South Algonquin all candidates meeting hosted by Whitney Seniors New Outlook

South Algonquin had an all-candidates meeting Sept. 26, in-person and live streamed on Facebook, at the Whitney Seniors Centre, organized and hosted by Whitney Seniors New Outlook, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Organizers deemed the event a success, with about 90 people showing up to ask questions of the candidates running for office in South Algonquin, with more participating via the live stream. Joanne Healy, the vice president of the Whitney Seniors New Outlook comments on the meeting.

One minute was given for candidates to introduce themselves and state their platforms at the all-candidates meeting in Whitney on Sept. 26. The candidates present for mayor were; Councillor Bongo, Barney Baker and Ethel Lavalley. The candidates present for councillor were; Joan Kuiack, John Pollak and Laurie Siydock (Airy Ward), Councillor Sandra Collins, Gabriella Hairabedian and Tom Taylor (Lyell Ward) and Loretta Neil and Shawn Pigeon (Sabine Ward). The moderators for the discussion were Healy and Theresa Kramer. All the candidates were present that evening except Neil, who had to bow out due to illness, and Hairabedian initially, who arrived late due to traffic, but did participate in much of the meeting.

Running for councillor in Lyell Ward, Tom Taylor started things off. He said he was a resident of Lyell Ward and had been a permanent resident for the past six years. He’s also an entrepreneur, running the Sugar Bush on Hwy 523.

“I’m very passionate about several things. One of them being food sustainability. I feel that we can work with partners in the community and get some donations and get things happening for our food banks. Another thing I’m passionate about is youth. I think children in this area grow up and they don’t really see staying here as an option, staying here full-time and growing a life here. I want to provide some skills and some building blocks for the youth of the community to have a livelihood and want to spend the rest of their life in this community as I chose to do,” he says.

Councillor Sandra Collins is running again for councillor in Lyell Ward, which she’s held just over five years. She said she’s a voice at the table for her residents, she listens to all of them and brings things forward as and when needed.

“Coming from England, both my husband and I just feel as though we want to give back to this community that opened its arms to us when we arrived. I’m also passionate about the youth, as Tom is, but I think we also need to offer recreation for the adults in our community. Over 53 per cent of our community are older people over the age of 50 years. I think adults’ recreation is as important as children’s,” she says.

Ethel Lavalley, who is running for mayor, said she feels she has the experience, the commitment and the leadership skills to lead the township.

“I’ve been here before. I’ve been here for 20 some years in the 1970s and 1980s and I know that things have changed, with COVID-19 things have changed, but you know, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Many of the same things exist at Queen’s Park, many of the same things exist at the [Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry], and all these places. I’m passionate about the housing situation here, I’m passionate about job opportunities, our seniors and our young. And I believe our amalgamated system is working and we should not fix something that isn’t broken,” she says.

Councillor Bongo said that a wave of energy inspired him to move to South Algonquin, to volunteer, to run for council and to invest his life in this special place. He said that same energy was now driving him to run for mayor and he’s embracing this leadership opportunity.

“The mayor doesn’t have any additional voting power but rather leads by influence. My goal is to create a culture of mutual respect, collaboration and inclusivity. My style of leadership is one that creates an idea friendly atmosphere. There are three things I’m going to mention about myself. Number one, vision. Council should be a group of people that are visionaries. Ideas fuel my life. I’m a life-long entrepreneur and it comes so naturally to me. Number two, intense thirst for learning. The academic aspect of council feeds my inner bookworm and I’m constantly learning and growing in this role. And finally, I have a great deal of humility. Some people think being a politician is this glamourous thing, it’s not. I look at it as a public service. It is my goal to serve you as best as possible,” he says.

Barney Baker is running for mayor, and he’s retired after 29 years in the military. While he says he could have settled anywhere in Canada, he chose South Algonquin, because it's a nice place, with good people and he likes it.

“But if you look at Statistics Canada from 2001 there were 1,265 people here in the township, and in 2021, that number has gone down to 1,055. So, 200 people have moved away and those tax files are gone. What’s the problem? I would amend a few things in the Official Plan that increases the people participation, their skills and experience. There are all kinds of people here who know what’s going on. We have to get them involved and get them to grow this in a nice way. Because we like it the way it is but it’s got to grow,” he says.

