Bonfire Life
October 19, 2018

Election fever

It was fun being the moderator at an election event the other night. The meet and greet for trustee candidates for the Near North District School Board was held at my kid's old high school.

I knew most of the 10 people running for four North Bay and area seats as well as quite a few in the crowd of 50 in the West Ferris Secondary School auditorium. The Trojans emblem at the back of the stage is the same as the one on a T-shirt I wore that very morning.

My news reporting on education issues, specifically the Near North board, started when my now 20-year-old was entering Ferris Glen elementary in Corbeil, continued when he moved on to Silver Birches senior elementary and then five years at West Ferris.

I felt at home, although school isn't where I feel most comfortable and that might explain where my son got it. My big goal of the evening was to remember it wasn't a stand-up comedy opportunity. I tried very hard not to say much at all.

Andrea Cardinal, an organizer of the forum on behalf of the parents councils for Chippewa, Widdifield and West Ferris schools, didn't really know what she was getting into asking me to do the MC honours. She said Peter Chirico, president of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, had recommended me. I had a chuckle about that, figuring he was either getting back at me or it was a joke on the candidates. As it turned out, he was just making sure I didn't attend the chamber's business awards event. I would have made a joke about Orchards, celebrating it's fifth anniversary, being chosen as the new business of the year. The city is experiencing so much success this past decade, they got out of the habit of giving rookie awards to businesses because they're not around to vie for sophomore awards. First-year curse, they call it. Hmm. I'd call it the chamber curse ... Orchards, thankfully, looks healthy enough to break it.

Seriously, I'm interested in getting more experience being in front of crowds so the opportunity to take part in the trustee candidate event was appreciated.

While I haven't covered school board issues lately, the Nugget's Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles has been active on the beat these past few years. And I've spoken to many parents, teachers and public officials about the issues facing the board. Near as I can figure, provincial chaos and municipal disability sandwiched an over-whelmed school board and here we are.

Click HERE for the Nugget coverage of the meet and greet. The story falls short of five stars, however, as it fails to report the top-notch professional demeanor of the handsomely-dressed moderator. Tsk. Tsk.

Truth be told, I can see voters having a tough time making their decisions this time around. Much like North Bay council, you want new blood but also want to keep a couple of the "culprits" around to clean up the mess. NOTE: When I put culprits in quotation marks, it's to describe the incumbents who are accused of either making poor decisions or being a notch below that, incapable of making decisions. I'm not saying all incumbents are culprits, I'm just saying it might be handy to keep a couple of them around as they were at the very least witnesses of all the good, bad and ugly.

I'm most impressed with the quality of candidates overall, at least for the public school board and North Bay. I haven't really looked at the campaigns in surrounding areas. Forgive me as it's been a busy couple months as I left one job while organizing an event and then got recruited for a six-month contract. It's been more hectic than I anticipated and I can see how people can get disengaged somewhat from local stuff.

And, naturally, despite my instinct to stay out of it, I eventually volunteered 1.5 hours of my time offering two city candidates political advice. Gary Gardiner called me Monday to pick my brain about incumbent Al McDonald's attack-mode media release earlier in the day (See the Nugget's repost of it HERE). See my own blog/column HERE published last week about their race for North Bay's top job being closer than predicted. I didn't get paid and won't invoice Gardiner, but I gave him verbal recommendations to consider because former city CEO Dave Linkie has backed him and I respect his endorsement. It's kind of cool being in the game even if not professionally at this time. Click HERE for what Gardiner released Tuesday.

I also gave re-write recommendations to a media release council candidate Dave Mendicino and his team were preparing this week. It was a favour to a guy I covered while he was a councillor for more than a decade. I'd like to see him get back in after losing his seat last election. City hall functioned better when he was bouncing around the offices.

I'm not exactly sure how their campaigns report such volunteerism or even if it's officially a donation as far as the election rules go (mental note, check that). But I know for sure that means something when it comes to journalism. Disclosure is important. Thankfully, I'm not representing myself as a reporter anymore. There is a distinction and that's why they introduce people as political commentators. I will continue to make comments, especially here on my personal blog website. 

Speaking of opinions, Gardiner should have more vehemently doubled-down on his response to McDonald at the final debate at Nipissing University Tuesday evening. I stood at the back beside city council candidate David Thompson (his recent term as the Near North board chairman won't help his chances, I dare say. Read this one letter to the Nugget editor and then do more research). There was a moment Gardiner could have landed a knock-out punch in rebuttal to what McDonald had said in defence of the water standpipe investment. The two-term mayor said it made perfect sense to spend 33-cent dollars with provincial and federal grant support to bolster infrastructure that serves key assets like Nipissing University and Canadore College. Gardiner had said the funding program was supposed to be for upgrades to existing infrastructure (not future capacity) and the city didn't need the $3-million plus infrastructure to safe-guard water service to those institutions because a water-pump project had already fixed the need for more pressure. (There was some mention of it also being storage for the hospital below the escarpment but I need to double check that info).

The political issue is actually all about the 70-some acres of land McDonald owns just north of the standpipe, with the infrastructure improvement quite likely making the property more valuable as residential areas creep further above the escarpment in the northwest corner of the municipality. 

Gardiner could have had a Brian Mulroney vs John Turner moment. Gardiner had already called for the incumbent to disclose his holdings in the media release earlier in the day. All he had to do was turn from the podium and look directly at McDonald and say: "Mr. McDonald, just to clear the air, on the record: when did you buy the land, for how much and from whom? And what is the appraised value now that water service is vastly improved with public taxpayers money?" Boom.

Some say it's no big deal, McDonald always declared a conflict of interest when the project was raised at council, and individuals have the right to invest in land and run businesses as long as they play by the rules. Others say council members back each other up when conflicts are raised and, even if subconsciously, they don't get in the way of things that make at least half-sense.

None of that really matters. When you're in a tight political campaign race, the key is getting the information out and let the electorate decide based on the opposition's response. That's how they measure the facts, character and strengths of those who seek office.

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