Thanks to journalist Luvern Mornin for her attendance at the debate and contribution to this article.
At 7:00 p.m. on October 4th, ten of the eleven Ward 5 candidates tried out the Councillor chairs in the Brantford City Council chambers. Candidate Michael Peterson was not in attendance.
Media listened, a live feed television hung from the ceiling, and the voters filled the gallery. Rogers Cable 20 will replay the two-hour discussion on October 6th.
Ward 5 boundaries have changed since the last election, four years ago, and now include all of East Ward, Eagle Place and the Downtown core: there was a swap sending most of Echo Place to Ward 4 and parts of the area west of Gretzky Parkway to Ward 5.
The Brantford Brant Chamber of Commerce hosted the event with Alan Lovett, Past Chair of the Brantford Chamber of Commerce as moderator and Sandra Vos and Ben Strasser as interrogators, and Executive Director Charlene Nicholson as the vigilant time keeper. Each candidate had 60 seconds to introduce themselves, their motivation and platforms. The remaining time consisted of the same five questions asked of the previous ward debates, giving the candidate 90 seconds to respond to each.
The candidate’s responses ranged from loud and passion-filled, humourous, honest, quietly shy, sincere, well-spoken and all with a clear direction and collegiality. Although there seemed to be consensus among many candidates about some key issues, they all expressed slightly different priorities and solutions in their campaign.
The motivation for running for Ward 5 Council was identified. LITTELL, with experience in business, leadership in municipal politics, committed service to the community and philanthropy, ‘wants to give back’ to the city. KISSINGER has extensive personal skills in human resources and union negotiations and a depth of civic committee experience in both Brantford and the County of Brant felt she was prepared to serve. WALL is a marketer, real estate agent, member of the BIA, Kinsmen and Heritage Committee and passionate about creating Brantford as a destination for living, working and events while an activist for those in need. VANTILBORG feels he has made a difference in his first term as the incumbent Councillor and treasures the satisfaction that comes from helping others. STARCHUK credits Councillor Carpenter as his civic mentor and has a well-thought out multi-point plan wrapped in community engagement to achieve results. GORESKI as a forensic investigator, grew up in Ward 5, left and returned to participate in charitable endeavors and be a help to his fellow citizens as a team player. O’NEILL, as a 45-year south section of Brantford resident and business operator says, ‘it was the pumping station that got me going and that’s why I’m here’. CARSON a business man, spent 21 years living in the ward and through his community committee involvement he ‘saw an opportunity when Councillor Neuman retired”, to bring new energy. BEEMER has a small business in the ward and is singularly committed to the impacts of crime. SWANSON wants the people of his ward to have more control and input and the government to have less in decision making around local issues.
All were opposed to the decades old BSAR planning and instead offering alternative suggestions routing residents in the south west by investing in changed traffic access along County Road 18 and up near Oak Park to the 403. They agreed that there was considerable work needed to improve communications from the elected officials to the community. They also were unanimous in the need to invest in infrastructure such as roads, dike repairs, lead pipe replacement and the lack of capacity of the water pumping station in the ward. Generally, the concept of the Waterfront Master Plan conceived in 2009-2010 was supported but most felt it needed to be updated given the time since its inception and limited progress since. LITTELL reminded everyone that $350,000 per year had been allocated in 2010 for the Plan and queried if that was still in the dedicated account and what remained. The inadequate availability of public transit for Ward 5 was also universally supported. KISSINGER noted that ‘if it takes longer to get to King George Road shopping from Eagle Place than to get to Hamilton, there’s something wrong’
As to a number of other Ward 5 concerns there were both differing approaches to resolution of problems and the depth of knowledge they had accumulated to inform those decisions.
One was policing. Everyone wanted a safer community with some level of greater police presence as a deterrent and while the solution is not a direct responsibility of Council, rather the Police Services Board, the solutions varied. GORESKI, CARSON, KISSINGER, STARCHUK, WALL and VANTILBORG all advocated some kind of partnership process with Municipal By-law Enforcement Officers or social service agencies and non-police ‘Community on Patrol’ increased presence. O’NEILL and LITTELL were on opposite sides as to city funding: LITTELL, as former Chair of the Police Services Board, was adamant he would not support increasing the $33 million tax payer funded police budget and O’NEILL said he would. O’NEILL would add an entire new sector in the police geographic beats to increase police officers in the core. SWANSON was quite clear on his solution, “Reduce crime by reducing laws”. He added that with the changes in the Federal laws around Cannabis other street drug problems could be addressed similarly by legalizing, ‘Get government out of the way’. WALL approached this as a socio-economic solution, ‘I’m not in favour of police enforcement…rehab not jail’. BEEMER explained it was his neighbourhood conversations around criminal activity and damage that motivated him to run in the first place.
Another concern addressed was the negative perception of City Hall as to impeding development and slow-walking permit processes as well as non-support for recognizing the contribution by small businesses. LITTELL expressed that as a result of his discussion with investors, he felt a more welcoming approach from the city would bring new revitalization next to the Laurier/YMCA complex on the south side of Colborne and add people, tax revenue and business opportunities to the core. Of course, that brought up the annual increases in residential taxes and stopping the Chamber-negotiated redistribution of the tax ratios for industrial and commercial properties (who pay the most in taxes per capita). It was pointed out that it has been a decade since City Council had a year with no tax increases. KISSINGER wants to review the tendering and purchase policies of the municipality to give better opportunity for locals. SWANSON said it simply, ‘Raise money and reduce spending’. He added that priorities were wrong, ‘$200 million spent on sports facilities was not necessary’. VANTILBORG echoed one part of that, ‘We have to live within our means.’ He also opposed the purchase of the Federal Building which council decided as a solution to the expanding staffing/space needs in the municipality.
City Hall Council Chambers room will host the Mayoral debate on October 11th which is sure to be informative, and help the citizens of Brantford decide for themselves, which person they believe will lead our community towards overall improvement. See you there.
Listening to each candidate’s response educates the voter that Brantford is a strong city with caring people who truly do want to make a difference. Your vote matters. The irony is that the voter turnout in this ward, not unlike the city in general, has historically been apathetic.
Voting takes place on or before October 22nd, 2018. Did you know you can vote on line this year? Click here!