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News - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:36
Dogs travel in packs, fish in schools and geese in gaggles, but did you know that a group of clowns is called ‘clown alley’? Reid Button, who is being mobbed by the clowns above, no doubt wishes someone would’ve warned him about this clown alley at the annual Blyth Witches Walk on Saturday. The event was held in a shed behind the Blyth and District Community Centre for the first time and, despite the change of venue, organizers say it went very well. Greeting Button were, from left: Cassidy Adams-Cook, Amber Tugwell, Katelyn Hounsell and Paige Gibbings.   (Denny Scott photo)
Dogs travel in packs, fish in schools and geese in gaggles, but did you know that a group of clowns is called ‘clown alley’? Reid Button, who is being mobbed by the clowns above, no doubt wishes someone would’ve warned him about this clown alley at the annual Blyth Witches Walk on Saturday. The event was held in a shed behind the Blyth and District Community Centre for the first time and, despite the change of venue, organizers say it went very well. Greeting Button were, from left: Cassidy Adams-Cook, Amber Tugwell, Katelyn Hounsell and Paige Gibbings.   (Denny Scott photo)
 
North Huron Candidates Debate Issues at Memorial Hall Meeting - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:30
North Huron Township Council candidates for East Wawanosh and Blyth Wards, the reeve position and the Avon Maitland District School Board trustee position had their second opportunity to address the public en masse during an all-candidates meeting in Blyth last week.
Co-hosted by Orr Insurance and North Huron Publishing, the parent company of The Citizen, the event was moderated by Pastor Mark Royall, a Blyth resident who presides over services at Auburn’s Huron Chapel.
Councillor Brock Vodden began by tackling promises and problems that had been outlined by his fellow candidates in the weeks since campaigning begun.
“I want to challenge the statements made by the other candidates,” Vodden said before explaining why he believed others running not just for Blyth ward, but for all the wards and for reeve, were erroneous in some of their statements.
The first of his six points regarded the North Huron budget which he claims is not “out of control.”
“Departments don’t overspend,” he said. “We have received no requests or complaints about unnecessary expenditures.”
Secondly, Vodden said all council members review the budget line by line and the practice is not a new one. He said that, throughout the budget process, which takes months, every member of council is expected to know the document.
Vodden’s third issue was with candidates who had said that North Huron is “dying”.
“North Huron is not a dying community,” he said. “Dying communities do not have professional theatre, a main street with one vacant store and don’t start multi-million dollar ventures.”
The fourth bone of contention Vodden had to pick was over the ward system, which fellow Blyth candidate Laurie Macpherson had, at the previous all-candidates meeting, spoken out against.
“North Huron is one municipality that consists of three wards,” he said. “Each ward is a unique community. We tried the melting pot approach but the two smaller wards got shafted... We need East Wawanosh and Blyth representation.”
Vodden’s last two issues revolved around in-camera council sessions and the code of conduct. He claims North Huron only holds the former when necessary and, despite claims to the contrary from fellow candidates, North Huron has had a code of conduct in place for council for some time.
One of the first questions of the evening came from Wingham Ward candidate Rodney Galbraith who made reference to his own stance on the budget.
“I would not support a budget if it was in excess of the annual rate of inflation,” he explained. “I haven’t heard a comment about taxes. Lots about fiscal responsibilities... but I would like to hear from the candidates, excluding the school board... When you say fiscally responsible, could you be a little more specific?”
Vodden was the first to speak and explained that, when you’re a member of council, the budget is an extremely arduous task.
“You go through a long process of many months reviewing expenditures required to achieve the objectives of various projects,” he said. “We have a strategic plan, so we know where the emphasis needs to be put to fulfill that plan. At the end of the process, as we’re deciding what the expenditure level and taxes are going to be is when we make decisions about the taxes. Maybe you have to raise the taxes, maybe you can reduce them, but that comes out in the wash. It’s not a matter of starting out saying you’re going to lower taxes.”
Macpherson was next to speak and she said that, while she would love to see taxes reduced, it’s going to be a long process.
“It may not be this year or next year, but by the end of four years, we have to have savings to show,” she said. “They have got to be somewhere. We don’t have to get rid of services, but we have to cut them, just like you do in your own household. The Township of North Huron is no different from a home.”
Reeve candidate Neil Vincent spoke next, stating he believes the taxes paid by North Huron residents have to be fair value for what is being bought.
“If you’re being compliant with services that are supplied, sometimes it costs more than we would like to pay,” he said. “We’ve talked about having to follow the rules. Municipal government has a lot of rules you shall follow. One thing we’ve talked about here is we’ll have all sidewalks taken care of. In our budget discussions, council would like to spend twice as much as what we do, but we scrutinize and try to get value for the money.”
Vincent said the emphasis is put on things that are absolutely needed and, because of that mandate, the budget process is “nerve-wracking.”
“There are always those services that I think I can maybe do without, but my next door neighbour maybe can’t,” he said. “As a councillor or head of council, I have to determine what the bigger good is for the municipality and vote for it. We all pay taxes and we love to get away with less but it’s a reality I live with.”
Councillor and Reeve candidate Bernie Bailey said he felt it was hard for anyone to say they wouldn’t raise taxes.
“Every budget is different,” he said. “Every year things come up.”
Bailey said those changing circumstances are why budgets are such contested issues and, to be fair to everyone, council members have to choose what the ratepayers want and provide it but only within the finances they have available to them.
“Every budget has to be scrutinized, or scrubbed, as it’s called, and that’s the way we’re going to be,” he said.
East Wawanosh candidate Tim Walden said he would control taxes by prioritizing capital expenditures.
“I’m not going to comment on how money was spent,” he said. “What I would like to see is any kind of project or capital expenditure prioritized. Just because one ward gets one or two projects doesn’t mean the other two need to. I also think we should replace old processes with technology where possible. I see this every day.”
Walden said that, by updating processes using technology, time and money could be saved.
