Democracy is alive and well in The Municipality of Bayham, where a full house estimated at close to 200 citizens showed up for Monday’s Deputy Mayor All Candidates meeting at the Straffordville Community Centre.
Some wore their hearts on their sleeves, one a ‘Don’t vote for Cliff,’ message on the back of his shirt. The former deputy mayor responded with aplomb, asking the citizen to turn to show him the message, before calmly answering a question that had amounted to a challenge.
Project Ojibwa was front and centre during the entire evening, to the point one citizen mentioned she was going to change the topic, because “I’m getting sick and tired of listening to Ojibwa questions.”
There was time to focus on other issues, as well.
There was, for example, consensus on accepting the results of a cost/benefit analysis on long-term gas-related dredging; the fact not-for-profit community groups – groups that are in effect putting monies raised back into their communities - should have a level playing field in terms of getting a break on community hall rental; that sewer costs are unpopular, whether or not one is on a fixed income; and the sandy remains of Project Ojibwa dredging were a concern for the future of Port Burwell’s East Beach.
There was also room for even an absent candidate – Bob Lozon, who was unable to attend, to express his support for harbour divestiture in a brief, prepared statement, along with his apologies.
The voters have made a similar sentiment clear, added candidate Cliff Evanitski, noting a $13.5 million figure being mentioned in connection with Port Stanley.
“When you look at those kind of monies, obviously divestiture is something you have to seriously consider.”
Ways to promote business in the municipality were also discussed, with candidate Lynn Acre suggesting a successful Project Ojibwa as a positive course.
“There will be more reason for people to make an investment in this community.”
One woman expressed concern that “Our past differences should not define our future,” inquiring about community-building within Bayham?
Candidate Rainey Weisler proposed encouraging economic development, working with the chamber of commerce, Elgin County and other tourist agencies, bringing in more business and raising the profile of the municipality’s tourism opportunities.
In the short term, Evanitski suggested opposing the proposed roundabout project at the intersection of Highway #3 and Vienna Road, concerned about putting a roundabout on a provincial highway essentially at a major entry point to Bayham, so close to a potential Siemens wind turbine blade bottleneck.
‘At the end of the day we all want to get people in here and back as well,’ he summed up.
Evanitski expressed his support of SCOR, a region encompassing five former tobacco counties, in the broader context of enhancing the municipality’s economic outlook. At the end of the day, he suggested, a positive economic picture “makes for a better, happier community overall.”
Acre cited Bayham’s untapped tourism potential, agriculture, historical, cultural, ecological and environmental.
“There are so many things here and so many things we can build on.”
One woman’s complaint alleging uneven snow plowing in the north and south of the municipality underlined concerns about a ‘north-south divide’ and unity.
“That’s (a divide) not what I represent,” said Weisler, suggesting stopping ‘looking into a rear view mirror, looking forward and working together.’
Evanitski suggested a ward system can contribute to the challenge and it is vital at budget time that council does its best to ensure benefits are spread throughout the municipality.
“So everyone feels there is progress being made in their respective neighbourhoods.”
Acre committed to passing along snow plowing concerns whether or not she was elected. Beyond that, “I’d make sure, as Cliff said, at budget time, it’s a fair shake between all wards.”
Another person suggested they had heard enough ‘old news’ since moving to Bayham six years ago, wondering what candidates were prepared to do today, and moving forward?
“Tell us some good news.”
Weisler admitted some may be concerned about her relative inexperience.
“I see it as an opportunity to look at the whole picture for you.”
She committed to an intense municipal politics education program to get up to speed, and mostly, to listen.
“To listen to your concerns, find the answers and be transparent in approach.”
Evanitski countered that with an infrastructure project of the scope of Project Ojibwa, experience was needed ‘at the table,’ both experience with municipal governance and in dealing with senior levels of government.
“If you want good news, you need experience that’s going to move the endeavour forward.”
Acre focussed on an intense commitment to help Project Ojibwa succeed.
“Because that’s only going to help everyone.”
She also suggested partnering with the Town of Tillsonburg, for example, in order to promote industrial projects.
“There are so many ways we can partner and strengthen our municipality and keep our costs down.”
The final question was posed by the moderator, the challenge to finish the preface: “Vote for me, because…”
Lozon had addressed this during his prepared statement, closing with his opinion of the need for change.
“I ask you voters support me in my endeavour for a difference.”
“Vote for me because I’m optimistic and I can hit the ground running,” Acre responded.
“Experience that counts,” said Evanitski, citing a legacy that includes significant infrastructure improvement throughout the municipality. “We’ve got quite a few accomplishments, thank you very much, and I’m proud of them.”
“Vote for me because change is good,” Weisler concluded.