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Voters grill Elliot Lake candidates at Rotary meeting

Event livestreamed for first time

The Elliot Lake Rotary Club stepped up its game as host of the city's municipal election candidates' meeting Tuesday night in the Collins Hall.

There were some 350 to 400 people in the building much the same as in previous election years.

This year hundreds of others viewed the exchanges among 21 candidates running for mayor or city councillor in the city's 2022 municipal election online as well.

Rotarians used a four-camera video system tied into the Collins Hall public address system then live-streamed the resulting program via the internet and showed it on YouTube in real-time.

It can be viewed on YouTube where it has been archived or click on the video at the bottom of this story.  

Each candidate got a timed introduction for initial statements. Those seeking a councillor's seat went first, followed by the mayoralty contenders.

Live audience questions for each followed later in the evening.

They included a query about the location of a future arts centre. Murray Finn asked candidate Bruce Ibbitson about his plan to convert the Hwy 108 city works yard to the arts centre site, due to its visibility, accessibility and since it backs onto a lakefront.

Ibbitson said the works yard could be re-located anywhere but the land across from Rona would be an excellent spot for a rebuilt Arts/Welcome Centre.

"Plus it would get two funding streams, one through arts and the other sort of tourism so that's the kind of thought behind it," said Ibbitson.

Lifelong Elliot Lake resident and mother Kaylee Robinson asked candidate Tom Turner about his costing figures from which he derived an estimated monthly property tax increase of $7.09 per residential taxpayer for funding construction of a $16M dollar arts centre.

Turner replied, "We deducted the insurance money we have and $3M for grants that are most likely available.

"That left us $10M to finance through Infrastructure Ontario ... I think it's a monthly payment of $45,000. And that divided by 6,500 taxpayers is $7.09," he added.

For the big ticket Rec Centre which the current regime has pitched for years to be built at 151 Ontario Ave., Turner recited another costing. 

He said, "Instead of needing $10M, we'll probably need $30M. So $21 a month for the rec hub."

Turner also said, "There is an opportunity cost by delaying. Initially, the rec centre was $12M. That means the cost forward to wait this long. That's the opportunity cost."

From the audience, Calvin Brand questioned Turner's figures. He suggested asking the YMCA to build the rec centre, instead of the taxpayers.

"You said to lay it on the town, so much tax money is that going to go up?" the questioner wanted to know.

In reply Turner referred to comments earlier in the evening from several younger women like Robinson, "What about me? What about my kids," he echoed.

"Elliot Lake's demographic is changing rapidly. People retiring from our major employer, the hospital ... are being replaced by people in their 20s who want to start families. This is why I'm supporting the idea and creating the attraction," Turner concluded.

In the mayoralty candidate question session, one man wanted to know if Mayor Dan Marchisella and his fellow council member Norman Mann were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to serve on the board of the non-profit corporation Elliot Lake Retirement Living (ELRL). 

He wanted to know if that constitutes a conflict with the council members' responsibilities to the voters.

The mayor replied they both agreed to non-disclosure as required.

"They (ELRL) have closed sessions just like council so most of their business is posted on their website and included in their minutes. But we can't divulge confidential information," Marchisella added.

Les Ossichuk asked mayoralty candidate Mike Thomas if he would be able to get councillors to "follow the rules" (of order) in their meetings if elected.

"If they're stepping out of the zone, to be polite, but firm," said Thomas.

"Beyond that, I think respect plays a big part in that. When we start to follow the rules, I think it will make the job of mayor a lot easier," Thomas went on.

Candidate Chris Patrie told questioner Alec Herdy that the use of crown land by campers for 21 days is allowed under law and the city has no role in overseeing the practice or sanctioning it.

Questioner Robinson was back with another query for Patrie. She asked if he would vote to reinstate the summer day camp program which was suspended this year when the city was unable to attract enough post-secondary student labour to staff it.

Patrie replied he favoured reinstatement but was concerned that her phone calls and emails on the topic to councillors were not answered and she was told by the city clerk's office she did not qualify to ask questions before council about her concerns.

"The fact that people can only come and make comments at a council meeting, I think we need to go back to the way we were over eight years ago and put that back on the table so that you have a voice," Patrie concluded.



About the Author: Brent Sleightholm

As a reporter, Brent has covered everything from amateur and professional sports, to politics, entertainment, police and courts, to human interest stories and government issues
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