Mayoral candidates

“Downloading” may be the hot-button issue facing municipalities but it didn’t produce any sparks during the mayoral candidate forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce at the Civic Centre on Monday night.
In fact, no issue spurred either Allan Bedard or incumbent Mayor Glenn Witherspoon to challenge each other’s political stance.
Instead, the pair spelled out their vision of what the town should focus on for economic development, municipal restructuring and municipal financing.
Bedard stressed if the “download” wasn’t revenue-neutral as the province was promising, the town would have to challenge them on it, and start asking questions he felt council hadn’t asked yet.
“We will go to task for the taxpayer to make sure that it’s revenue-neutral,” he pledged.
But with an area service board in the works, on-going lobbying to access some of the $800 million sent to Queen’s Park annually for taxes on Northern Ontario resources, and 50 percent of the education tax, Mayor Witherspoon was confident the town would be able to handle the shift in responsibilities.
“No doubt about it, there could be a slight difference,” he admitted. “But with the proper management, as this town has proven, and the leadership that I can give, I know that we can take care of our citizens.”
Despite the unknowns associated with the “downloading” and two major infrastructure projects (the new double-rink facility and community auditorium), both say they’d like to see a zero percent tax increase to municipal ratepayers in 1998.
Mayor Witherspoon noted council had managed to maintain no increase over the past six years, adding some services, such as the door-to-door transit service which had replace the bus, had seen improvement.
But Bedard didn’t jump on the bus issue, and instead pledged to protect those most vulnerable in the community while keeping taxes down.
Meanwhile, things are expected to heat up tonight as the 12 candidates for council–Roy Avis, Dave Bourgeault, Deane Cunningham, Struchan Gilson, Neil Kabel, Cécile Lavigne, Gus Lindberg, Bill Martin, Julian Morelli, Sybil Mowe, Tom Piotrowski and Sharon Tibbs–join Bedard and Mayor Witherspoon as they field questions from the public at a debate sponsored by the Fort Frances and District Labour Council.
Moderated by Leah Casselman, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the debate will be at La Place Rendez-Vous from 6:30-9:30 p.m.