Dysart candidates square off
By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 9, 2018
Residents packed the great hall at the Fleming College Haliburton campus to standing-room-only capacity on Oct. 4 to hear from those vying for seats on the next Dysart et al council.
The all-candidates meeting was organized by the county’s media outlets and moderated by Sue Shikaze.
In a race garnering attention from across the county, current Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts is competing against longtime Mayor Murray Fearrey for head of council.
“I want to be your next mayor of Dysart,” Roberts told the room. “I put my name on the ballot because I have 12 years’ experience on council, the last four as deputy, and I am prepared to be mayor.”
Roberts said she would facilitate a team approach on council, search for new ways of doing business, create a goal-oriented strategic plan for the township, hold a goal-setting session to determine the priorities of council for the next term, and increase dialogue in the municipality by holding town hall-style public meetings.
“Anything is possible if we work together in an open, honest and transparent way,” Roberts said. “Dysart is ready for change, and I’m asking for your support ... on Oct. 22.”
“I’m delighted to seek re-election as mayor,” Fearrey told attendees. “I feel I have a good grasp of the community and the issues facing youth, young families, businesses, seniors and seasonal residents. Previous councils and I have anticipated and responded well to change, which has resulted in a new hospital, medical centre, library, Fleming College, skateboard park, arena retrofit and new, growing businesses.”
“As you consider your choices in the upcoming election, I will ask you to consider my leadership skills, experience, vision and proven track record that I can embrace change,” Fearrey said.
Current Dysart Ward 2 Councillor Dennis Casey and former Haliburton County EMS director Pat Kennedy are each hoping to become Dysart’s next deputy mayor.
Kennedy, a board member of the Haliburton County Development Corporation, explained his daughters are now raising their families in the community.
“I understand the challenges young families face, from daycare shortages to the high cost of living, the lack of housing options we have, and limited recreation opportunities,” he said.
Kennedy cited his experience as the county’s EMS director.
“I’m very familiar with budgeting and planning at the county level,” he said, adding he has a track record of achieving goals, referring to the expansion and modernization of the county’s ambulance program, and the county’s public access defibrillator program, instituted during his tenure.
“I’m ready to put my proven leadership and managerial skills to work for you, and I’m ready to tackle the issues and challenges before us with ... balancing fiscal responsibility and sound judgment,” Kennedy said.
“Being a good leader is not just about one’s opinion or stance on any given issue,” Casey told the room. “It’s about good attributes, characteristics, qualities that contribute to the short-term and long-term well-being of our community.”
“With my years of strong leadership on council, I have built good, solid relationships, I’m a strong team player, and I’m approachable,” Casey said, adding he was committed to being accessible, clear and concise, and to the development of the community.
Casey referenced his financial background and ability to understand long-term budgetary and taxation consequences.
“Last but not least, I’ve always come prepared to meetings, to discuss and provide leadership, in making good, solid decisions,” he said. “And I make good, solid decisions because I do my homework. My time at council has always demonstrated my preparation by on-site visitations, by research, by reading background materials, and I don’t just attend meetings. I’m your next deputy mayor.”
In Ward 1, Bram Lebo, owner of The Highlander newspaper, is vying to unseat incumbent Councillor Nancy Wood-Roberts.
Lebo referenced the numerous challenges facing the municipality, including housing, a labour shortage, low-wage economy and waste management.
“To solve these problems, we have to plan, and yet, there is no plan,” he said. “Ask our current council where we’ll be in 20 years and often, there’s just no answer, and that’s just not good enough. How can you get where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’re going? You don’t sail across the sea without a map, and you don’t build a house without plans. And you can’t say you have values, unless you’re prepared to make decisions that match those values.”
Wood-Roberts spoke of her experience on council.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Dysart, of Ward 1,” she said. “I’ve represented Ward 1 for the last four years, and previous to that, I did six years, from 1998 to 2003. I enjoyed the challenge of that.”
A registered nurse with Haliburton Highlands Health Services, Wood-Roberts explained that for the past four years, she’s been taking her shifts on weekends, to make way for committee meetings and other council activities during the week.
She’s been a member of numerous committees, including for Glebe Park and the museum, the Aging Well Committee, the BIA, and the public planning committee.
“I’ve truly enjoyed all of these committees,” Wood-Roberts said, “All of the individuals work very hard to better our community.”
Ward 2 has three candidates, with Mike Stinson, Dave McKay and Larry Clarke putting their names on the ballot.
Among other career ventures, Stinson is a former member of the fire department, and was an employee of the Dysart roads department for nearly 30 years.
“So, I do know a few roads,” Stinson said. “I’d love to fix the roads, if possible, and that’s part of my platform.”
He also said more resources are required for the municipality’s mandatory septic inspection program.
