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Does McDonald regret staying for a third term?

by | Apr 11, 2021

There were several main subjects I wanted to broach with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald during our Zoom interview April 7. It was a follow up to our April 2020 Skype interview, which took place as the COVID-19 pandemic and reality of lockdowns were still a novelty.

Plenty had transpired since then and my goal was to touch on several highlights: the Invest North Bay dissolution debacle, several looming infrastructure capital project burdens (Nipissing District Cassellholme Home for the Aged expansion, twin pad community centre, etc.), and the impact of social media and media relations on public decision-making. I also wanted to throw in a question about whether mayors should have to disclose all their property investments instead of leaving it to pecuniary interest admissions when and if situations arise. It seems to me the public should have easy access to that information so it’s not left to speculation, a major distraction for many. To see the individual notices of conflict or pecuniary interest disclosures, see the city website section HERE.

And there’s this little thing called a pandemic, which has become a rollercoaster of confusing decisions and situations impacting everybody in different ways. Not everybody thought things were handled perfectly this winter, leaving much to be discussed as a third wave puts the final nail in a few small business coffins.

Of course, 30 minutes isn’t quite enough time to cover 365 days of change while mixing in the backstory of his decade at the municipal helm. We ended up chatting for more than 60 minutes and we hardly scratched the surface. See the full interview HERE, there’s an abbreviated transcript below or see it in the video player at the bottom of this page.

Forget about his meteoric rise to deputy mayor in his first municipal election. Forget also his immediate jumping of ship to run for the Conservatives in a 2002 byelection to replace Mike Harris. Councillor George Maroosis can tell you the story of McDonald beating him by just 18 votes. We won’t even mention McDonald’s 3,000-vote loss to Liberal Monique Smith in 2003 or the 2,500-vote loss to Anthony Rota in the 2004 federal election.

I have the benefit and curse of a long history covering McDonald’s political career. It’s been a source of amusement and bemusement with a dash of interesting insights.

It’s been clear from the outset, at least to me, that his Invest North Bay ‘baby’ was doomed to be a problem child.

You just can’t funnel public money into a non-public body stacked with friendlies and expect warm hugs at the other end. There was already plenty of evidence the public at large wanted more transparency, not less.

The mirage that is called North Bay Hydro Distribution Ltd., is a good example. I’m already on record noting that McDonald’s decision to call in the hydro debenture, a source of annual revenue for the city, was a short-sighted decision.

But I digress. And there’s no benefit in dredging up all the details of every misstep each time we speak.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald during a public skating session at Memorial Gardens in 2013. He’s possibly texting the Brampton Battalion, not confirmed. Dave Dale Photo

So I decided to have some fun and give McDonald a chance to explain what went wrong and what went right by using an analogy joke to kick things off.

The transcript of that discussion is below, but basically I asked which analogy best describes the rise and fall of Invest North Bay (which is being folded up and a public economic advisory body with proper conflict of interest policies put in its place.):

1) Swing and a miss;

2) fumbling the football like Robert Stanfield at the North Bay airport in 1974 (blamed on his election loss);

3) forgetting to take your skate guards off.

McDonald often refers to hockey analogies and I thought he’d pick the skate guards option because, even if he had the best of intentions, the optics were akin to a public face-plant.

Yes, the Integrity Commissioner report technically cleared him and then chairman George Burton, president of Canadore College, of improperly influencing the awarding of an advertising contract. Technically, conflict of interest policies appear not to have been in place, officially, but the perception was poor.

Even if TWG Communications had the best bid with experience in the Toronto-area network of new Canadian investors, there was a giant red flag that screamed out for careful consideration. TWG’s Bill Ferguson, a local Conservative Party riding association player, was the chairman of Canadore’s board of governors and McDonald uses TWG and Ferguson for his political campaigns.

It also didn’t help that Burton was soon after deeply embroiled in a situation at the college with a top director and close associate accused of workplace harassment.

I actually think there was an honest effort to go back and clean up the messy spots but the damage was done and the wolves of public scrutiny smelled blood.

Putting it out of its misery was the only option in the end.

So I was hoping McDonald would take the opportunity to clear the air a bit.

