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Belleville council candidates woo packed house at Legion

A full house at the Legion for the Belleville Ward 1 councillors meet and greet.

A full house at the Legion for the Belleville Ward 1 councillors meet and greet.

By John Moodie [1]

BELLEVILLE –  It was a fast and furious night for Belleville council candidates.

The Belleville Chamber of Commerce hosted a Ward 1 candidate’s meet and greet at the Royal Canadian Legion Wednesday night.

The doors opened to the public at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m. the candidates began to deliver their platforms. Each candidate was given 5 minutes to speak.

There were 19 candidates in all. Candidates Lonnie M.D. Herrington, Brandon Charles Ross and Laurie Mason were not in attendance.

The hall was packed. The room was hot and humid. About a third of the crowd was seated. The rest were left standing.

Among the issues that came up frequently were Belleville’s downtown, opportunities for young people, the Bulls, and the arts.

Revitalizing Belleville’s downtown was a big issue for many.

Neil Ford focused on ways to market Belleville’s downtown.

“Belleville has to become a city that’s known to be a place where the sidewalks don’t roll up at 7 p.m. Where people can go for a night out, they can feel comfortable, they can feel safe,” said Ford.

Local realtor, Kelly McCaw — the only female candidate at the event last night — expressed the need for a new trade school in Belleville’s downtown core.

“We have the potential to be recognized as a leading destination for education in southern Ontario,” said McCaw.

Retired teacher Ted Howe talked about bringing a university satellite hub to Belleville’s downtown core.

While the majority of the people in the audience were middle aged and elderly, there are several young candidates running for council.

Devon Dings, 25, took the opportunity to dispel concerns about his age.

“My youth is providing me with a fresh perspective that will undoubtedly compliment some of the more experienced council members.”

Tyler Allsop’s tablet shut off midway through his presentation. It could have been a disaster for the 21-year-old candidate. The co-owner of Doug’s Bicycle Shop improvised making light of the situation receiving a quick chuckle from the audience.

Doug Ellis spoke on the importance of keeping young people in Belleville.

“The jobs are not here. We need to get these jobs. We need them in Belleville. We have to have them in Belleville to keep our young here. We are exporting our children,” said Ellis, “We need to have something here for them.”

The future of the Belleville Bulls was brought up more than once.

Steve Georgiou stressed the importance of keeping the Bulls in Belleville.

“Cities without a sports team would have to spend money just for a chance for a team to come,” said Georgiou.

“We just need to come up with a deal that works for both the city and the Bulls.”

Paul Kyte used his time to stress the need of building a new multi-purpose sports facility for the Bulls.

He also said there are other benefits to building a new facility.

“Belleville needs to build a facility that will open the doors of this city to national and international events”. He talked about events like conferences and conventions.

There were other issues on the candidates’ minds as they made their five-minute pitches.

Belleville councilor, Edgerton Boyce reinforced the priority of attracting doctors to Belleville.

“I know there’s likely people in this room that don’t have a doctor due to retirements. We must continue with the doctor recruitment program.”

Councillor Garnett Thompson used his time to draw attention to need for greater accessibility for people with physical challenges.

Thompson said, “Accessible public buildings, wheelchair ramps and disability transit are all elements of a fully accessible society.”

Bob Millard used his time to talk about something different. Millard was first to speak last night. The Loyalist College business professor addressed a recent incident where he was accused of plagiarism.

Millard said, “It was unforgivable, but I made a mistake and I am sorry about that.”

Boston Pizza owner, Mitch Panciuk said he would look into relocating the Belleville fairgrounds.

“That area doesn’t generate money for the city of Belleville and is worth a lot of money if it is redeveloped. Those funds can help pay for many upgrades to parts of the city,” said Panciuk.

Infrastructure was the focus of Stanley Jones’s platform. He said the city needs to fix small problems before they get big.

“Things like potholes are relatively inexpensive to fix when they are small,” said Stanley, “but if you ignore them for a while, they go deeper and bigger and then you have to redo the whole road.”

Candidate Jeremy T. Davis gave a passionate speech. He touched on the need for council to work as a team.

“You must be able to build partnerships and consensus. Communication is key to being affective as a leader or being part of a team,” said Davis.

Former police officer Mike Graham declared he would be Belleville’s public spending watchdog if elected.

Richard Black spoke fast and to the point. Black drew attention to the need of building a new exit on the 401 off of College Street East.

“Truckers want it and it would take all the traffic off College Street and Station Street,” said Black.

Larry Pohjola did not mince words when his opportunity came. He addressed what he said was the elephant in the room: taxes. He gave the audience a straight answer whether he would promise to lower taxes.

“You want an honest answer. Nobody told it to you. No,” said Pohjola.

Belleville’s investment in the arts was also the subject of some discussion.

Jack Miller was critical on the cities record of supporting the arts in Belleville.

“In my estimation we haven’t done enough to support arts and culture. We talk the talk we haven’t been doing much walking,” said Miller.

Community activist Gary Magwood capped the night by speaking about the revitalization of Belleville’s cultural legacy. Magwood reminded the audience of Belleville’s rich cultural past.

“This city had a reputation as a centre of culture,” said Magwood.

“There was theatre opera, symphonies, dance, live plays and art galleries that attracted residents from a very broad area around the city.”

“I suggest council establish a $500 grant to any citizen to start an event or project in the city,” said Magwood.

Afterwards candidates stuck around to field questions and mingle with the public.