Blyth incumbent Bill Knott next said being fiscally responsible meant doing the work now to realize the savings down the road.
“I’m not going to accuse anyone of overspending on the budget,” he said to start. “It’s a long, difficult process. We’re not going to reduce taxes overnight. Some initiatives, like road resurfacing, are aimed at the long-term goal of reducing costs. Sometimes there is a bubble where we have to spend money we don’t want to, but it won’t be any cheaper to finance those projects five or 10 years later... I won’t support any sort of budget outside of taxation. I’m not saying the existing council has done a bad job, but we have to do a better job.”
Reeve candidate Steve Hill was the last to answer and he said that, while he doubts taxes would be going down, he will make sure unnecessary spending stops.
“We don’t need pens and bumper stickers to hand out,” Hill said.  “We also need to compare results from township staff with other areas. Winter maintenance is double to triple what it is in other places.”
He also said that, with projects like tar and chip pavement versus gravel for rural roadways, more information would be needed before decisions can be made.
The next question was about relations with Morris-Turnberry and how they could be repaired.
Vincent answered first, stating if the question was about the hotly contested cross-border servicing bylaw that had recently been passed, there were comments from Morris-Turnberry candidates he wished to address.
“A number of candidates in neighbouring municipalities have made comments that I believe are irresponsible,” he said. “I’m not going to call them out during a campaign, I will let them have that, but three weeks from now I will have a letter to the editor in local papers explaining the facilitator’s report between North Huron and Morris-Turnberry which shows North Huron has made overtures to try and have understanding and move forward [with Morris-Turnberry]. It will come out in the wash there.”
Vincent went on to say that, with the aforementioned bylaw, there are precedences set for North Huron to request extra funds.
“A couple of municipalities say they won’t pay the operational costs, that they aren’t going to put any municipal money into it,” he said. “That’s their choice. The elected council here will have a choice then as to whether we provide any services to them... One of the problems with our taxes is that we provide these services free of charge for our neighbours.”
Hill went a different route.
“I think that, with Morris-Turnberry, we should bill only water, fire and sewer on a metered basis,” he said. “If we’re only providing a pipe-in, pipe-out service, we’re only entitled to cost-recovery.”
Bailey said he felt a solution that would benefit everyone was coming based on his experiences with Morris-Turnberry.
“The first meeting we had with Morris-Turnberry was so bad that [Former Wingham Ward councillor] Alma Conn got up and walked out of it,” he said. “The last meeting we had though was with Neil [Vincent], myself, [outgoing Morris-Turnberry Councillor] Neil Warwick and [Incumbent Mayoral Candidate] Paul Gowing. We shook hands at the end of the meeting. We have come a long way. This is how business should be done.”
Bailey, however, said he wouldn’t give anything away for free.
“We have to pay for the lagoon and the water tower,” he said. “If [ratepayers] are paying for it, they have to.”
He went on to say North Huron has acres of land in Morris-Turnberry that can’t be developed and thousands of acres in East Wawanosh they could build on and he would prefer to see that.
“It’s the same cost to run a pipe there as it is to Morris-Turnberry,” he said.
Bailey also credited Vincent for the work he had done closing the gap between the two municipalities.
Wingham Business Improvement Area (BIA) member and business owner Bruce Stainton repeated a question regarding advertisement and economic development he had asked of Hill at the meeting in Wingham a week prior, however, he focused the question on Blyth spending.
“You stated in your platform that you are going to eliminate the economic development department and all non-essential advertising,” he said, also referring to Hill’s plan to cut the BIA levy. “How is that going to affect the Blyth business community?”
Hill said he didn’t want to eliminate the BIAs, only their levies so those businesses that don’t want to participate don’t have to.
“The Blyth BIA raises money from fundraising and private donations. I think the Wingham BIA should do something similar,” he said.
Lisa Hearnden was next to ask a question and also directed it at Hill.
“If you win, will the negative slant stop being the focus of the Wingham Free Press?” she asked. “How will you repair the damage done to North Huron’s reputation?”
Hill, who is believed by many to be behind the Wingham Free Press, an online blog that has been accused of bias against the existing council and of damaging Wingham’s image to potential companies looking to move into the area, said Hearnden would need to direct her question to the editor of the website.
Jim Snyder, who ran in the 2010 election for Wingham Ward, congratulated all the candidates on running and “taking a stand for what [they] believe in”, he turned discussion towards municipal staff wages.
“It’s known that North Huron is economically challenged,” he said. “Street talk has it that some town hall employees’ wages are runaway. What will you do to bring salaries back to the real world?”
East Wawanosh candidate Terry Brake took to the microphone first, saying he would tackle this issue immediately.
“I would institute a wage freeze for the next four years,” he said. “Every department needs to be put under the microscope.”
Brake said the wage freeze would allow council to review what employees get paid and see how it compares to employees in neighbouring municipalities.
“We’re paying the taxes for these people to work,” he said. “They shouldn’t be glorified, we charge them with this work and give them all this money and every term they get a raise.”
Vodden spoke next saying that, when North Huron approves raises, they compare wages with municipalities that aren’t necessarily neighbours, but that are of a similar size and have similar services.
“A few years ago we were at a point where our salaries were so low, we couldn’t get qualified people to apply for jobs,” he explained. “We had several people apply only to found out their salary was already above the maximum of the job they were vying for. Unless we’re competitive, we won’t find good employees. Fortunately, we have raised some salaries to the point they are more or less competitive.”
Walden spoke next and said, while he isn’t aware of staff wages, he said employees need to be treated well.
“Township staff are easy targets,” he said. “They get up at 3 a.m. to plow your streets though. I’m not going to comment further than staff should be commended, instead of picked on.”
Brake once again took to the microphone to say comparing with like-sized municipalities wouldn’t work because the cost of living in North Huron is less expensive than somewhere else.