The best analogy, in hindsight and my opinion, would be McDonald skated in for a breakaway goal but under video review Burton and Ferguson had already entered the zone, making the whole play offside. Word on the street is TWG didn’t appreciate the contract being ended early and the saga may continue, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

You can judge McDonald’s answer for yourself. He decided to skip the analogy exercise altogether and pin it on communication issues. One of the problems, he said, is that the big business players in the city would be reluctant to share their perspectives and ideas in a publicly transparent forum.

That’s a shame.

See the April 2020 interview HERE.

As for the big capital projects and social media issues, McDonald stands by his strategy of infrastructure investment to pave the way for growth … to pay for the infrastructure investment.

Interestingly, he did hint that expanding Cassellholme in a bigger way at this point might not be wise because the demographic bubble of aging Boomers won’t last that long.

It caught my ear and I asked him to clarify if he actually thinks it’s too late now to go big on long-term care homes. He walked it back a bit and said it’s not too late … but Cassellholme should have been expanded in 2004 (he didn’t connect that dot to the Liberals sweeping out the Tories then but it’s part of the timeline). He also said it should have been expanded in 2010 and 2015, but I guess the same arguments could be made about replacing West Ferris arena.

That topic will likely be covered in a subsequent column as council will be talking about both those projects a lot in the coming months as we approach the next municipal election in 2022.

There’s only one thing to be certain, as McDonald made clear once again, he’s not running for a fourth term.

A friend suggested I ask him if he has had any reconsideration of his decision to bow out. I didn’t because it’s obvious he’s had more than his fill of public life.

What I should have asked him was if he regrets his decision to run for the third term.

 

Slightly edited and abbreviated transcript from April 7:

Al McDonald:

None of us have ever gone through it, right? I don’t think there was anybody …. maybe there’s been a few people that are still alive that went through the Spanish flu. Right. But I remember H1N1 at the gardens and I remember SARS. I was in Toronto when SARS hit. And I mean, it was pretty serious. But nothing to this scale for sure.

It’s interesting because, you know …. How do I say this nicely? A lot of times people don’t take the time to fully understand all the ramifications. Sometimes they just look at it from their perspective and in our role, we have to look at it from everyone’s perspective. I’m not an expert in engineering or I’m not a doctor. So, you know, I’m trying to learn as much as I can as I go. And I just I know very quickly, too, if there’s a question that really needs [to be answered by a professional, I let them answer it. And I don’t give my opinion because it doesn’t really mean anything if I’m not educated in that field.

Dave:

Well, I kind of disagree with that approach because I believe everybody has expertise to add. I know a lot of health experts might not have social and business experience. Some of the decisions made over the course of the last year were lacking insight into the broad picture. So I believe, you know, I think there could have been some louder voices from certain leadership sections to help inform the decisions because there were, I don’t know, I thought there were some bad decisions made.

Al:

I don’t know if you’re nodding because it was towards me or just…

Dave:

Well, you’re an elected official … I thought that, you know, I’ll come out and say it, I think that some people could have stood up and gone against some of the recommendations or at least tried to help educate the health officials that are making them

So snowmobile trails…

Al:

So fair enough. Like I take it in good nature. And to answer some of that, Dave, because in a way the one statement you made is absolutely correct. Right. If you’re a medical professional or an engineer, they’re absolutely looking at it from their perspective. Right. And they wouldn’t have my experience of talking to the community at large. You know, from businesses to the average person to the grandmother, the one intel that I can bring is a broader perspective. And an expert that maybe a medical doctor, for example, no, I agree with you 100 percent.

I think part of the maybe I’ll just answer it this way. So I absolutely agree with you when I say I don’t entertain or comment or have an opinion on a medical question. Absolutely. So if you ask me what makes up SARS or what makes up Covid, I wouldn’t answer that question. If you were to ask me, do you really believe that, given everything that we’re hearing, that these door should be open and maybe there should be more leeway here and there? Absolutely. That’s where my opinion can come in.

Dave:

Did you have a chance to help inform some of the decisions made locally with Dr. Chirico?

Al:

No.

