Midland leadership hopefuls show clear divide over MBL's future

Midland residents got a taste of what happens when six leaders get together to discuss the town they passionately want to run.

At the virtual all-candidates meeting for the town of Midland on Monday night, four mayoral and two deputy mayoral candidates were in attendance to field resident questions selected and provided by hosts Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce.

President Peter Kostiw was master of ceremonies, keeping the six candidates to a tight-but-slackened time-frame for their responses. Everyone was allowed 60 seconds for an opening remark, followed by seven questions rotated through the roster at 90 seconds each with an additional open forum for extra conversations limited to five minutes each, and a concluding remark at 60 seconds.

In attendance: mayoral candidates Bill Gordon, Jonathan Main, Ute Schmid-Jones, and incumbent Stewart Strathearn; and deputy mayoral candidates Jack Contin and Cody Oschefski.

Question 1: In the past, we have seen how ineffective a council is when they are divided; what would your strategy be to keep council from in-fighting and forming camps?

The evening was already divided into two camps prior to the meeting: Those serving the current council term such as Mayor Strathearn and Coun. Gordon, Main, and Oschefski, and the candidates not currently on council like former councillor Contin and newcomer Schmid-Jones. For many responses, the former would share facts from first-hand experiences over the past four-to-eight years, while the latter often speculated and replied with heartfelt-but-vague answers.

When they agreed though, they agreed. Overwhelmingly, the candidates replied that a diverse council across the spectrum of politics, society, experience, and many more were a welcome part of Midland council and the leadership of the town.

Question 2: You all mention beautiful Georgian Bay as a major asset for Midland in your election materials, and yet the town’s sewage system continues to dump waste directly into the bay. It is desperately in need of upgrading. Is this project a priority for you? How will the town pay for it without raising taxes? Will development dollars from Midland Bay Landing fund the sewage treatment project?

Strathearn disagreed with the initial statement along with others on council who noted that aside from a single 100-year-storm last year, there hadn’t been sewage discharged into the bay for the past two years. Climate change was mentioned by Main, Gordon, and Contin as reason to explore "future-proofing" infrastructure. Strathearn noted grant funding and a shared municipal system with neighbouring Penetanguishene as "alleviations" being explored; Oschefski pointed out that Midland Bay Landing would relieve costs; Schmid-Jones commented on affordable housing options to bring residents in and fund the municipality.

Gordon noted that 3,500 planned homes were being clogged at a municipal level while Strathearn countered the clog was at the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Question 3: How should the cost of North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre user rates be divided among North Simcoe municipalities that use the Midland facility?

Main used an analogy that the town supplied the hardware while community groups were the software, which several candidates also chimed in regarding lessening restrictions on user groups wanting to contribute through activities and fundraising. Most replied the similarity to shared regional services like fire or transit, with trade-offs to provide incentive and relief throughout the other municipalities for use of the facility. A sponsored name change was also suggested, and green technology enhancements were discussed.

Question 4: What plans do you have to increase the walkability and pedestrian safety in Midland?

Oschefski quipped that pedestrian-minded Main might need 10 minutes to respond, prompting laughter and agreement; Main did speak at length of the many ways a pedestrian-oriented infrastructure could benefit residents through health and safety. Contin, Oschefski and Schmid-Jones noted community safety zones and traffic calming measures.

In the open discussion: Gordon mentioned enforcement of e-bikes on trails; Schmid-Jones wished to strengthen naturally developing community hubs; and Strathearn noted replacement of sidewalks into the rears of new home developments away from roads such as in the United Kingdom.

An exchange occurred where Gordon mentioned strengthened OPP patrols in the community, to which Strathearn countered with a response on recidivism.

Question 5: In the past decade, Midland has lost many hectares of urban woodlands to developers, and many more are planned to be paved over. We now see the waterfront going down the same path. Do you believe that residents need more access to urban woodlands and the water with better availability of public beaches and accessible waterfront?

All answers were yes, with some emphatic and some subdued. The initial responses praised the urban tree management plan and the initiatives of the Severn Sound Environmental Association.