“Just because someone is making $50,000 in Kincardine doesn’t mean they should make that here,” he said. “It costs a lot more to live there.”
Vincent said employees in North Huron are asked to wear many different hats.
“We’re asking a number of these people to carry certifications in two or three different fields,” he said. “They have to keep that training up. If they wanted to leave us and pick up a higher salary elsewhere, they could.”
He went on to say North Huron could have a “continuous” job of training people who will then move somewhere else for a better salary or they could keep quality employees by paying a fair wage.
Knott was the final candidate to answer the question and said that, over the next four years, he isn’t hoping to “push down salaries”.
“We’re at the middle of the scale,” he said. “We have to pay people competitively... our job is to make sure you get value for what we do pay... I think our people are doing a better job with fewer staff than they were four years ago and we will continue with that trend instead of dragging people down to a different level.”
The next question came from Keith Richmond who wanted to know how Blyth candidates Laurie Macpherson and Brad Carther could represent Blyth ward when neither live there.
“Aren’t you more interested in Wingham or East Wawanosh?” he asked.
Macpherson spoke about North Huron being “one ward” and said she wants to make sure it has a voice.
“No one wants to speak up,” she said. “If you go to a council meeting, you get shot down and people look down on you. If you’ve got something to say, let me know, otherwise don’t worry about it.”
Carther said that, while he doesn’t live in Blyth, he does spend some time in the village.
“I’ve been to every [Reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association] for the past several years and I’ve seen it grow and I like the way Blyth is growing,” he said. “I see Wingham and it’s not. I volunteered time through the [Scouts] and I’ve volunteered with the Salvation Army for a year. I take e-waste for cash to help the food bank. You’re right, I don’t know much about the people of Blyth, but I’ll gladly sit at one of the coffee shops in town if you give me a chance and listen. I’m not scared to speak out.”
The next question from the floor asked whether candidates felt social media was an effective tool in growing industry in North Huron.
Incumbent Reeve Vincent answered first, saying it could help or be a hinderance.
“It’s both a help in getting information out, but if the wrong message gets out, it’s a very big hinderance,” he said. “I know that certain messages have gone out and driven business away in this part term of council. Social media and everything that goes with it is the fastest way to catch that demographic of those under 30. I’m not sure exactly how many of those are entrepreneurs and would be able to move into an ownership position but there will be some and I know that there are some businesses that social media provides a quicker way of them moving through their needs for what they want.”
East Wawanosh candidate Jim Taylor spoke next, saying big industry wasn’t the answer to North Huron’s problems.
“As far as industry goes in Ontario, it’s going to be tough on them,” he said. “The price of [electricity] is going up, fuel is up, even if it has dropped a wee bit now, and we’re quite a piece from the 401. I can’t really see big industry setting up in this area. That’s just the way I feel.”
Taylor said North Huron would have to look somewhere else as existing industry in the area is suffering setbacks and manufacturing isn’t going to provide the solutions North Huron is looking for.
Walden spoke next saying that social media and other technology can be utilized, not just to attract business, but to grow existing businesses.
“There’s great examples, like in Wingham, where one of the leading edge [Geographic Information System] consulting firms is. They do consulting from the Bruce Peninsula to the Greater Toronto Area and have worked in British Columbia. In today’s world, with the internet, you don’t need to be in Toronto. We can attract people here, this is a great place. The cost of living is cheaper.”
Walden next spoke about Vital Imagery, a Brussels-based business that has become the world’s largest provider of clipart.
“High tech industry is here and we can attract more businesses like this,” he said. “A lot of people go to school for this kind of business and we need to try and get them back.”
East Wawanosh candidate Jim Woodley also spoke on the issue, saying any kind of mass disseminated information can hurt or help.
“Bad press drives people away,” he said. “If you hear good things about the area you think good things and if people hear bad, they think bad. Small business is what’s driving the economy in this area, though. Are we going to have a huge plant here? No, but we will have small plants. In Wingham, operating costs are cheaper and there are great people there. If we have good press and positive thinking we can tell people here we can grow.”
The next to answer the question was Bailey who said social media can make or break a community.
“We have great social media,” he said. “We have the BIAs, North Huron’s website, and other services. Then we have Steve’s Wingham Free Press. Would you bring your children because of all the terrible things reported there?”
Bailey said that some success stories, like that of Bruce Power, start as unbelievable stories, but just continue to grow.
“When it comes to industry though, 20 to 25 years ago, someone said Kincardine was dying and it won’t work building a nuclear plant there,” he said, speaking of the Bruce nuclear plant. “Now 5,000 people work there. We have to set up. We can do the large or small. We need to bring these industries, these jobs, but we the council have to do it. We have to make up our minds as to whether we want our main streets vibrant or looking dead. It is a council that needs to drive that home.”
Hill said the easiest way to draw business is to conclude negotiations with Morris-Turnberry.
“We need to allow our neighbours to hook up [to our municipal infrastructure],” he said. “No industry is going to set up in Wingham. Businesses aren’t coming because they literally can’t hook into our services. Until that ends, things won’t change.”
The next question from the floor compared the taxation rate on farms, which is 25 per cent of residential properties, to that of commercial properties and the value that the two receive.
East Wawanosh candidate Jim Campbell didn’t say whether he was in favour of normalizing the tax rate, but did say much of the taxes paid don’t actually make it to North Huron.
“When we look at our taxes, our tax bill is not just North Huron taxes,” he said. “We pay money to the school board and to the county. If you look at your tax bill, and had all your taxes broken down, a little over 50 per cent of taxes doesn’t go to North Huron. When you look at the budget, there’s some things we can’t cut because we’re paying all these other things.”
Knott answered next saying the question was directed at equity of taxes and not tax breakdowns.
“The question is about balancing between commercial and industry and agriculture or any other retail business,” he said. “We can look at balancing the taxes. Not to beat on farmers, but farming has changed for the last 20 years and it’s no longer the small farms. It has changed the way it brings income and spends money and perhaps we should look to balance taxation and put more where it belongs. We have to look at that balance.”