Dave:

No, I think that was part of the structure mistake, that the decision-making table wasn’t well informed.

For example, my opinion, I know the snowmobile trails, the issue was they didn’t want people coming into this area from other areas because we had snow and we had trails that were ready. But the OFSC at the time, even in December, I remember interviewing them, they had a system of letting the trail permit owners know that they weren’t allowed to go out of their zone and all they had to do is police the trails.

Right, and everybody would have known that if they’re not from this area, they would have got a big ticket and then like, and bear with me on this, because I think that some decisions like that had ramifications going forward. People locally could have snowmobiled.

Some of the businesses could have benefited from that with, you know, well orchestrated and regulated, distancing and whatnot. Because they were all prepared to go right, the ski hills even. Right. Everybody was prepared to operate in a way that would be safe. And if the idea was just to keep people from out of this area, that could have been managed right.

But OK, so those decisions took the toboggan hills and the, outdoor skating, those decisions were made, but that took away that social capital for this instance, where we’re coming into an even harder reality of a lockdown and people have already lost confidence in the decision-making process.

Al:

I guess the question becomes, who lost confidence in the decision making, because I know I was being criticized and raked over the coals because I was supporting the medical officers health decision. Right. To stay in red and so be it. That’s fair. But I’ll be honest, I got more calls saying stick to your guns than open up the skating rink or the trails. So, yeah, I guess really depends on like which sector do not have confidence in whatever decision that was made.

So I’ll give you the snowmobiles, for an example. I don’t know if you can contact Covid when you pass each other at 60 miles an hour on a trail. I doubt it. But it’s not on the trails that was the concern. It’s everybody’s standing in a parking lot unloading the machines, having a beer together and traveling. So that’s really the crux of it.

So it was interesting when they, when he closed the rinks and the sliding hills, like I can tell you, I wish I wasn’t the mayor at the time because the criticism was really loud.

But it’s not the exercise of skating. It’s not the exercise of going down a toboggan hill that’s the risk. It’s all the associated activities around it. So you just had to look on social media where people were inviting their friends to go skating and they’re were even carpooling. And, you know, even my grandson was invited to go skating in another car and he did say no, which was a good thing. So it’s really that activity.

One of my councillors said, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, I disagree with the sliding hills and the rinks being closed.’ And I said, ‘Well, here’s all the reasons. It’s at the bottom of the hill and it’s them chatting and carpooling. And he goes, ‘Yeah, but I think there should be a balance there enough that they should be allowed to do it.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s good.’ But then he said, ‘But yeah, I was down at the bottom of the sliding hill and the parents were sharing hot chocolate. They break out the thermostat, right? So I think I can buy both sides of the argument for sure.

Dave:

I guess I sit on the on the position where people will follow rules when education and things are enforced, and that to just blanket disregard their ability to adapt and just say, ‘Well, you can’t handle it, you’re not doing it right. And so we’re shutting everything down. I think that was heavy handed and it didn’t give people credit. That was very early in sort of the winter situation where people were trying to be outside. Right. All they needed was somebody, and we have lots of people on the public payroll that can be there at these places informing and enforcing. We already pay them to do it. So I think we should have gave them a chance. That’s my position.

I’m not raking you over the coals. Everybody’s going through some heavy decision-making situations. That was your first winter of dealing with that. I’m sure Dr. Chirico would probably have done things a little bit different, if he were to get another chance at it. I think he would listen and look for ways to make it happen rather than just an easy sort of, you know, the decisions mine, it’s not an easy decision, but it’s easy to say no. It’s hard to say yes, but we have to do it this way. That’s what I think.

Al:

No, no, I mean, it’s always easy to sit back and analyze it. It’s like going to a hockey game, right, when you’re on the ice trying to make that pass and three people are trying to plow you into the boards. It’s not quite so easy to make that pass, but when you’re sitting up in the stands, it’s easy to make that pass. And you should have saw those three guys three seconds ago. Right.

So I always try to look at it from all perspectives. So on the rinks and the sliding hills, maybe more the rinks tape than sliding hills. You know, your comment about where we can have staff? Well, we could have some staff for sure, but we had 11 outdoor rinks and we only really have three arenas. Right. And I don’t know where you would get that that staff to try to monitor that many rinks over a long period of time.