At the open conversation, the community-in-bloom program and pollination efforts were raised by Gordon; Contin noted the UNESCO GeoPark potential; Oschefski challenged townsfolk to name any 10 parks in town citing lack of community interactivity; and Strathearn pointed out new trails around Little Lake. Schmid-Jones asked for a plug on her social media photography, Kostiw also asked for a plug for the Chamber of Commerce prompting laughter.

Question 6: From a tourism perspective, marketing and promotion of Midland is non-existent. Is there any plan to drive tourism and improve our visibility?

Candidates bristled at this question, reflecting their love for the tourist town. Gordon’s response that regardless of what the candidates thought, if there was that perception from the town then communications got an ‘F’ grade. Discussion revolved around ways tourism was working and ways to boost it.

Oschefski and Schmid-Jones aligned on modern technical stances using virtual reality and social media platforms. Strathearn noted the Great Lakes Cruise plan making Midland a potential terminus for the ships, and several noted Contin’s positive association with the GeoPark.

Open discussion brought all the suggestions. Oschefski revisited his numerous festival proposals fallen through by the pandemic; Main offered up an all-in-one multi-pass throughout North Simcoe for tourists. Gordon reiterated his stance against the Municipal Accommodation Tax, with Strathearn quickly pointing out council would only be exploring the option and not implementing it. Strathearn also noted the Indigenous-French relationship on the grain elevator, bringing a German element to the area which the town would do good to explore.

Question 7: What is your view on the Midland Landing project? Are the people of Midland being properly represented by the Board? And is 25 per cent public land to 75 per cent private a fair deal, as outlined on the town website?

Simply: Main supported the project noting its multi-use potential; Schmid-Jones requested a pause for public consultation; Strathearn fully supported the outline of the official plan and opted to “seize the moment”; Contin wanted more public engagement and a change of board members; Oschefski supported Phase 1 saying to rethink would to run backwards; and Gordon supported a pause to revisit the 10-year-old public consultation.

In open exchange, dialogue flew.

Contin had called development “luxury condos for the rich” in a previous MidlandToday questionnaire which Oschefski called prejudiced, and Contin responded that it was a “fact”. Likewise, Main promoted its potential for missing-middle housing which allowed Gordon to counter that it was a “disingenuous” statement seeing the surrounding waterfront developments. Strathearn backed up Contin and Gordon up by noting that developers need to have a return in investment and don’t spend $60-to-$100 million on a waterfront development for affordable housing.

Contin and Schmid-Jones asked why the public hadn’t been consulted earlier even through the pandemic; Strathearn went on the defensive again stating many public consultations for a variety of town events had occurred over the past term with “nobody showing up”, deeply urging the public at large to attend the events if they are so interested as developers also thrive on public input.

Much, much more was discussed, but after two-and-a-half hours the meeting concluded. Candidates thanked the Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce for hosting, and urged residents to vote. All-candidate meetings for the 2022 municipal elections across North Simcoe are available for viewing on the YouTube channel for the Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce.

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Municipal election information for Midland is available on the elections page of the town website.

For Midland residents:

For the first time, Midland voters will be voting by internet and telephone only. The Town of Midland has entered into an agreement with Intelivote Systems Inc. to provide the software, consulting and technical services required to implement this voting method.

Voting will take place between October 11 and 24, 2022. Voters will receive a Voter Instruction Letter (VIL) by mail containing directions on how to vote using the internet or the telephone, or both. You will receive this letter seven (7) to fourteen (14) days prior to October 11, 2022.

You will only receive a VIL if your name is on the Voters’ List. Please call the Clerk's Office at 705-526-4275 ext. 2212 or 2208 or come into the Municipal Office at 575 Dominion Avenue to make sure you are on the Voters' List.

A Voter Assistance Centre will be located in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Office at 575 Dominion Avenue. Please bring your Voter Instruction Letter and a document showing your name and address for identification.

Voter Assistance Centres will also be set up at several retirement/nursing homes for in-home residents only.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca