They agreed. They disagreed.
And they agreed to disagree on a whole range of issues from the use of ATVs on municipal roads, to roads themselves, the future of the rural elementary schools to climate change.
The three candidates seeking to fill the North Elmsley ward seat – Russell Foster, Peter Wagland and Ted Letts.
Wagland is the former CAO of Lanark County, and Foster has already served on council for five terms, for 16 years, until he lost to Charlotte Reed by 40 votes in the Oct. 25, 2010 municipal election.
The seat was left vacant on Drummond/North Elmsley Township council by Reed, who resigned on July 31, and died on Aug. 19 after a short battle with cancer.
With such a wide range of topics, there was bound to be some common ground amongst the three men, and they found it on the issue of ATVs. When asked, yes or no, if they approved of allow ATVs to use municipal roads, Letts said “Yes. I have no problem. It promotes tourism.”
“My answer would be ‘yes’,” said Foster. “It’s all right to have them on the gravel roads, where people are hunting. If you’re going to have them on the paved roads, we need to pave the shoulders.”
“Let’s make it unanimous: Yes!” said Wagland with a laugh, before adding that “I think the shoulders should be paved for bikes on country roads.”
The debate, sponsored by the Otty Lake residents association, was held in the Drummond/North Elmsley Township council chambers at the municipal offices in Port Elmsley on Thursday, Nov. 8.
Continuing on with the one-word answer request from another voter, the men were asked to describe the township’s roads, and how they would fix them, in one word. On this, the trio had vastly different answers.
“There is only one word: ditches,” said Foster. “There need to be more ditches.”
Growing up in Dalhousie Township in the 1940s, and later moving to Bathurst Township in the 1950s, “in the spring of the year, they were out ditching… ditching is the only word you can use.”
For Wagland, the only word was maintenance, but for Letts it was asphalt.
“I believe (in) asphalt,” said Letts. “It will pay back considerably.”
Letts went on to call surface treatment “a disaster. It’s not cheaper.”
One of the lighter moments of the evening then came when Foster stood up after Letts’ answers and said “What do they do before they pave? They build ditches!”
Wagland went one step further, saying “before they do the asphalt, before they do the ditching, they need money!”
On a more serious matter, budget issues again came to the forefront, and economic problems beyond the township’s borders weighed heavily on the minds of the candidates.
“The Americans, their budget is in trouble,” said Letts. “The Europeans, they are in trouble, and I think we will see it start to slow down (here)… long term goals may go by the wayside,” and lead to leaner budgets.
“We’ve got to have growth to pay the bills,” added Letts.
Problems at Queen’s Park might also cloud the budget picture in DNE for Wagland.
“Premier McGuinty has prorogued the legislature,” said Wagland. “There will be an election this spring. It could mean a change in government. It could mean another minority… It’s still going to lead to less money (since) the federal and provincial governments are cutting back on funding to municipalities.”
As for taxes, Wagland noted that “people are on fixed incomes. They don’t want to see taxes go up. It’s almost impossible to stop them. But you can control them.”
Foster noted that the township needs to plan for more subdivisions because, with the four-lane creation of Highway 7, “the population will end up here.” In his electioneering travels, Foster has met a lot of young, married couples with small children, and seniors.
“We need to take that into account,” said Foster.
This by-election was called under sad circumstances, but voters wondered how long it would take any of the three men running to get caught up to date with the goings-on at council, like a kid entering a new class at half-term.
“The first year you will be playing catch-up, it’d be fair to say,” said Letts. “Some of it you will get caught up with quickly.”
Foster said that when he was first elected to council, “I knew it would take me at least a year.” Even up until the end of his last stint on council, “I was still learning. Every day you are always learning.”
Wagland said that before he had even put his name forward for consideration, he made to sure to attend all of the council meetings, something he has done in September, October and so far this month.
