Bonfire Life
October 11, 2018

McDonald, Gardiner closer than predicted

A couple days ago, Al McDonald was trotting toward the finish line to win his third term as North Bay mayor. The final stretch for the Oct. 22 municipal election begins this weekend and things were looking good.

Darkhorse Gary Gardiner, in his inaugural run at municipal office, broke out of the gates first in July galloping into the race with a strong team behind him and a solid platform underneath. A couple years ago, he whet his political appetite while helping staff and council figure out a better water fee structure and the custom home builder thinks there's wholesale improvements to be made at City Hall. A couple missteps in August, however, cost a bit of momentum and the debates didn’t bolster his stride.

Gardiner’s opportunity to steal bubble votes before the advance polls had all but evaporated. There’s only one more early vote Friday at Place Richelieu, 340 Lakeshore Drive, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and that’s it. He needed a game-changer sooner than later (yes, that was a not-so-subtle play on his platform.)

You can imagine the shock on McDonald’s face when he turned around to check his lead and there was his friend and supporter, famed North Bay businessman John Cutsey, jumping onto Gardiner’s bandwagon.

Below are quotes from the North Bay Nugget today, one of several local news outlets covering the media conference in the morning.

“I’ve lived here all of my life, 70 years. I’m hiring five people per month, so I’m here to stay. But North Bay is going nowhere. We need a change,” Cutsey was quoted as saying from his boardroom at FDM4 International Inc. on Airport Road.
There hasn’t been growth in North Bay for years and the population signs continue to plummet, Cutsey said.
“There’s been major mistakes made. Mistakes after mistakes after mistakes,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love (Mayor) Al (McDonald), but this city has to change. You talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk.” (See the full Nugget story HERE.)

McDonald, you see, wasn’t actually earning the victory lead. Most people in the whisper circles know he didn’t really want to run for a third term. He gave it the old college try. Twice. Enough was enough. He and his pals were beating the bushes to find someone to run against Mark King all winter but nobody would bite. Even Peter Chirico was asked to be their guy and he rightly declined.

King pulled the plug when McDonald spread the word he was putting his name forward. At the time, it seemed impossible to beat the grip-and-grin Emperor. I can understand his decision. Betting $30K on a campaign against a PR machine is a tough decision. I definitely can understand it if he was already mulling a federal run for the Tories next fall. Stepping down as a newly elected mayor to seek an MP seat is terrible but it’s almost impossible to win Nipissing if you lost North Bay. And it’s good the news is out before the municipal poll so King supporters won’t get surprised. I think it might actually help his numbers. McDonald and Chirico, some might recall, each left their deputy mayor posts early in their terms when opportunity knocked.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s platform is probably the creakiest I’ve ever seen come from an experienced politician with top-drawer back-roomers at his side. Maybe a two-term incumbent doesn’t have to swing for the fences after thousands of ribbon-cuttings and birthdays attended? Maybe even less would have been better?

Right off the bat there’s a ring of keys jingling to distract people’s attention. Don’t get me wrong. Working on the engineering to extend Marshall Avenue is probably not a bad idea if there’s a couple city staffers bored during their lunch breaks or something. There’s no big MTO push to realign Highway 17 coming anytime soon and that’s the only time they’d even consider adding a clover of ramps.

As for electoral reform proposal, why wait until now to bring the skeleton of a plan forward? A ward system isn’t the only way to solve the inequitable division of labour at the council table. By tradition, you’re stuck with whomever finishes in the top three as committee chairs this next term anyway. Fix the procedural bylaws to allow staff to answer questions and councillors to debate issues. There’s no reason council duties can’t be divided by issue and geography (wards) so everyone gets a chance to deal with disgruntled residents. I don’t think North Bay is well-suited for an electoral ward system because it’s already fragmented and divided by class and cliques. And, just like sports teams know here, there’s not enough talent to limit the options.

The public-private partnership idea has great potential and should go forward in some shape or form regardless of who wins the election. Combining CTS Canadian Career College and Modern College of Hairstyling and Esthetics with the North Bay Public Library (as an adjacent new building or as a lease) and a business incubator makes loads of sense. While some areas of town might lose tenants, the move would bring about 250 people into the downtown core everyday (no doubt it would have to be near the city’s main bus terminal.) If it had anything to do with public land, I suppose the city would need to have a tender process to seek expressions of interest. I'm not sure if other developers would want a fair chance at a piece of that action (thinking of the health unit and proposed new court). Regardless, the library board would be making the decision with the new council likely receiving a budget request for an $800K elevator plus plus plus to get up to code. Give McDonald partial-marks at least on this one. If North Bay ever needs a municipal ambassador, he's a top candidate.

His big move Thursday probably didn’t help him much. McDonald doubled-down on the infrastructure investment theme, stating he’ll continue with an aggressive plan, citing the soggy West Ferris dream of an extension to Highway 11 and the water standpipe on the escarpment near Nipissing University and Canadore College. This was unwise, I think, because some people have a hard time with the knowledge the standpipe, eventually, also benefits the value of property he owns north of Cedar Heights. It’s a bone of contention and meat for the wolves already at his City Hall door. 

It will be interesting to see who else joins Cutsey in endorsing Gardiner. He already has Bob Wood, former Nipissing Liberal MP of 16 years, as well as Gord Miller, former environmental commissioner for Ontario.

Cutsey is publicly calling for change. That could be the late-race rallying cry Gardiner needs to close the gap.

Oh, ya. Two other people are running for mayor.

My concern since this spring was that former deputy mayor Sheldon Forgette was going to slip up the middle. Nobody who has been paying attention would think twice about voting for him but recent developments on the political landscape give me pause. Donald Trump found a willing market south of the Canadian border two years ago. And Doug Ford shocked the Progressive Conservative Party and then gobbled up enough of Toronto to take over Ontario in June.

It’s a scary thought, this Sheldon guy returning to the council chamber as mayor. The first-time wonder did next to nothing while heading the budget and governance committee. There was plenty of talk and a lot of flash from the youngest gun to finish at the top of the council pecking order, just nothing tangible. He did manage to miss enough meetings to lose his seat on the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board. And he might set another municipal election footnote after everything is said and done, specifically if using his business email database for campaign purposes gets investigated by the feds.

There’s one other person running for mayor in North Bay. His name is Will Boissoin.


McDonald, to his credit, is very community-orientated and hasn't let up the public announcements since his first days in office eight years ago. In this Gateway Theatre Guild cast photo today, McDonald is promoting the upcoming play "Arsenic + Old Lace," which opens Wed Oct 31 to Sat Nov 3rd. Get your tickets at [email protected] or call 705 358 1425 BRAVO


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