Vincent said that, while there was a tax inequity, it’s not something that can really be compared.
He also said some municipalities are looking at doing the opposite of balancing the taxes and providing cuts for agricultural ratepayers.
Vodden spoke next saying that, while he understands the want to lower taxes for those who provide employment, the municipality isn’t allowed to.
“If we found a way of reducing some of the taxes because of the number of people employed by a company, it would be against the law,” he said. “Secondly, theorists say that, in order to have an ideal community, we need 40 per cent of the assessment to be commercial or industrial. In Huron County there is only one community that reached that goal and it was Hensall, a small community with a lot of industry. The average place has 15 per cent industrial and commercial lands and that included places like Blyth and Goderich. We’re a long way from achieving the point where we can give the money away to cut commercial taxes and we have to find a way to solve that.”
Bailey, a small business owner himself, said he sympathized with the idea of balancing tax equity, but said that wasn’t the answer.
“Looking at North Huron’s books, we can’t afford to reduce taxes,” he said. “Shifting those taxes from one person to another is not the answer either. We have to grow and bring more tax base to the community. It doesn’t take 25 years, we’re not the Bismark here, we don’t have to hit the iceberg. We can turn ourselves around, put together commercial and industrial land and bring people here. It might take five years but it won’t take 25 years.”
Taylor spoke next and, as a life-long farmer, said tax equity wouldn’t work.
“Farmers need millions to produce income that is sub-standard, almost below the poverty line. As far as shifting more on to the farmers, who I think are the beginning of, the whole of and the redemption of North Huron, it doesn’t sit well with me. That’s not there,” he said.
Woodley, also a small business owner, said while he feels the taxes on his commercial operation are too high, shifting taxes to farmers won’t work.
“We can’t pass it to the farmers,” he said. “We need growth and we need people to come in. The cost of one street to plow is the same whether there is one home or 50. We need more businesses and more homes. We need the taxes to go down that way and have more money come in through new businesses that add to the tax base. We need residents, people moving in, to bring the taxes in. If we do nothing this will spiral.”
Jason Schiestel then referenced statements made by Macpherson during the Wingham all-candidates meeting.
“On Thursday you stated that we are one of the highest taxed people around and that we don’t get a whole lot for it,” he said. “We have two fire departments, two police [services], a hospital, a high school, three works departments... What additional services would you like to see and what would we have to give up?”
Macpherson said she didn’t believe she said that and explained her stance.
“We do get services, but maybe not as much as what other people get as services,” she said. “We are taxed high, and there is no question about it. Can we lower them? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of people in council know what goes on behind closed doors, we don’t need more services.”
To close the meeting each candidate was offered the chance to make a one-minute closing remark, starting with the East Wawanosh candidates.
Woodley said he would like to see the community grow by bringing North Huron to the world and bringing the world’s businesses here. “I believe that’s what we need to do,” he said.
Walden said he wants to maximize the usage of taxes already collected by increasing the number of jobs in North Huron. He said he is consistently impressed by the efforts of the township and its ratepayers to maintain a good appearance.
“It saddens me to go through other communities and see nothing but boarded-up stores,” he said. “People in this community should take great pride. It goes a long way to attracting people to the community.”
Taylor said North Huron is a great place to live, but he wants to improve it by prioritizing affordability.
“We need most of the services we have,” he said. “It’s very hard to cut taxes. As you can tell tonight, I’m really in favour of agriculture. It’s the backbone of this community and it has to be the backbone of the community if we’re ever going to do anything to stay on top.”
East Wawanosh candidate Ray Hallahan spoke next saying economic development is the future for the municipality, regardless of the route it takes.
“It’s a big issue and it involves a lot,” he said. “We could go on and on about it, whether it’s agricultural or industrial... We really have to work on this.”
Campbell was the next East Wawanosh candidate to speak and chose to explain some of his experiences with council.
“In the 20 years I’ve sat on council, I’ve found one of my dreaded times is working on the budget,” he said. “All our department staff come in with wants and wishes and we have to sit there and decide what we’re going to cut and which we’re going to be working on.”
He said that, if elected, his goal would be to work with North Huron’s neighbours.
“Neighbours are important to us, so we need to sit down at the table and just work on things,” he said. “We need to work together to bring us all together. Our neighbours are a part of our community and we need to support them too.”
Brake was the final candidate from North Huron’s rural ward and said he wants to focus on jobs.
“The most important thing we need to look at is jobs,” he said. “If we have jobs, people are happy. They spend money... They are going to be happy and not going to be on welfare or losing their houses.”
Brake then went on to say that Blyth candidate Macpherson has spent $7.1 million to prepare 20 acres of land to bring a hoophouse/greenhouse project and has been denied that opportunity.
“This is why I’m running,” he said. “I find it disgusting that red tape should be lost on that. I want jobs created and we need to get things done.”
Bailey was the first reeveship candidate to deliver his final remarks.
“The two things I will focus on are the budget, which is most important, and the second is the economic development committee,” he said. “I will be a part of welcoming every company that wants to come.”
Bailey explained he has built two businesses from scratch, for which he has received national attention and he wants the third company he builds to be North Huron.
Hill spoke next saying his priorities would be switching all possible services to those of the ombudsman to ensure transparency. He also said he wants to welcome public input before decisions are made at council, work with North Huron’s neighbours and get rid of the lead in North Huron’s water systems.
The final reeveship candidate to deliver his closing remarks was Vincent who said economic development is important and he would love to share the efforts of the economic development department but the Privacy Act forbids it.
“The economic development department fields a number of question every week from people that are looking,” he said. “We do need to get a few more wins. There are a number of things that are in the pipe that I can’t say anything about, but they’re there.”