Joan Kuiack is running for councillor in Airy Ward, and says she has lived, worked and played in South Algonquin most of her life. A retired registered nurse, she spent the last 10 years of her working life as the director of patient care service at the hospital, which gave her a lot of wisdom, ability to act as part of a team and the ability to partner with other agencies to get new programs started and running at the hospital.

“I really feel that South Algonquin is in a period of transition. If you’ve noticed since the pandemic, there’s been an influx of people. We’ve also seen the tourist industry starting to boom again. I’m passionate about keeping things nature friendly. I’d hate to see our beauty go away. The other is seniors. I’ve been doing walkabouts and I’m really passionate about senior services,” she says.

John Pollack is running for councillor in Airy Ward, and he said it’s his second time running for a seat on council. He says they have been in this community for a while and they’ve tried hard to help things in a positive direction.

“The ability to get children under five years books so they can start their reading skills early. Inclusivity is the important part, so when we’re missing a demographic, we’re missing the rungs to a ladder. If you’re missing seniors, if you’re missing children or even that working demographic in between, there must be a way to pull them together. We are moving in the next year to the zoning bylaw. There’s lots of things we’ve worked with in the past, to make changes. Some were implemented, lots weren’t. There’s an opportunity for everyone to partake in this and to move things forward. The other thing I’ll say really quickly, I often don’t ask the same questions as other people, and I don’t have the same answers as everyone else,” he says.

Laurie Siydock is running for councillor in Airy Ward and told the crowd her hometown roots were deep, she was born and raised in Whitney, raised her two sons there, worked for the OPP for 38 years and volunteered for various causes throughout the community.

“My wish list is; affordable housing, flowers downtown to beautify our main intersection, bring back July 1 celebrations and more. I’m a team player with common sense, dependability, accountability and decisiveness. Give me a chance and vote for me. I plan on getting things done for the betterment of all residents,” she says.

Shawn Pigeon is running for councillor in Sabine Ward, and he says he is third generation from Sabine. His goal is stability, carrying on the good work his predecessor Councillor Richard Shalla did.

“I want to ensure that things remain constant and not just the same. Housing is a priority for me, affordable housing at that. Short term rentals need to be addressed here in the township as well. I’d like to implement a seniors’ program very similar to what the VON have implemented in Hastings County as the Smile program, where seniors can stay in their homes with the help of people,” he says.

Hairabedian is running for councillor in Lyell Ward and she said that she’s the founder and current chair of the South Algonquin Business Alliance.

“I have nine years in this community, and I’ve done volunteer work for the past four years. I really love this community and there’s a lot of good that can be done in this township and that’s why I’m running,” she says.

While Neil wasn’t present due to illness, Kramer read out her statement, which said she was very thankful for the support she’d received over the last few years and informed everyone she was the founder and administrator of the South Algonquin Politics page. She is campaigning on a platform of accessibility, ensuring that people who want to be included, no matter their situation or location, can do so through the use of technology.

Kramer then read out a series of questions to the candidates and over the next two hours, the big issues that emerged to be addressed over the next four years were; increasing housing of all kinds, expanding employment opportunities to keep people in South Algonquin, augmenting health and social services for all ages but especially to seniors, procuring more grants to get things done overall versus using tax dollars and continuing to spur tourism opportunities to keep tourists and their revenue in the area. Despite all that growth and change, the candidates were adamant that South Algonquin should strive to keep its natural features and its sense of community. For more information and to view the posted live stream, go to www.facebook.com and the Whitney Seniors New Outlook page. Healy told The Bancroft Times on Sept. 27 that they had organized and hosted an all-candidates meeting for the 2018 election, which had been well attended, so they decided to do it again. She said that the group’s president Evelyne Lesage was also very instrumental in organizing the event and contacting candidates.

“This event Monday night was also a success. There were about 90 people in attendance and many more watched it streaming on our Facebook page. The people running for office are given an opportunity to showcase their experience, knowledge and ideas that they will bring to council. This is important for candidates to reach as many people as possible and for voters to learn more about them when making their decisions. The feedback we have gotten is appreciation to the Whitney Seniors for setting up this candidates’ meeting. It is hard to know who to vote for when there are so many good and qualified people running,” she says. “This was a good opportunity to see who stood out to each of us.”

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times