Secondly, can you imagine if somebody walked up and it’s public property, right? I don’t know if they have the authority. And I remember asking legal if you walked up and this is a public piece of property. How is it that they have the ability to say, ‘No, you can’t go on that outdoor surface. like I can see indoors, right, because it’s kind of a physical building, but to say to someone they can’t slide down the side of the hill where the overpass is. That would really put staff in a very difficult position, in my opinion.

Dave:

I know, fair enough. I think we have enough people in the community that are trained and able to handle those situations, and I think people, in a general sense, would listen to direction if there was direction given in a way that … like I’ve been at the outdoor rink, they manage themselves, the people. They play hockey, they manage the games, they make rules, they follow it. I was at the outdoor rink here and Ferris, there were only allowed 20 or 25 on the rink. That’s all that was on there. There is people sitting and waiting and nobody is telling anybody what to do.

I don’t know, I think people should have been given the credit to be able to figure it out and to appreciate the opportunity they had and work around the different rules. We’re really good at working around rules. Right.

Al:

Yeah, I agree with your point, I think the vast majority of our citizens follow the rules.

Dave:

But I don’t want to get into the armchair quarterbacking too much, but I think we learned a lot this year.  And I hope that the same mistakes aren’t made again next year as far as I’m concerned.

Al:

I lived the boat launches. I lived the beaches. I lived the fireworks. Every little decision that was made was scrutinized. Right. Very close. You can imagine we were one of the first cities to close the whole, like I can remember the conversation with my CEO and he said, ‘How do we close a city hall. How do you tell people they have to work from home? We were way ahead of the curve on those. But in any event, there was criticism that came with every decision, which there always is. Right. So the one thing you learn in politics is it doesn’t matter if you say yes or no. There’s always going to be more than likely equal amounts of opinion on both sides of the issue.

Dave:

Yeah, fair enough. You know, I just think there’s more room for communication and explanation and rationalization so people can understand what’s being done and I do believe people want it to be done in such a way that it makes sense. Right. So I think just explaining why you’re making decisions and why you’re not making decisions is a good thing, right?

Al:

Yeah, no, no. I fully agree with you on that one. But we all know that they’ll read the headlines and maybe the first sentence or two and…

Dave:

Well, those people don’t matter. The only people that matter are the ones that read the whole story.

Al:

Well, I have to say, everyone matters. But we all do know that most people will just look at a headline because they just don’t have time.

Dave:

Yeah, but, you know, I think those people can be talked to, like I get a lot of that myself. I get people reacting to things and they just blurt out the first emotional sort of response that they have to the situation without learning anything more to understand it. I get that a lot, but usually that’s my opening to explain something right. And I often take that opportunity. That first sort of wave of people that are not really getting it and not really looking and researching. And you can pick a few of those and educate them one by one at a time. You kind of slow them down on their thinking. Usually the next day, usually they’re the same thing, though, but, you know.

Al:

Yeah, the more information out there, the better trying to explain it, but I mean, you know how … a hockey player will answer a question and he’ll say to the reporter, you know, this is the 100th time I’ve answered this question, right? Yeah. And I think that’s what I find on social media, that I’m answering the same question over and over and over and over and over. And then just by the time I get that message out, they’re telling me that I should be doing this. So then you kind of start going down another rabbit hole. Right. And I think with social media now, Dave, it’s when they’re available they want the answer. So they’re working all day and it’s seven o’clock at night. This is their opportunity, right, or it’s during the day they’re on shift work. That’s their opportunity. Not in my world. That’s 24 hours a day. So, you know, now you get messages on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, emails, can you imagine? Can you imagine and getting asked all the time, you don’t have a chance. You know, if I had a team of four people, maybe I could probably keep up. But one person just can’t do everything. And that’s the challenge.

Dave:

Well, I always approach these things with process solutions. And I would say that if you’re being inundated from multiple fronts on questions, that you have to organize it in such a way where those questions feed into a place. And you answer those questions all at the same time, right? You probably figured that out where you can, you know, have a twice weekly sort of‘I’m answering questions on Tuesdays and Thursdays situation, and that’s when I’m doing it. And you just stick to when you can do it. But it’s a matter of having a process to deal with the issue.