“We have to hire more people to get it done, because some of the lakes won’t be done until 2025,” Stinson said.
It’s time for new ideas that will benefit of the municipality, said McKay, who’s worked in construction and the trades, been a member of the fire department, and sat on provincial boards for minor hockey. This “requires the implementation of proactive thinking, rather than a reactionary approach to contemporary issues. We need to reach out and find opportunities for sustainable growth and prosperity.”
Clarke spent a career in project management for government and financial institutions, and served on Minden Hills council from 2010 to 2014.
Clarke said municipal elections allow for discussion of issues and opportunities for the community.
“An example of this is a ... community that is supportive of young families and seniors,” Clarke said. “We need affordable housing options in the village and community resources that will help such things as childcare and recreation. To accomplish this we need an inventory of buildings and property to determine options and partnerships for affordable housing.”
In Ward 3, Cindy Baumhour is running against incumbent Councillor Tammy Donaldson.
Donaldson owns and operates a tourism business with her husband.
“As I own commercial, rural, residential and waterfront property in Dysart . . . I’ve got everybody’s best interest with that,” she said.
Sitting on various committees, Donaldson was recently honoured for 25 years of volunteerism, including with the Ontario Therapeutic Riding Association.
Also working in the tourism industry, Baumhour has volunteered for decades with recreation committees, minor hockey and is currently treasurer for the Harcourt Community Centre committee.
“I decided to run for councillor because it was just another step in the direction of my community involvement, and one of the things that’s very important to me is the environment, and the quality of the water.”
Ward 4 candidates are Aaron Walker and John Smith.
An owner of McKecks Tap and Grill, Walker is a past director with the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce and is the community development co-ordinator for Food for Kids.
“I believe that seasonal residents in Dysart deserve better representation at a municipal level, and I believe that local residents need representation from somebody like me, with deep roots within the community, to best understand what’s going on,” Walker said.
He cited issues such as youth retention and affordable housing as challenges facing the community.
“I have the innovation, the vision and the hard work to ensure the prosperity of this community moving forward,” Walker said.
Smith, who served on various boards and committees in the GTA and was also a trustee with the Etobicoke Board of Education, is a director with the board of the Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association and is chairman of the community advisory committee at HHHS.
“Tonight, I’d like to talk about the type of councillor I’d be,” Smith told the room. “People who know me speak of my commitment and passion, as demonstrated by my having knocked on over 1,600 doors around Ward 4 since early July.”
Smith said he’d be committed to holding twice-per-year, town hall-style meetings at the West Guilford Community Centre.
“You can expect to hear from me prior to decisions being made by council,” he said, adding, “that may be me knocking on ward doors, or distributing flyers, to make you aware of something before the decision actually gets made.”
In Ward 5, Glenn Scott is contesting incumbent Councillor Walt McKechnie.
“For the past eight years, I’ve had the privilege to be your voice on council in Ward 5,” McKechnie said. “Over those years, many concerns have been brought to my attention, and I’ve tried my best to get your concerns to the proper departments so they could be fixed.”
McKechnie cited water quality as one of the major concerns in the ward, pointing to the municipality’s mandatory septic inspection program.
“Anybody fertilizing their lawns should be stopping,” he said, adding that other priorities for the ward included road maintenance and improved cell and internet service.
Scott retired about a year ago from an engineering career with Hydro One and is president of the Haliburton Lake Cottagers’ Association.
“What do I bring to table?” Scott said. “I bring a new perspective, new ideas, I bring experience in planning, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving; I bring a set of skills that any council would be complemented with. I bring a lot of energy.”
Scott has created a document he’s calling a list of expectations for the Ward 5 councillor.
“What I’m going to do over the next four years, is I’m going to execute against these expectations,” he said.
On youth retention
“I’ve struggled to make a decent wage for my family, I’ve struggled to find decent jobs for my family,” one longtime resident of the municipality told candidates, asking what they would do create more and better-paying jobs in Dysart, in order to retain young people.
Smith noted there’d been a spike in the number of building permits in the past year.
“So there’s jobs in the building industry that aren’t being filled,” he said. “But I think the primary reason we can’t get young people to stay in our community is a lack of housing.”
Smith suggested a building summit that would bring together builders, developers and investors, in order to construct a small apartment building.
“I actually do not think there is a lack of quality jobs in this community, there is a lack of connecting with those jobs,” Walker said. He agreed that a lack of housing was the biggest problem in finding young people to fill some of those jobs, and in the short term suggested better connection with youth through the chamber of commerce and high school with enhanced co-op and apprenticeship programs.
In the long term, Walker suggested including “inclusionary zoning” in the official plan in order to facilitate more affordable housing.