Vincent also stated in his recent election ads, which ran in The Citizen, he had outlined the 31 events he attended on behalf of North Huron. What he forgot to mention, he said, was he was only paid for five.
Carther was the first Blyth candidate to give his final remarks and he said Blyth is a “beautiful little town” and it would take everyone working together to keep it that way.
“Without growth, none of us are going to grow,” he said. “I don’t want to see another Chatham-Kent [and have a community] die because people didn’t work together. Give me a chance to be on council for Blyth.”
Incumbent Knott spoke next saying everyone is talking about economic development, but little action is happening.
“We have done studies,” he said. “We’ve spent [thousands] of dollars on reports. Now we need to sit down and make concrete goals. Ratepayers need to understand that governments do not create jobs, but create environments that welcome people.”
He said while technological infrastructure is up to snuff for the most part, there are still some areas where it is lacking, but progress is being made, then said big industry is not the answer and that, to succeed, all three wards need to work together.
Macpherson took to the microphone next and said the ward system needs to be done away with.
“We need to work all as one,” she said. “Why are we Wingham, East Wawanosh and Blyth? North Huron people need to speak.”
Incumbent Blyth Ward councillor Vodden had gave the final remarks of the night and decided to show people why working as a community is important.
“We’re meeting tonight in Blyth Memorial Community Hall,” he said, giving a brief history lesson on the nearly 100-year old hall. “People said you can’t build a hall as a cenotaph but we did it, they did it. We’ve repeated that situation. People said we couldn’t have a professional theatre but we’ve had one for 40 years and, with the 14/19 [Fare on Four] dinner no one believed we could feed 1,419 people on main street, not even the organizers, but we did it. If we dream big, we can do it.”
Incumbent Avon Maitland School Board Trustee Colleen Schenk, who was represented by her husband John at recent all-candidates meetings, has some competition for the vote this year in the form of Mike Starenky, shown at the podium above. Candidates for the school board position, as well as council positions for North Huron, were welcomed to Blyth Memorial Hall last week to discuss the issues as part of an all-candidates meeting.   (Denny Scott photo)
North Huron Township Council candidates for East Wawanosh and Blyth Wards, the reeve position and the Avon Maitland District School Board trustee position had their second opportunity to address the public en masse during an all-candidates meeting in Blyth last week.
Co-hosted by Orr Insurance and North Huron Publishing, the parent company of The Citizen, the event was moderated by Pastor Mark Royall, a Blyth resident who presides over services at Auburn’s Huron Chapel.
Councillor Brock Vodden began by tackling promises and problems that had been outlined by his fellow candidates in the weeks since campaigning begun.
“I want to challenge the statements made by the other candidates,” Vodden said before explaining why he believed others running not just for Blyth ward, but for all the wards and for reeve, were erroneous in some of their statements.
The first of his six points regarded the North Huron budget which he claims is not “out of control.”
“Departments don’t overspend,” he said. “We have received no requests or complaints about unnecessary expenditures.”
Secondly, Vodden said all council members review the budget line by line and the practice is not a new one. He said that, throughout the budget process, which takes months, every member of council is expected to know the document.
Vodden’s third issue was with candidates who had said that North Huron is “dying”.
“North Huron is not a dying community,” he said. “Dying communities do not have professional theatre, a main street with one vacant store and don’t start multi-million dollar ventures.”
The fourth bone of contention Vodden had to pick was over the ward system, which fellow Blyth candidate Laurie Macpherson had, at the previous all-candidates meeting, spoken out against.
“North Huron is one municipality that consists of three wards,” he said. “Each ward is a unique community. We tried the melting pot approach but the two smaller wards got shafted... We need East Wawanosh and Blyth representation.”
Vodden’s last two issues revolved around in-camera council sessions and the code of conduct. He claims North Huron only holds the former when necessary and, despite claims to the contrary from fellow candidates, North Huron has had a code of conduct in place for council for some time.
One of the first questions of the evening came from Wingham Ward candidate Rodney Galbraith who made reference to his own stance on the budget.
“I would not support a budget if it was in excess of the annual rate of inflation,” he explained. “I haven’t heard a comment about taxes. Lots about fiscal responsibilities... but I would like to hear from the candidates, excluding the school board... When you say fiscally responsible, could you be a little more specific?”
Vodden was the first to speak and explained that, when you’re a member of council, the budget is an extremely arduous task.
“You go through a long process of many months reviewing expenditures required to achieve the objectives of various projects,” he said. “We have a strategic plan, so we know where the emphasis needs to be put to fulfill that plan. At the end of the process, as we’re deciding what the expenditure level and taxes are going to be is when we make decisions about the taxes. Maybe you have to raise the taxes, maybe you can reduce them, but that comes out in the wash. It’s not a matter of starting out saying you’re going to lower taxes.”
Macpherson was next to speak and she said that, while she would love to see taxes reduced, it’s going to be a long process.
“It may not be this year or next year, but by the end of four years, we have to have savings to show,” she said. “They have got to be somewhere. We don’t have to get rid of services, but we have to cut them, just like you do in your own household. The Township of North Huron is no different from a home.”
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Brussels Leo Club Approved for First-Ever Grant - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:27
With some good news last week, the Brussels Leo Club is now ready to go ahead with its very first community betterment project.
Members of the club, last week, were told that the club’s request had been approved for a grant from the Libro Financial Group for $7,500. The application was filed by the club this summer.
The money will be applied towards the construction, or rather, rehabilitation of the Brussels Sports Pad, which is just beside the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre. When the pad is complete, it will bear the Libro name as a condition of the grant, Mitchell says.
President Sean Mitchell said he and his fellow club members were thrilled when they heard their application had been accepted. One hundred and eleven applications had been filed, he said, and 39 were approved, one of which belonged to the Brussels Leo Club.
Mitchell says the grant was great news for a number of reasons. Of course, he says, it’s great to bring in money that will be reinvested into the Brussels economy, but in addition, he hopes it will mark the start of the next era for the club.