Al:

I think you could schedule a Tuesday and Thursday.

Dave:

I’ve listened to some of your radio stuff in the morning with The Moose, and that was a good thing.

Al:

And the Moose has been great and a lot of times when I do get those questions, I try to put them in my daily blog one day … I try to incorporate it. But I do recognize that, you know, people aren’t reading the whole blog. They might read portions of it. And I see it because somebody will come in underneath saying ‘How many vaccines were given today?’ and somebody … goes ‘It’s in his blog!’

Dave:

That when you have to learn from the news guys that you put the most important stuff of that day at the top, you start your blog the same way every time. So it’s a little tough.

……

(Skipping over Al describing modern text language being better than Shakespeare?)

………..

Dave:

But going back to your metaphor, because I got a couple of things, I have a metaphor question for you … Which is of these is the best metaphor for what happened with Invest North Bay?

1) Swing and a Miss?

2) Fumbling the football at the airport like Robert Stanfield in 74?

3) Or you forgot to take your skate guards off?

Al:

None of the above.

Dave:

Well, what would you call that, what would you use as a metaphor (meant analogy) to describe your experience with Invest North Bay?

Al:

Communication.

Part of the challenge is you can’t communicate, … let’s say we’re working with you as a business, we can’t disclose that. Right. We can’t disclose your personal information or what you’re doing because it’s intellectual property and it would harm you, your competitors could use it. So I would say Invest North Bay, because a lot of great things came out of Invest North Bay that they really never got credit for. But I think communications is one of them.

So the takeaway for me is, OK, let’s invite a whole bunch of business leaders in. They can be the advisory board. Invite anybody that wants to watch, to watch. I don’t think you’re going to get an honest answer from anyone. They’re just not going to say much, just with social media now and everything that’s going on.

So what do I do? Do I think that we should do another Invest North Bay?  No, not at all. Do I think we should do an advisory board? For sure. I just don’t know if you’re really going to get, you know, those big players …to sit around a table knowing that their words are going to show up in blogs and social media and in the media when all they’re trying to do is help. So I guess there is always that balance.

So, I mean, if you’re starting up a new business, Dave, and you came into the city, the last thing you want is the city to disclose what you’re doing. Right. It’s so it’s a bit of a challenge.

Dave:

Granted. Oh, I remember when they had the Economic Development Advisory Committee before, Peter Minogue was chairman, we had the meetings up in the boardroom there, and you had a lot of give and take from businesses at the time, and I think you just need a structure for where businesses, if they are there asked, they have a way to communicate. And most of the businesses are, you know, they communicate through back channels to you. So I don’t know. I think it’s a small town and it’s hard to do one of those things without a lot of conflicts, put it that way.

Al:

Well, I would so I would say bring the business community together and just have them meet. And make recommendations to council, right? Sure, and that would probably work because then if somebody says, well, I deserve to be in that meeting, well, that’s the private group. Right.

So I think from a council perspective and a community perspective, all we’re looking for is advice. Because the one thing I hear and you read in the media, everybody wants jobs, everybody wants new industry. Everybody wants their kids and their grandkids to stay in North Bay. So how do you bring some business leaders together to kind of give them the ability to make recommendations? Right. So that council can go, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. And, you know, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘Hey, just ask the community, they can help in this case. ‘The business community wants to step up and help. It’s just trying to figure out what that structure might be.

Dave:

Well, weren’t you president of the chamber, isn’t the chamber like a good place to start?

