Going head-to-head may be an overstatement, but last week’s all-candidates meeting was the first and only time all of the Wellesley election hopefuls gathered to make their pitches.
Joining all other Ontarians, township residents will be voting this month in a municipal election.
Some 150 people made it out to the Wellesley Community Centre on September 26, the better to inform themselves about their options ahead of the October 22 vote.
The meeting features a question-and-answer format rather than a debate. Hosted by 570 News’s Jeff Pickel, the event saw each candidate given a five-minute introduction before they were put on the spot with questions predetermined by the Woolwich Observer and New Hamburg Independent.
All of the candidates were able to attend: mayoral hopefuls Joe Nowak (incumbent) and Bernia Wheaton; Ward 2 candidates Herb Neher (incumbent) and Mark Witmer; Ward 3’s Joyce Barker, Grant Kingsbury and Peter van der Maas (incumbent).
Ward 1 councillor Shelley Wagner and Ward 4 Carl Smit will return to their seats by acclamation.
The first question was directed at the mayoral candidates, inquiring how they intended to make Wellesley’s voice heard at regional council.
“I want to be a strong voice,” said Wheaton. “And to me, that means being knowledgeable and being prepared. It is being articulate, and informed. It is being persuasive and convincing. It means being able to have a valid position and being able to defend it. And it’s about building credibility. I have found in my professional life that building relationships with the people that you work with around the table goes a very long way.”
“I worked very hard to convince the regional staff that we should have that roundabout. And we got the $ 1.4 million investment for that project,” said Nowak, referring to the roundabout at the intersection of Ament Line and Herrgott Road. “I’ve built very good relationships with the other councillors. The four rural mayors get together on a quarterly basis, so when a rural issue comes to the table, we work together.”
The second question, fired off at the Ward 3 candidates, involved how to make Wellesley more than just a bedroom community.
Van der Maas’s response involved focusing on creating a community that has a vital character.
“Where people are volunteering, coaching teams, shopping here, playing here, and using the facilities here,” he said. “So it’s not what I plan to do; it’s what we plan to do to work together to create a community.”
“We need to increase and develop the land where we can afford jobs,” said Kingsbury. “Where we can have the youth working. We can have more local opportunities for our local people to be working in town. To not have to drive to Kitchener, to Waterloo, to Cambridge, to Stratford, for meaningful employment.”
“What makes our village special, that people are going to continue to come here, is all of you,” said Barker. “It’s a wonderful place to live. We do have to look at some commercial development down the way, possibly with one of the pieces of land that’s being considered for rationalization.”
Members of the audience were presented with slips of paper on which they could pose anonymous questions to the candidates. Among the concerns were reducing the damage from truck traffic and whether or not to increase waste collection schedules. The submissions included, “What are you looking the most forward to when the council begins?”
“Sometimes we’ve got to make sure we don’t suck and blow at the same time,” said Neher. “We talk about expanding, we want more houses, we want more business, but we want to keep our quaint little community. Sometimes you can’t have it both ways. This is where it’s very difficult to balance that out. Council sometimes need more direction from the community.”
“I have to agree with Herb 100 per cent here,” said Witmer. “I honestly believe we elect a council and a mayor to do what we think they’re going to do. When you have a huge decision, with the relocation of boundaries, maybe that’s something we should put out to the township as a whole and say ‘Do you want this, or don’t you want this?’ and see what the people want.”
After audience questions concluded due to time constraints, a more informal meet-and-greet took place.
Voters can cast their ballot online or through telephone starting October 9 starting at 10 a.m. until October 22 at 8 p.m.
A live recording of the full meeting is posted on the Wellesley Ontario Community Connections Facebook page, and more information is available at The Township of Wellesley website.