While the club has been operating for over a year and hosting small events, he says, the main function of the group in its first 12 months has been to raise funds. This will be the first project that the club has conceived and undertaken, which is really exciting, he says.
“Everybody’s really excited about the project,” Mitchell says. “This is a big step for us going forward.”
The pad, Mitchell says, once completed, can be used to play basketball, tennis and road hockey.
Mitchell says that he feels the club received approval for the grant because of how well the project, and the club, met the criteria. The Libro grants are aimed at projects that will benefit youth, Mitchell says, and with the Brussels Sports Pad, not only is it a project aimed at youth, but one that is being taken on by youth as well.
Work on the pad has already begun, Mitchell says, as members have already been out doing some preliminary work on the fencing.
Work will continue until the snow starts, and then the club hopes the pad will be completed by late spring or early summer next year.
“Anyone can use it, we’re hoping that it’s going to be a project that will benefit everyone,” Mitchell says of the sports pad.
With some good news last week, the Brussels Leo Club is now ready to go ahead with its very first community betterment project.
Members of the club, last week, were told that the club’s request had been approved for a grant from the Libro Financial Group for $7,500. The application was filed by the club this summer.
The money will be applied towards the construction, or rather, rehabilitation of the Brussels Sports Pad, which is just beside the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre. When the pad is complete, it will bear the Libro name as a condition of the grant, Mitchell says.
President Sean Mitchell said he and his fellow club members were thrilled when they heard their application had been accepted. One hundred and eleven applications had been filed, he said, and 39 were approved, one of which belonged to the Brussels Leo Club.
Mitchell says the grant was great news for a number of reasons. Of course, he says, it’s great to bring in money that will be reinvested into the Brussels economy, but in addition, he hopes it will mark the start of the next era for the club.
While the club has been operating for over a year and hosting small events, he says, the main function of the group in its first 12 months has been to raise funds. This will be the first project that the club has conceived and undertaken, which is really exciting, he says.
“Everybody’s really excited about the project,” Mitchell says. “This is a big step for us going forward.”
The pad, Mitchell says, once completed, can be used to play basketball, tennis and road hockey.
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Cadets Now Ready for Youth Dance Challenge - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:23
The time for practice is now over and those involved in the Brussels Cadet Corps Youth Dance Challenge are ready to take to the dance floor this Saturday.
Six couples will be competing in the challenge, which the cadets hope to make an annual fundraising event in future years in the same vein as Dancing with the Stars of Huron County. For the cadets’ event, participants will be between the ages of 13 and 18 and those in attendance will be able to vote for their favourite couple.
The event is structured around six local army cadets who have been paired with six experienced dancers from Dance Techniques. While the cadets are said to be nervous, they’re also excited for the opportunity to help out the Corps for needed items, but also for the challenge they’re undertaking.
Since upper tiers of government do not provide full funding to cadet programs, those involved with the event say that cutbacks have been affecting the activities of local cadet corps.
On the Dance Techniques side, the dancers are also eagerly anticipating the event, as they are able to design their own choreography for the event, which will help them advance their own teaching skills.
The first couple participating is cadet Tiffany Struthers of Brussels and her dance partner Dawson Handy.
The 18-year-old Struthers lives in Brussels and completed her Grade 12 education earlier this year at F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham. She has been a member of the Brussels cadets since she was 12.
She says that since joining the cadets, she has learned how to be a good citizen, respect and good leadership.
Over the years she has worked at a number of cadet summer camps and has won several awards through the program.
Struthers’ goal is to become an officer in the army reserves, while at the same time training to become a chef.
Handy is a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School in Clinton. He is now a teacher at Dance Techniques, has won a full scholarship to the Move Competition Workshop, which will be held in Toronto later this year. He has also been nominated to participate in the junior ballet national scholarship program later this month, also in Toronto.
The second couple is Curtis Terpstra from the cadets and his partner Hannah Garrick.
Terpstra lives in Brussels and recently completed Grade 12 at Listowel District Secondary School. He also joined the cadets when he was 12. He currently holds the rank of warrant officer.
He has attended cadet summer camps and won special awards through the organization. He says that by being a cadet he has gained leadership, confidence and teamwork.
In the future, Terpstra hopes to gain an apprenticeship to become an electrician.
Terpstra’s partner, Garrick, is 17 years old and she is currently a Grade 12 student at St. Anne’s.
She has been dancing since she was 13. After high school she hopes to double-major in psychology and French, while continuing to teach dance.
16-year-old Coulton Walford of Brussels is the anchor of the next couple. Walford is currently a Grade 11 student at F.E. Madill and he has been a cadet since he was 12.
Walford has also attended cadet summer camps and has won several awards. Being involved with the cadets, he says, has helped him be a good citizen, acquire leadership skills, learn about teamwork and how to be part of a team.
He hopes in the future to join the army and to also become a geologist.
Walford’s partner is 16-year-old Ashley Johnston, currently a Grade 11 student at F.E. Madill. She has been dancing with Dance Techniques since she was three and has been on the competitive team since the age of 11.
She hopes to teach dance as a career and perhaps work in the field of physiotherapy.
Zac Campbell of Brussels, a Grade 10 student at F.E. Madill, is at the centre of the competition’s next couple.
Campbell has been a cadet since he was 12, during which time he says he has learned all about leadership, etiquette and how to be a team player.
He has won several awards during his time with the cadets and his future aspirations include joining the army.
Campbell’s partner is Jodie TenPas, a Grade 12 student at Wingham Baptist Church School. TenPas has been dancing with Dance Techniques since the age of six.
TenPas is currently teaching dance through Dance Techniques. She recently graduated Grade 12 and hopes to become a pediatric nurse.
Wade Smith, a Grade 10 student at Listowel District Secondary School, is the cadet in the competition’s next couple.
He particularly likes the hands-on aspect of training and all he has learned with the cadets, like leadership, marksmanship and the process of chain of command.