Al:

I think the chamber has a good role. I think they’re doing a good job, they’re a voice for business. Their mandate wouldn’t have been the same as investment … attraction of industry and business. So we go to FDI, we would go look at ContiTech in Waterloo. We looked at innovation hubs, accelerators. That was kind of where our focus was, where the chamber might be an advocate for business. They would probably be very supportive of those, but it takes a lot of time and effort to do it. Now I’m trying to figure out where I was going to go with this, but I think the chamber has a role, I thought. Business leaders have a role. I think our economic staff have a role. I think the citizen has a role. I think our bus drivers have a role in economic development and when it comes to tourism, but the way it works, Economic 101 is 85 to 90 percent of economic development is retention and expansion. How do you assist your local businesses to retain their employees or retain their business and expand? And that’s where our economic development department is like, punching way above its weight. It’s doing an incredible job. But the local business owner that hires two more employees doesn’t want that in the media. I mean, you have to look at the blogs and just trash whoever is in in the media, so they want absolutely no media attention at all.

But that’s the one thing our economic development department really needs to do. So that’s where Invest North Bay comes in. How do you bring new business and industry? And that’s kind of that little small little area. But as you know in the Baylor report, Dave, you know, they’re saying, landing the Honda car plant ain’t going to happen. You know, it’s not that they went after the car plant, but they saw hot button issues when it comes to technology and coding, to an innovation hub, to an accelerator. How do you bring mentors in to assist?

…………

(Big chunk of nothing worth reading, garbled transcription cut out)

……………

Dave:

Hey, I got a couple other municipal issues questions before we go. I’m enjoying this conversation, so let’s keep it going. Are you running again or is this your final term?

Al:

My final term.

Dave:

So, this would be fair to talk about in the future for four other people that are running for municipal office, like I noticed in one of the most recent meetings you had when the ONTC was describing how they’d like to see the relationship between the city and them going forward, you had to declare a conflict for that meeting. Not sure why you left the meeting. I thought you could be able to still stay even though you had a conflict. Your just not allowed to talk. But you own the property at that corner, the gas station. So you declared conflict. Right. And I’ve noticed over your terms that one of the sources of the biggest kind of conflict that you were getting as far as criticism was because you do have many investments in property in town, right.

Do you think it would be better if people running for mayor had to declare what property that they own so people would have a clear understanding what’s going on?

Al:

Yeah, I don’t think it would hurt. So would I do it? What I did was I went to the clerk and said, here’s a piece of property I own. So she’s well aware of it. But I disclosed to the clerk which property I owned. So in the case of the service station, my conflict is not with the ONTC, it’s just the property across the street

So do I think that the mayor should disclose publicly? Yeah, I don’t, I guess, you could, I mean, people know I own the gas station, people know I own land up on Larouque Road.

Dave:

Yeah, I think that personally, from seeing all the criticisms in the allegations in the some of the stuff that’s being allowed to be said on social media that. Without a public disclosure, it left room for people to just make guesses and see things right, but if it was officially disclosed, OK, you know this is a property you own. You know, this is where you would have conflicts. When things are, people would say, OK, we know everything he owns. We don’t have to guess anymore. Right.

Al:

So you’re going on to the blogs and social media. That doesn’t matter, because they don’t know it anyways. You’ve heard this rumor now for four years. I own the property where the casino is on, I own the property across the street from the casino. Right. It’s still an ongoing debate on social media. Right. And you hear people is a reporter. It’s like, hey, Dave, I heard the mayor owns the MoeZonInn site. And that’s that story that has been there for about four years. It still goes I still hear about it today. And even though I don’t, people still just keep throwing it out there all the time. So I go back to how many times you have to say it. You just learn you just have to stop. Right. So the whole social media blog side of things is, I think, to be honest, is going to keep really good people out of politics.

Dave:

I think it’s going to change. Things are changing. I can see a day when even BayToday doesn’t have the comment section it has. And I also noticed that Facebook’s going to start giving us controls over opening and closing comments for different things that are posted. It will be the responsibility of the publisher. Things are changing. So I think you’re going to see a little bit difference in how things are approached now. People can always do their own thing and deal with Facebook off the site. But I think the publications, the media companies are going to be held accountable for what they allow to be published going forward. So I see good days coming as far as that goes, because I’m not a big believer in people being able to say defamatory things without having to face the consequences. I know I do. People hold me to account.

