Grey candidates have their say at Huron East all-candidates meeting - Sept. 27, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East’s two mayoral candidates and three Grey Ward candidates gathered at the Ethel Community Centre last week to debate the issues at hand ahead of next month’s municipal election.
Emceed by local school board trustee Amy Cronin, the meeting welcomed over 40 members of the public to the centre ahead of the voting period, which begins on Friday, Oct. 5 in Huron East.
Mayoral challenger Caitlin Gillis was the first to speak, telling those in attendance that she has studied political science at the University of Guelph before working in a number of municipal capacities, including at the City of Kitchener and as Deputy-Clerk of Huron East.
She said that she wanted to see change in Huron East and her home ward of Grey. She wanted the municipality to be adaptive to new technology and bring in further consultation with members of the public on topics such as the budget and strategic planning.
While Huron East has been successful in some respects, she said, there is room for improvement and Gillis said she was running for the residents of Huron East.
In order to spend the public’s money more effectively, Gillis said, she hoped to employ online engagement platforms to consult with the public on programs that are important to them.
Budgets and the municipality’s strategic plan, then, would be a reflection of the public’s priorities, she said. She also said that staff and council would be judged against these priorities and accountable if goals weren’t reached.
Gillis also said that road paving needed to be more of a priority in Huron East. In 2018, she said, Huron East paved three roads, which simply won’t cut it. Paving roads at that rate would weigh down future generations with large tax increases as municipal infrastructure fails all at the same time.
She said that Huron East needs to be forward-thinking in order to attract business and retain youth. One way to do that, she said, would be to create a trade-training facility in Huron East so residents could learn in their home municipality and hopefully stay there as well.
Incumbent two-term Mayor Bernie MacLellan said he hopes to bring his 24 years of political experience back to the table. He began his time as a councillor and then worked his way up to deputy-mayor of Huron East and then the mayor for the last two terms, learning along the way.
Recently, through his work with Huron County Council, MacLellan was asked to be part of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), a position a Huron County politician hasn’t held for nearly 20 years.
Being part of AMO, he said, is a direct link to the provincial government, which is now more important than ever in terms of funding.
He said that council has been accountable in its years serving the public through the election process. If council hasn’t done a good job, he said, members will be voted out in the following election. He also said that transparency at Huron East has not been an issue, as agendas, meetings and budget documents are all open to the public and available when they are made available to councillors.
In terms of economic development, MacLellan said that Huron East’s Economic Development Department has won six national awards over the last eight years, as well as many locally. Big cities, he said, come to Huron East to learn from its Economic Development Officer Jan Hawley.
He also said that Huron East has overperformed in its youth demographics, gaining residents in the 15-19 and 20-24 age ranges at a time when many communities in Huron County are losing those residents.
He said he’s on board with supporting the Brussels and Grey communities through the renovation and expansion of the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre and feels that his suggestion for a new building suggestion was the catalyst for current discussions.
MacLellan said that he frequently collaborates with Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb and MPP Lisa Thompson for funding and grant projects, one of which brought $1 million into the municipality last year.
Curtis McKinnon grew up in Grey Ward and said he wanted to give back to the community by representing the ward on council.
While he was born and raised in Grey, he travelled to London for schooling and worked there for a few years before returning home to Huron East, where he now works as assistant manager at the Four Winds Barn in Brussels.
He said he believes in community and residents having a say, so if he were to be elected he would consult with residents and be open to hearing their concerns.
Incumbent Councillor Dianne Diehl said that her time as a councillor has been frustrating at times, but highly rewarding when she sees all that the municipality has accomplished.
The new businesses in Huron East, she said, and the young entrepreneurs who now call the municipality home have been truly inspiring and council’s approach to economic development has had a lot to do with that.
Concepts such as the “Win This Space” initiative have helped to create new business, which has benefitted the entire municipality.
In her years as a councillor, Diehl said she’s carried a positive attitude into municipal dealings and that she has always been a team player for all of Huron East.
Diehl’s fellow incumbent councillor Alvin McLellan told the audience that he has been involved in municipal politics for a long, long time.
He said he and his family moved to Grey 38 years ago and that the community is still as great as it was when he first moved there.
If elected, McLellan hopes to continue work on the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre renovation and expansion. He also knows that council needs to continue to operate as leanly as possible to best utilize tax dollars and that there may be further size cuts dictated from the provincial government.
He said that local governments need to determine potential cuts for themselves and that it shouldn’t be dictated from a higher level of government.
Many in the Grey Ward live on agricultural properties, McLellan said, and living with rising tax rates and assessment in recent years is becoming harder and harder, which is why council has to be smarter than ever with its money.
In his time as a councillor, McLellan has been on a number of committees and boards, including many serving the Brussels and Grey Communities.
In addition, while not in Grey, he said he’d like to see more industrial land developed in Brussels and more houses built. More residents in the Brussels area would be good for all of Huron East.
During the question-and-answer period, McLellan said that another big issue facing the Grey Ward especially is keeping its community centres and halls up to code and viable as standards change.
He said he wants the halls to go on for as long as they can and if a time comes where it’s no longer feasible to keep them open, the community can come together for a solution for a new community hub, which is necessary for small towns throughout rural Ontario.
Gillis addressed growth in Huron East, saying that while some things have been accomplished in terms of economic development in the municipality, there is still a long way to go.
She said that during her campaign, she had spoken to a number of business owners and employees who had never met anyone from the economic development department. With that in mind, Gillis said, economic development needed to be municipality-wide.
Gillis said that ratepayers should be getting their money’s worth for economic development at both the local and county levels.
She even proposed a Huron East business expo that would showcase all that Huron East has to offer in one place at one time, from agriculture to agri-business.
MacLellan again cited the department’s accolades, saying that Hawley has been called to present some of her successes at conferences all over the province.
In his closing remarks, MacLellan said he has proven to be a good leader of a co-operative, cohesive council and that the team has proven its ability to work together towards a common goal.
He said that continued work with AMO and the area’s federal and provincial representatives continues to be of the utmost importance and, if elected, he will carry on with that work.
Gillis accused the current mayor of focusing on her, rather than a platform or the ratepayers in all-candidates meetings. She said that if ratepayers are happy with the way things are and want more of the same, they should vote for MacLellan. However, if they felt Huron East could be doing better and that it was time for a change, they should vote for her.