By Duane Hicks
Mayoral candidates June Caul and Ken Perry weighed in on a host of issues facing Fort Frances on Tuesday evening during a forum hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce at the Townshend Theatre.
Chamber past president Cathy Emes, who acted as the moderator, posed a series of questions to both candidates over the course of about an hour, covering topics ranging from economic development and dog parks to drug abuse and homelessness.
When asked about their ideas for the types of development they’d like to see at the former Shevlin wood yard property recently acquired by the town, Caul said the property will provide the perfect opportunity to increase the town’s tax base.
“I really want to see some kind of residential housing,” she remarked. “I’m an advocate for [seniors] and think it would be an ideal place to put some senior housing.
“I believe we could go from independent housing to assisted living and then possibly long-term care if we needed to.
“We don’t know what’s happening with Rainycrest. It’s old, it’s a lot of work just to keep it to the Building Code in 2025, so we’ll have to look at that, as well,” added Caul, referring to Ontario’s goal of being a barrier-free province by 2025.
Caul also would like to see some sort of park area or green space, along with something to attract younger residents and which could be used year-round for weddings or other social activities.
Perry said his “vision of the wood yard is grander.”
“I think we need a tax base there and commercial will do the job,” he remarked. “A combination of residential and commercial would probably serve us better.”
He added there also has to be a place to park vehicles, trailers, and boats for the bass tournament and other types of events.
“But the number-one deal for me is we’ve got to consult with our community and our leaders,” Perry stressed.
“We’re planning on forming a committee and seeing exactly what could happen there.
“My grand dream is a big hotel with some kind of a water feature in it, maybe a green space, as well,” he said.
“But I’d like to see a developer come in here and tell us what they can do for us, and see if we can turn that into a money-maker for the town and a great place for us to visit and be involved.”
When asked about Agency One and the Point Park litigation, Caul said she has been striving during the past four years to learn more about our First Nations’ neighbours and build better relationships through her participation in various committees and events, as well as by listening to individuals’ residential school experiences.
“We need to receive them, we need to welcome them, we need to work with them,” she stressed. “If I become mayor, I am going to take a different approach than council has ever done before.
“It’s been kind of a ‘they said, we said, they said, we said,’” she noted. “I would like to come from a different angle and sit down and say, ‘What can we do together. What can we do to make the Point Park a better place?’
“Because they want to work with us,” Caul added. “They have said that and we have said that.
“And so we’ll start working together and start making plans so that we can figure out what to do with all of that beautiful property there together.”
Perry, meanwhile, said he doesn’t feel litigation should continue the way it’s been going on for decades.
“I think there’s solutions we can get to to make it a place for everybody to enjoy and everybody to call it home,” he remarked.
“It’s a great place to be,” he added. “I’d really like to see us come to some conclusion to this without litigation, and going to court and paying lawyers, because it’s been going on as long as our mayor has been there—21 years.
“It’s just time we give it another shake,” added Perry, noting he’d like to see a solution that was “amicable” to First Nations’ band members and the citizens of Fort Frances alike.
Regarding homelessness here, Caul said it’s a complex issue that often involves people with addictions and has no easy solution. The least we can do, however, is show compassion.
“I challenge you, every day when you walk down the street: please take a good look at the people you’re walking by and say ‘hello’ to them at least, whether you know them or not, because you might be the only person who speaks to them that day,” she noted.
“Watch what they’re carrying on their backs because if they’re carrying a big backpack, they’re homeless, and we need to start thinking more about them and coming up with a solution.”
Local efforts are underway to start a shelter but trained, qualified volunteers are needed, Caul stressed, urging the public to consider getting involved.
Perry, who currently is chair of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, said a recent study identified 88 homeless people in Fort Frances and another 21 in Atikokan.
“I was told the other day that we [DSSAB] have up to 40 single- and two-bedroom units not rented in Fort Frances, and it’s all about the money,” he lamented.
“We can only do so much as a DSSAB board going forward,” Perry added. “The government does not give us enough money for housing or homelessness.
“We are stuck at the level for 2002 in this town,” he explained. “We were given 50 percent funding back in 2002 and . . . the government’s share of the 2002 dollars is stuck at 2002.
“So anything we’ve done since then, over and above, has come from municipalities in the Rainy River District.
“Are there solutions? Yep, it’s called money,” Perry said.
“The province needs to step to the plate and I really don’t believe they’re going to,” he added. “I think we’re going to see a decrease in the funding of all our social services in the next year.”
Perry noted the province’s new finance minister told local delegates this summer that municipalities can expect to “feel a little pain” as the new government deals with the former one’s $15-billion deficit.
The forum, which drew about 85 people, also provided an opportunity for candidates vying for the six councillor seats in the Oct. 22 election to introduce themselves and explain why they’re running.
Michael Behan, Wendy Brunetta, Andrew Hallikas, Harold Huntley, Douglas Judson, John McTaggart, and Rick Wiedenhoeft each had five minutes at the podium to share their thoughts (an eighth council candidate, Clinton Gray, was unable to make the forum due to a personal issue).
Topics covered by the candidates varied from creating employment, retaining youth and services, and housing for seniors to First Nations’ partnerships and the future re-development of the Shevlin wood yard.
The underlying theme, however, was that Fort Frances is in a period of transition and the incoming council must challenge the status quo if the community is to thrive.
See next week’s Times for profiles of the local candidates.