Al:

My worry is how many people don’t want to live with it? And I think if, you know, let’s say you and your wife were trying to make a decision, if your wife’s going to run you, you’re going to run for council. Right. And they read the blogs and they read the social media. And you can never do anything right. And you’re always corrupt. And, you know, you always put money in your pocket and it’s just constant. Right. Your spouse will probably say you’re not dragging our family through that. So a lot of good people that you really want to run. Are probably not going to run for that aspect, and I can tell you that because a lot of people that I think would be good to run, I’ll say, hey, have you ever thought of putting your name forward. And they go, no way. They’re not going to, they’re not going to live it.

So I think I’m really concerned for democracy because the really good people, they want to run, are just going to say, no, it’s not worth it. If you look at south of the border, Dave, when they run their campaigns, the sheer, visceral and attacks are unbelievable. And the unfortunate part is and I say this, Trump was an expert saying ‘that must be true.’

Dave:

Yeah, but you know what I think and that goes to what I was saying. I think the playing field is going to change. Your three terms were during the Wild West of social media, as you know, people could do anything. Well, that’s going to constrict. And I know some people think it’s going to be less freedom of speech, but I think it’s going to be freedom of better speech.

But I do actually have hope that people that will run, run for elected office, don’t have to put up with that side of it. They’re going to have to put up with constructive journalistic criticism, stuff that’s bona fide. People put their name to some stuff that gets, you know, taken into court if you go too far. I think the rules are the rules of the road are going to solve some of those issues for you.

………..

(Cut out a bunch of Al stories and him describing how hard politicians work)

…………..

Al:

…there’s a lot of work … I would say being the mayor was the hardest job I’ve ever had ….

Dave:

Yeah, well, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t have any big alligator tears for you, you signed up for it and you got it, right? I think along with the changing of the social media rules, as far as what people say and how they say it and what publishers do, blah, blah, blah. The other thing I think is that, you know, I think elected politicians, elected officials need to just show a little bit thicker skin and just be prepared for it, because you’re always going to have criticisms. You know that. Right? And no matter how you turn down the heat on the criticisms and make sure it’s, you know, productive and it’s constructive and whatnot, there’s going to be criticisms.

Al:

Yeah, I don’t mind criticism, I don’t mind suggestions, and I don’t know at all. I’ve always welcome it because I never want to be the guy with the smartest guy in the room. I’ve always said that I’d rather be the guy that’s middle of the pack or even below, because guess what, I’m learning. If I’m the smartest guy in the room. I’m in the wrong room. I need to be in the room where I’m the dumbest person in the room. That’s how I’m going to learn.

So I remember someone phoning, Dave and I don’t want to take up your time, but I remember somebody phoning me at the office and said, and it’s this late October around Halloween. And the forecast was freezing rain. Freezing rain and then torrential downpours. OK, so that’s the forecast, and somebody phoned at the office and said, Mr. Mayor, you guys don’t know what you’re doing. I’m shocked that you can’t even they can see the weather forecast. You have a street sweeper going down the street, picking up all the sand on the street. And you guys are just going to go by and put the sand back down. You know, it’s kind of freezing rain. I mean, what are you guys doing? And I thought I was gonna say, I have no idea, like this town’s like, we don’t know what we’re doing.

And I can see the look on your face because you’re thinking we don’t know what we’re doing. So I said, listen, it’s a really good point. And he’s going. ‘Mr. Mayor, I can tell you that don’t know what you’re doing.’

So let me just make one phone call. But to be honest, I do not have an answer. I don’t know why we’d be picking up the sand when we’re going to put it back down. Freezing rain. So I call up I won’t say the individual’s name, but he’s still with the city in a senior position. I said, hey, Dave, I got this call and I don’t know how to answer the guy, you know, the street sweeper, blah, blah, blah. Freezing rain, torrential downpours. He said, Mr. Mayor, the street sweeper isn’t so much picking up the sand, it’s gathering all the leaves that are gathering, that are blocking all the drains. So when the freezing rain stops and the torrential rain comes, we’re knocking out flooding so that the water can go down the drain.

So now it’s taken me about two hours to figure this all out. So I phoned the guy back and I said, ‘Hey, by the way, I got an answer for you and here’s why.’ And he goes, ‘OK, thanks, bye.’ And one guy, that’s taken me two hours, it was a good, good way to learn, but I’m thinking if you have 22,000 people asking questions, there’s no way you can do all of that. But anyways, isn’t it interesting that from one perspective, even I was thinking that way to get the real perspective going.