“I’m still current,” he said. “I’m only out of the loops for two months,” he said, referring to his retirement from Lanark County this past summer. “I am up to speed as much as I can be.”
Another question was asked about possibly sharing resources with other municipalities.
“There is certainly staff that you cannot share with others, and certain staff you can share,” said Foster.
For Letts, the answer to finding savings through sharing might be realized through “bulk buying. There is savings in that,” though he noted that sharing, say, snow plows might not work since it would delay further the times people have to wait to get plowed out.
“Everybody wants their roads plowed first, and to dickens with the rest,” said Letts.
“Sharing of the staff, that can be done, in certain ways,” said Wagland. As for joint tendering, “we can do it if we partner with big brother (Lanark County council.)”
With county tenders going out in January, Wagland pointed out that that was all the more reason to have the DNE budget process wrapped up by December.
“The better the (joint tendering) package, the better the opportunity to save,” said Wagland. “Some municipalities are reluctant to share with big brother because that it uncomfortable.”
On the issue of private roads, Foster put forward an interesting spin on the notion of public-private partnerships.
“Each individual private road needs to form an association so they can work to upgrade the road,” and then, in time, “the municipality can take it over,” but Letts took exception to this. While Letts liked the idea of the associations, in terms of bringing the roads up to standards – and exactly whose standards – “that might be cost prohibitive for the township to take it over.”
Another question struck at the very heart of the ongoing debate in the province of urban and rural beliefs clashing, with people complaining about what they see as insufficient regulation of land, and what others see as far too much regulation of private property.
“The government has to have a little hand in what is being said around the lake and in the rural areas,” said Foster.
“Nobody likes rules,” said Wagland. “There does not seem to be a lot of flexibility… (with some provincial mandates) but that is where we have to push them (the province.) We need to push the province so that we can see local solutions. Let’s get Queen’s Park to listen to us.”
Letts stated that he agreed with the need for government regulations of waterways and their banks, but “I have some concerns though when they say they want to control the country. I think we are a little over-controlled. They need to back off. I think by allowing the cities to come out here and tell us what to do is, I think, ridiculous.”
Voter Joanne Probert asked the candidates why DNE is “one of the stingiest recycling programs around,” claiming that her garbage men will pick up paper and cans no problem, but that almost anything else plastic usually does not pass muster with the dump truck driver.
“So, gentlemen, what are we doing to do about the recycling problem? Because I like to recycle,” said Probert.
“That, madam, is a question that has been asked by many people I have talked to,” said Foster. “In all other areas, they are taking many more recyclables away.”
His brother lives in Collingwood, Ont., on Georgian Bay, and it is not unusual for his sibling to throw out tissues in the recycling, amounting to one and half pounds diverted from landfill. He got a laugh from the audience when he stated that his brother has yellow, blue, green, black and grey bins.
“I too share your frustration,” said Wagland.
“The more we recycle, the more we save the waste site,” said Letts.
Declining enrolment at rural elementary schools had Foster contemplating the possible amalgamation of the schools in Drummond Centre and Port Elmsley.
“If it came to it, that enrolment that was that low… we may have to amalgamate the two,” said Foster. “There is nothing more important than educating our young people. Please, let’s keep a school in our municipality.”
Letts, however, was not convinced that amalgamation would be helpful.
“Once you get down to that magic number once the school is considered no longer viable,” then that sets in motion a whole chain of events, including funding getting pulled from the province.
“Your kids would likely go to Smiths Falls,” rather than schools amalgamating, said Letts. “(But) I think we should be safe.”
“I know enrolment is a challenge but on the flip side, how much are you willing to pay?” asked Wagland. “I am appalled at how long kids have to ride the school bus,” noting that his grandchildren have to ride an hour, each way, to get to school.”
Voting day will be held on Monday, Nov. 19 at the Port Elmsley Hall, 120 Station Rd. Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Residents of the Rideau Ferry Country Home, 1333 Rideau Ferry Rd., will vote the same day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.