Receiving several awards through his years with the cadets, Smith hopes to become a mechanic in the future or join the miliary to become an engineer or sniper.
Smith’s partner is Mackenzie McNichol, a 14-year-old Dance Techniques student from Brussels. She is currently in Grade 9 at F.E. Madill. She has won several awards at various competitions over the years.
Once she graduates, she hopes to continue to study dance in some form.
The final couple consists of cadet Wilson Smith and his partner, a teacher at Dance Techniques, Brooklyn Mitchell.
Smith is 13 and lives in Atwood. He has only been a cadet for one year and is still adjusting, he says.
Mitchell is a Grade 8 student at F.E. Madill who recently moved to Wingham from Brussels. She has been studying at Dance Techniques since she was three years old. She was first on the competitive team at the age of five, since which time she has won several awards at a number of different competitions.
The competition takes place on Saturday at the Brussels Legion. Cocktails will be served between 5-6 p.m., dinner will be served between 6-7 p.m. and the competition will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 each.
The time for practice is now over and those involved in the Brussels Cadet Corps Youth Dance Challenge are ready to take to the dance floor this Saturday.
Six couples will be competing in the challenge, which the cadets hope to make an annual fundraising event in future years in the same vein as Dancing with the Stars of Huron County. For the cadets’ event, participants will be between the ages of 13 and 18 and those in attendance will be able to vote for their favourite couple.
The event is structured around six local army cadets who have been paired with six experienced dancers from Dance Techniques. While the cadets are said to be nervous, they’re also excited for the opportunity to help out the Corps for needed items, but also for the challenge they’re undertaking.
Since upper tiers of government do not provide full funding to cadet programs, those involved with the event say that cutbacks have been affecting the activities of local cadet corps.
On the Dance Techniques side, the dancers are also eagerly anticipating the event, as they are able to design their own choreography for the event, which will help them advance their own teaching skills.
The first couple participating is cadet Tiffany Struthers of Brussels and her dance partner Dawson Handy.
The 18-year-old Struthers lives in Brussels and completed her Grade 12 education earlier this year at F.E. Madill Secondary School in Wingham. She has been a member of the Brussels cadets since she was 12.
She says that since joining the cadets, she has learned how to be a good citizen, respect and good leadership.
Over the years she has worked at a number of cadet summer camps and has won several awards through the program.
Struthers’ goal is to become an officer in the army reserves, while at the same time training to become a chef.
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Blyth Woman Wins Top Prize at Huron County Art Show - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:14
The Huron County Art Show opened in Goderich last week and two pieces of art were welcomed into the Huron County Art Bank. From left: Warden Joe Steffler, Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard, honourable mention winners Elizabeth Van den Broeck, William Creighton and Laura Browne, second place-winner Ruth Anne Merner and Huron County Museum assistant curator Elizabeth French-Gibson.    (Photo submitted)
The Huron County Art Show opened in Goderich last week and two pieces of art were welcomed into the Huron County Art Bank. From left: Warden Joe Steffler, Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Orchard, honourable mention winners Elizabeth Van den Broeck, William Creighton and Laura Browne, second place-winner Ruth Anne Merner and Huron County Museum assistant curator Elizabeth French-Gibson.    (Photo submitted)
Blyth artist Kelly Stevenson was named winner of the Huron County Art Show’s top prize last week for her piece The Harvest: Cultivating Mechanisms.
Stevenson was a featured artist in this year’s Blyth Festival Art Gallery series during the Festival’s 40th anniversary season with her exhibit entitled Who Heals You.
Winner of the art show’s second place prize was Ruth Anne Merner of Dashwood for her piece Searching.
Both Stevenson’s and Merner’s works of art will now become part of the Huron County Art Bank, as has been custom for the art show over the years.
The paintings are then purchased by Huron County and will be displayed in various county buildings for members of the public to enjoy.
Four artists, including a Blyth-area man, also received honourable mention at the show. Jerry McDonnell from the Blyth area for Sunshine Cemetery, Zurich’s Laura Browne for The Great Lake, Goderich’s William Creighton for Timeless and Elizabeth Van den Broeck of Goderich for Transitioning Forest. This year’s viewer’s choice award went to Shall We Dance, created by Susan Peck of Wroxeter.
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Blyth's McGregor Produces 'Charlotte's Web' at Memorial Hall - Oct. 23 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 13:10
Blyth Memorial Hall is currently playing host to the seventh play for children directed by local Duncan McGregor of Blyth.
Charlotte’s Web, which opened on Monday, is geared towards school-age children and acts as a fundraiser for both the Blyth Festival and the Foundation for Education Perth Huron.
The play is put on by McGregor and Friends and the Foundation and is based on the popular children’s book. This marks the second time it’s been adapted for the series since it began in 1994 with the help of then-Blyth Festival Artistic Director Janet Amos.
“The shows originally started off as me trying to help with fundraising for the Blyth Festival,” McGregor said. “I’d done these kinds of things for 15 years.”
The four shows, Peter and the Wolf, Charlotte’s Web, Let’s do Munsch and New Friends,Old Friends have been repeated and changed in the past few years, with the exception of the latter which has yet to make it to the stage.
The show features a lot of familiar faces not only for McGregor’s work, but also to the Blyth area.
Blyth resident Steve Cook is featured in the play alongside Clinton actor Ben Hearn who plays Wilbur, Blyth Young Company alumni Nicholas Beardsley who plays a number of roles, Lexi Bender of Clinton,  Izzy Siebert who plays Fern, the girl who saves Wilbur, who also stared in McGregor’s show White Hurricane about the great storm of 1913 last year and Auburn’s Suzanne and Wes MacVicar who play, respectively, Charlotte and Templeton the rat. Wes is also the director of the Foundation for Education Perth Huron.