Dave:

The humility is in knowledge. Knowledge is humility.

Al:

Spoken like a true journalist.

Dave:

Yeah, so I don’t know, I I’ve been humbled quite a bit myself there over the years. So I, I still think that there’s room to communicate. And when you do it in a certain way and you have the right intentions that you will get through to people, you will and you know, they’ll be open to that.

Al:

I know if a politician says, ‘Hey, I made a mistake.’ I think that’s great. The challenge for that politician is it gets repeated 100 times. It sounds like he’s kicking up mistakes all the time. That’s the challenge from a communications perspective. Right. And I remember saying this to new politician, I said, ‘Hey, guys, if you go out, do not drink alcohol when you’re out,  somebody’ll take a picture with you with a beer in your hand, and that picture will circulate forever and you’ll always have a beer in your hand. That’s the impression. And it is so true. And the media does it all the time. They use file photos. So, you know, during Covid, the first four months, Guess what the media does? They pick a file photo of you and I standing there chatting with no mask this close together and people underneath will go, look, they’re not even following the protocol. So that’s part of the challenge from an elected official perspective.

Dave:

Oh, yeah, I know. It’s a rough game there, man. Do you feel that the media didn’t treat you fairly over your three terms?

Al:

No, I thought the media covered me fairly, I never really had any issues with any of the media coverage.

Dave:

Oh, come on, you did so. (laughter)

Al:

I might not have agreed with it … the journalist I respected, they always give a balanced story. They are some that don’t, for sure, Dave, there really are. But the ones that I respect always gave, it was always balanced. So, you know, if they called, I I’d go out of my way to answer their questions just because I thought it was a duty. Those that maybe want to twist your words all the time, you know, you just get tired of being beat up, right. So you don’t, you know, jump out of your chair and go make yourself available.

But my last term, you know … I was the communications person. I was the guy that wrote the media advisories. I was the one that did all the media before Gord was hired. It was way too much exposure, but no one was doing it. So I think what happened was the media members go, ‘I just call Al, we can always get him. ‘He always takes the time to answer our questions.’ But when you’re always in the media, people will get jealous, it comes with the territory. So I said to Gord, when he got hired, I said, you have no idea how easy you’re going to make my job …

(The transcript for the continuing discussion about how Al is dealing with media inquiries and why, as well as the Cassellholme vs Twin Pad Community Centre and Nipissing Junction infrastructure investments isn’t ready. It will be added at a later date). Watch the second half of the video below to get ahead of the work.

READER FEEDBACK:

l listened to our Mayor’s comment on LTC. Especially the “worry” about repurposing a LTC facility down the road…oh my. The fact is we are not anywhere close to the date where the list of those who require care is going down. He does worry a lot about ice surfaces though. As there are 232 humans awaiting a LTC bed at CH today. I see this as inhumanly cruel. Each person on that list impacts someone else…maybe an entire family. We are talking about patients who can no longer look after themselves. They cannot function in society and require 24/7 nursing care and supervision. He obviously has no skin in this game, I don’t for a minute think he has any understanding of the dynamics of LTC. It does not sound like he has ever watched over a patient, assisted a patient or tried to find anyone a LTC bed. He will understand someday but only when it impacts him, closely. Yes, wouldn’t it be sad if we built a LTC facility that was too big…you know like two big NHL ice surfaces. So a thirty year wait for 8 LTC beds but we all going to die anyway right. Let’s get those rinks built…our economy depends upon it.

Ephrem Gallant

 

Dave Dale
Dave Dale

Writer, photographer and proud father. My mom’s family is from the Soo with its Algoma Highlands, dad hailed from Cobden in the Ottawa Valley and I spent my teen years in Capreol. Summers were at the beach on the Vermillion River and winters at ‘The Rink.’ Born in East York but Toronto never was my thing. Ever since a kid looking out the window on long trips, I imagined living on the highway in a little house with a big yard and trees growing all around me.

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