McKechnie also agreed that housing was an issue, “But I also think what needs to happen, and I’ve talked about it a lot, is an addition on this beautiful complex here, where we have a trades [school],” he said, adding this would allow local young people to be trained as plumbers, electricians, etc.
“I think I would like to see us continue with the various youth programs we’ve got in trying to attract the youth out of the school system,” Scott said, adding that affordable housing in the area would help young people to fill some of the job openings that do currently exist in the community.
Fearrey, who said he’d spoken to someone at the college’s employment centre earlier in the day, agreed that there are jobs to be had in Dysart.
“The lady said they’d never had as many good-paying jobs at the employment centre as they have right now,” Fearrey said. “So the jobs are here, but the people can’t be connected with them because they’re not trained for them.”
Fearrey said more trades education should be taking place at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, for starters.
Roberts pointed to a video recently released by the Haliburton County Home Builders Association, indicating there are a number of good-paying jobs in the local construction industry.
She noted two of her three daughters had gone away to school and returned to find jobs locally.
“But they had to know what jobs were suited to here,” Roberts said. “So, I think educating our students that are here, on what the jobs are here in Haliburton [is necessary].”
Casey referred to a meeting of young people who’d been working in Haliburton for the summer.
“They met and talked about their experience in Haliburton, here in the village, and every one of them said the issue was housing,” he said. “They couldn’t find a place to stay, nobody would rent to them short-term, and so on.”
Kennedy said he’d been at an open house at the college earlier that day and spoke to the school’s new president.
“They could offer 130 courses here,” Kennedy said, explaining he’d encouraged the college to offer some of the technical and trades programs it offers at its Peterborough campus at the arts-based Haliburton campus.
Lebo agreed there was a mismatch between people being unable to find jobs, and other positions going unfilled.
“One thing that might be very helpful to us is to stop putting all our eggs in the tourism basket,” Lebo said, “and focus on jobs and businesses that create a year-round economy. We might have to attract them one, or three, at a time.”
Both Lebo and Wood-Roberts agreed that housing was a central issue related to the community’s employment challenges, and supported the idea of a trades school.
“We need to increase our high-speed internet,” Wood-Roberts said. “A lot of people are more than capable of working from home and living and enjoying our community. Again, the trades, very, very important. A lot of kids want to stay here, but they have to go away to school.”
Clarke said training and apprenticeship opportunities need to be improved.
“A lot of construction companies have great difficulty in terms of running apprenticeship programs,” Clarke said, adding that issues with provincial regulations and training permits needed to be addressed. “If that can be addressed, then we support good, quality training through the college, here,” he said.
McKay agreed that housing and training were both hurdles to solving some of Dysart’s employment problems. He said more recreational opportunities were needed to keep young families in the community.
“When you have young children, and there’s nothing for them to do, the first thing that comes to mind, is they want out,” he said. “They return, but they don’t stay.”
Stinson agreed with Fearrey that more trades training needed to be re-introduced at the high school.
“When I went to school here, the high school contained trades programs – electrical, automotive, woodworking – and everything,” he said. “Then the trades people would come and visit us, and the students could apply to those trades people to get the points. We should have the same thing at the school again.”
Baumhour agreed that setting up a trades school at the college was a logical step, and agreed that housing and employment go hand in hand.
“If they don’t have a place to live, they won’t move to this area,” she said.
Donaldson said succession planning could help more local young people become employed by taking over area businesses.
“There are a lot of good businesses in this area and succession planning and pairing students coming out of high school or coming back from being educated and pairing them with businesses, that are already here and successful, but the people are retiring,” she said.
One resident asked Fearrey and Roberts for their philosophies of leadership, and asked Fearrey about dealing with the inherent pitfalls of being in office for such a long time. Fearrey has been on council some 45 years, and been mayor (previously the title was reeve) for some 35 years.
“First of all, leadership is about the team, and having the co-operation of council,” Fearrey said, adding that in the decades he’s been leading council, few councillors who’ve served with him have lost bids for re-election.
Fearrey said leadership requires ideas.
“You need to have ideas,” he said, “councillors need to bring ideas forward. Just going about the regulations, going about the formality of just going to a council meeting and saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ I’m sorry that’s not good enough. If you really want to show leadership you get the whole team involved, and buy into what’s good for the community.”
“Philosophy of leadership, first of all, I would say it means being inclusive, it means being a good listener,” Roberts said. “It means being able to get consensus when you might not necessarily have consensus. So there will be times when you do have to ... be the final decision-maker, but there are other times when I really believe it’s important to listen to the rest of council. There’s going to be six other people at that table and I believe that listening to what they have to say, to be able to make the decision.”
A recording of the full candidates meeting is available on the Canoe FM website.