Behind the scenes are some familiar names for McGregor’s work, one of whom is Arlene Darnbrough, who worked on last year’s production of Peter and the Wolf who returns to handle the music, alongside Ross Barnett who will handle lights and Sherri Milburn who is in charge of sets and costumes, all of whom are from Goderich. Zurich’s Dave Siebert is also going to help out, plying not only his carpentry know-how, but also as a performer.
The show’s run consists of 16 performances ending  with four shows at Stratford Central Secondary School. The other 12 were all at Memorial Hall. McGregor said that, as of last week, most of the shows were sold out with 4,600 tickets sold with the anticipation that another 200 would be sold at the door.
“I think we’ll see more individuals coming this year because of the magic of the source book,” McGregor said in an interview with The Citizen. “It’s the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web. When you talk to people about the story, their eyes light up as they remember reading it with a parent or a teacher. The story holds a special place for a lot of people.”
McGregor went on to say that the relationship between those parents and teachers and the people reading the book was appreciated both ways because of how the relationship between Charlotte and Wilbur, in the story, mirrors it.
Wilbur, who is being played by Hearn, will be more personified in the play, McGregor said, and walk and talk like a person.
“It’s the way we’re going to tell the story and it works well because Ben is quite an athlete and very eloquent,” he said. “Suzanne [who plays Charlotte] is just delightful and brings a lot of fun things to the play with her representation of the spider. She really likes to laugh with the kids.”
He also praised Suzanne’s portrayal of the spider and said that a lot of research had gone into the role.
“We have her spinning the words on stage, which is a great trick, and the egg sac is made pretty authentically,” he said.
Suzanne’s husband Wes also brings a special touch to the character of Templeton the rat.
“Wes definitely has his own sense of humour and that’s given us a new take on Templeton,” he said. “He’s also such a strong performer that he encourages others to grow and then he himself continues to become stronger.”
McGregor hates the term cast and crew because of the division it draws between the two groups, and instead insists on calling everyone a single company. He said that, regardless of how you identify them, everyone working on the play is friendly and respectful and, fortunately, very musically talented.
“They all sing really well,” he said. “Arlene is doing these songs like ‘Life on the Farm’, that opens the show, and it really rouses everyone up.”
McGregor said that, aside from the lyrical music, Darnbrough also provides some incredible atmosphere for the play.
“The soundscape, the underlying noises and music that supports the events on stage, are incredible,” he said. “You can really feel how great it is when you’re watching.”
He said that, throughout the play, the music really follows the development of the characters, especially Charlotte. He said her relative inexperience at spinning words in her web is marked by appropriate music which then evolves as she gets better. The music then becomes more serious near her death.
The play includes select scenes from the story because of time constraints, but McGregor said with such a beautiful story it wouldn’t do it service to try and cram everything in.
For more information on the play or the foundation, visit
foundationforeducation.ca or call the Blyth Festival box office at 519-523-9300.
McGregor and Friends, along with the Foundation for Education Perth Huron, are in the midst of a 16-show run of Charlotte’s Web at both the Blyth Memorial Hall and Stratford Central Secondary School auditorium. The show is a fundraiser for the foundation and the Blyth Festival and features local talent including, back row, from left: Suzanne MacVicar and Ben Hearn. Middle row, from left: Arlene Darnbrough, Marianne Hogan, Steve Cook, Wes MacVicar, Nicholas Beardsley and Duncan McGregor. Front row are Lexi Bender, left, and Izzy Siebert. The show started in Blyth on Monday night and runs on weekdays until next Monday before moving to Stratford. For tickets, contact the Blyth Festival box office at 519-523-9300. (Denny Scott photo)
Blyth Memorial Hall is currently playing host to the seventh play for children directed by local Duncan McGregor of Blyth.
Charlotte’s Web, which opened on Monday, is geared towards school-age children and acts as a fundraiser for both the Blyth Festival and the Foundation for Education Perth Huron.
The play is put on by McGregor and Friends and the Foundation and is based on the popular children’s book. This marks the second time it’s been adapted for the series since it began in 1994 with the help of then-Blyth Festival Artistic Director Janet Amos.
“The shows originally started off as me trying to help with fundraising for the Blyth Festival,” McGregor said. “I’d done these kinds of things for 15 years.”
The four shows, Peter and the Wolf, Charlotte’s Web, Let’s do Munsch and New Friends,Old Friends have been repeated and changed in the past few years, with the exception of the latter which has yet to make it to the stage.
The show features a lot of familiar faces not only for McGregor’s work, but also to the Blyth area.
Blyth resident Steve Cook is featured in the play alongside Clinton actor Ben Hearn who plays Wilbur, Blyth Young Company alumni Nicholas Beardsley who plays a number of roles, Lexi Bender of Clinton,  Izzy Siebert who plays Fern, the girl who saves Wilbur, who also stared in McGregor’s show White Hurricane about the great storm of 1913 last year and Auburn’s Suzanne and Wes MacVicar who play, respectively, Charlotte and Templeton the rat. Wes is also the director of the Foundation for Education Perth Huron.
Behind the scenes are some familiar names for McGregor’s work, one of whom is Arlene Darnbrough, who worked on last year’s production of Peter and the Wolf who returns to handle the music, alongside Ross Barnett who will handle lights and Sherri Milburn who is in charge of sets and costumes, all of whom are from Goderich. Zurich’s Dave Siebert is also going to help out, plying not only his carpentry know-how, but also as a performer.
The show’s run consists of 16 performances ending  with four shows at Stratford Central Secondary School. The other 12 were all at Memorial Hall. McGregor said that, as of last week, most of the shows were sold out with 4,600 tickets sold with the anticipation that another 200 would be sold at the door.
“I think we’ll see more individuals coming this year because of the magic of the source book,” McGregor said in an interview with The Citizen. “It’s the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web. When you talk to people about the story, their eyes light up as they remember reading it with a parent or a teacher. The story holds a special place for a lot of people.”
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