosh apples adorned with “Vote McIntosh” stickers?


For the sake of full disclosure I must state that McIntosh is also a personal friend, so any comment I make with regard to his candidacy will be viewed by some as having bias. There is nothing I can do about that- even in small towns journalists have friends.


That said, McIntosh has brought to the table a list of issues along with proposed solutions. He feels that the way to stabilize ever rising taxes is to look for operational efficiencies throughout all municipal departments, find new streams of revenue generation, enforce existing bylaws, and reduce spending. Economic development is also at the core of McIntosh’s campaign, though he doesn’t think it realistic to be on the hunt for a single large industrial tenant. McIntosh feels that the road to future prosperity in Meaford will be found in what he calls “intellectually driven small business”.


Mike Poetker:


At this early juncture Poetker has stood out for me as the cream of the crop of the council candidates. Poetker has a calm, pragmatic approach, and is seemingly not able to be baited into petty debate. His campaign is touting a practical, common sense approach to financial management, and he talks a lot about balance and responsible decision making.


Though he has said that he believes that certain big ticket items like the building of a new library are necessary and important, he is not willing to consider those things while Meaford’s financial house remains in its current state.


Poetker also does not seem to have any fear of answering a question directly. When asked the same question that was posed to the Mayoral and Deputy Mayor candidates on Monday night about how services could be maintained and what the priorities would be should the municipality deviate from the five-year plan that will see hefty tax increases for the duration of the plan, Poetker was refreshingly blunt.


“This is a very ugly question, and the answer is ugly,” said Poetker, “There would be pot-holes on roads, and some things would need a coat of paint. We would need to increase or apply user fees (for services), those are the ugly answers.”


Lynda Stephens:


Stephens is the only incumbent running for a council seat, and as such rightly or not, she alone has had to bear the brunt of voter displeasure with what the current council has or has not done well. She has said that her focus is to use common sense, follow the rules, and to be respectful.


Like Clumpus, Stephens would like to see the municipality stay the course and follow through with the five-year plan while implementing the various recommendations that came out of the MEDS project and other task forces that have been conducted over the last couple years.


“I don’t think we’d be successful if we didn’t follow the five-year plan. We can’t reduce services, the people I talk to want more services not less,” said Stephens.


Peter Vaughan:


Vaughan is enjoying his retirement in Meaford where he moved to four years ago. Taxes are a major issue for Vaughan and he has said that the reason for his decision to run for council was so that he could play a hand in bringing rising taxes under control.


“We need to go into a period of austerity” Vaughan told voters on Tuesday afternoon at the 55+ candidate meeting. On Thursday evening he expanded on that thought by saying that in order to avoid future increases in taxation Meaford would need to “Match lower revenue with lower expectations.”


Vaughan said that he would start the cost cutting with big ticket items, but when it came to matters of safety such as policing and fire protection, he would not support reduction of funding.


Deborah Young:


Young is an experienced council member having served on council and as Reeve of Sydenham for many years. She is a resident of Bognor where she has lived since 1989. Young would like to be a representative voice on council for rural residents.


She would like to make council more transparent, more accountable, and more user-friendly. Young has said that in order to find cost savings within the municipality it must first be determined what services are considered essential, and which are not.


“If you do not want taxes to be raised, then the decision has to be made as to what is necessary and then bite the bullet,” Young said on Thursday night.


Though she fumbled at times during the Thursday debate, it only served to show that Young is human, since at the Tuesday afternoon 55+ Club debate, she was stellar.


Young would be an asset on our council.


Jason Whaley:


Whaley is another young candidate who is driven by a desire to make a community that he loves an even better place to live and work.


Now would be appropriate for my second statement of disclosure as Whaley is also a personal friend but as anyone who knows me is aware, friend or not, my first priority is objectivity and balance. So, again, anything I say about Whaley might be viewed as biased by some, and again, I can’t do much about that other than be upfront in identifying the fact that we have social interaction.


Whaley is clearly new at the politics game. He brings to the campaign a youthful enthusiasm, and a sincere desire to promote Meaford as a fabulous community to raise a family.


He has stated that in his opinion the only road to a positive future in Meaford is by having a council that is willing to commit to honest work, transparency, equality, cooperation and accountability.


Whaley’s message has been well received by voters attending candidate meetings, and though Whaley concedes that some voters are reluctant to elect councillors in their 30’s, he is asking for a chance to show that the younger candidates have what it takes to contribute to municipal solutions.


The remaining two declared candidates Ray McHugh and Carol Smith did not attend either of the first two candidate meetings for council candidates. There is one more all candidates event scheduled for next Wednesday at Woodford Hall, and hopefully at that time we will get a glimpse of what their positions and solutions are.


So there you have it, my early take on our lengthy list of candidates for Meaford Council.


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