Crowded house for candidates meeting
By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 4, 2018
Some 350 people packed the Minden Hills Community Centre to standing-room-only capacity on the evening of Sept. 27 to hear from hopefuls for the upcoming council term.
Hosted by the county’s media outlets, the all-candidates meeting was moderated by former Times owner and publisher Jack Brezina.
“I’m looking out in to the crowd tonight, and realizing I’m like every one of you,” said mayoral candidate Jarrett Campbell, who owns a trucking and storage business in Minden. “I’m not a politician, I’m not a public speaker.”
Campbell, who noted it was more difficult to be up on stage than it looked, said he wanted to see the township work more for the needs of its residents, and see less red tape for business owners.
Incumbent Mayor Brent Devolin, seeking his second term on council, touted the accomplishments of council since the last election in 2014.
“We had a broken relationship between our council and municipal staff, a strained relationship with other county politicians, disenfranchised community volunteers and confusion at both the provincial and federal levels dealing with Minden Hills,” Devolin said, pointing to accomplishments such as the creation of the township’s emergency management plan.
Mayoral candidate Wayne Hancock is a civil engineer who is currently the director of public works for the Township of Cavan Monaghan.
“I am in a position to retire this fall,” Hancock said. “If I am elected to be mayor, I will commit any and all hours to do the job presently, and 24/7 if necessary.”
“Many taxpayers believe they are getting very little service for their tax dollars paid,” Hancock said, adding that the eight per cent property tax Minden Hills residents received this year was unacceptable.
John Teljeur and Ron Nesbitt are running for the township’s councillor-at-large position, currently held by Nesbitt.
“I’ve been a councillor for four years, and I love what I do,” Nesbitt said. “I’m dedicated, I’m honest, straight up. Maybe some people don’t like that, but that’s who I is [sic], and that’s how I’m going to stay. I can see the town improving, and we got a long way to go yet. So, read my brochure, it’ll tell you all about me. Thank you very much.”
Teljeur, who’s worked in the hotel industry and is a community organizer, told the room he’s lived in the community for the bulk of his life, and it’s where he wants his eight-year-old daughter to grow up.
“We want her to be in a community of possibilities,” he said, adding, “unfortunately, what is happening is we are jeopardizing those possibilities,” before taking aim at the arena rehabilitation project, which council has awarded to an Ottawa-based company and is slated to cost up to $10 million.
“The project doesn’t reflect the overall needs of this community, not now, and not in the future,” Teljeur said.
In Ward 1, the former Anson, Hindon and Minden township, there are six candidates, vying for the two seats that represent the ward.
“Let me tell you what the election is about, in my opinion,” said candidate Richard Bradley. “The people with the vote have the power right now, and people will say that politicians take that power away from me with their vote. I want your vote, I do not want to take that power away from you.”
“I want to advocate for you with that power,” said Bradley, who noted he had the flexibility in his IT career to do the job. He said some of his priorities included flooding, “or, not flooding,” health care, roads, taxes, affordable housing, a boat ramp for Bob Lake and a sidewalk along the Highway 35 corridor in Minden.
“There is an important question that needs to be answered in Ward 1, and that question is, why should you vote for Clayton Cameron?” said Clayton Cameron. ”And the reason you should vote for Clayton Cameron is experience. I have experience to guide Minden Hills for the next term of council.”
Cameron, a previous municipal councillor, referred to his 28-year career as a public works superintendent, including 16 years with part of what is now the Township of Minden Hills, where he was responsible for roads, water, sewer, landfills, parks, recreation and cemeteries, as well as delivering departmental budgets.
“I am a person that gets things done,” he said.
Bob Carter worked for years as a corporate executive, mostly running IT and engineering departments. Five years ago, he and his wife Dr. Nell Thomas, Minden’s physician, moved to the community.
Carter is a volunteer driver for Haliburton Highlands Health Services, president of the Lake Kashagawigamog Organization, and is a member of the Minden Hills planning and development committee, and housing task force.
“Through these endeavours, I’ve learned about some of the needs in our community,” Carter said, adding that a major one was the chronic shortage of housing.
“It affects the young, the old, it affects singles and families, it affects those who need assistance, and those who don’t,” he said.
“I’m a reasoned guy, I like to have all the facts in front of me before I make a decision,” Carter said. “I’m not always going to give the answer that you want, but I’ll make the best decision for our community.”
Jennifer Hughey was raised in Minden, attended Archie Stouffer Elementary School and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School before attending Ryerson University, where she obtained a journalism degree. Living in the GTA, Hughey worked for Rogers Media for a decade before returning to the community a few years ago. She was editor of the The Highlander newspaper before starting her own business as a freelance project manager. Hughey volunteers with Minden Hills events committee, the culinary task force, the Minden Hills housing committee, Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library, and at ASES.
“If there’s one thing that I can do for you, it’ll be my job to be transparent, to keep things public,” she said.
Fellow Ward 1 candidate Rob Luke, a former EMS manager, said through conversations with residents, he’s discovered that housing is one of the biggest concerns in the township, “both for seniors and the young folks that are coming along in life. Also, the biggest concern of the lakefront people is the water, and the fact that the effort of the upper-tier government has been lacklustre, to say the least.”
Luke said there needed to be better flood preparedness efforts in the community, and more action on the housing shortage.
“I’d like to work towards a better understanding of the housing problem, and work towards a better and long-term goal, than what has been put forward before,” he said.
Dwight Thomas, a retired paramedic, is also seeking one of the two seats in Ward 1.
“I’m running for council because I think I can help improve Minden Hills,” Thomas said. “I think I have the education, I have the knowledge, and I have the caring interest, because Minden is my home.”
“I think three things that the council really needs, that you need and I want . . . first of all, it’s truth,” Thomas continued. “Let’s find out what is really happening, There are some laws that don’t allow us to tell everything, but I’m sure there are more things going on that the public should know about.”
“Trust,” he said, “trust, when you speak to me, I will keep your information personal. And respect, which covers all of that.”
In Ward 2, the former Lutterworth township, Mike Grozelle is running against current Councillor Pam Sayne, who is seeking to reclaim her seat.
“It shows with the number of people here, there is huge interest in this election,” said Grozelle, who owns and operates a construction business.
Grozelle said township departments need to be properly funded, and employees properly trained, if problems such as ongoing issues at the Scotch Line landfill are to be dealt with.
“What I’ve noticed, the last little while, is that dump up there owes me almost $1,200 in tires,” he said. “But when you talk to the heads of any one of the departments here, the infrastructure isn’t there.”
“If you want to get rid of the seagulls and the bears, cover it,” Grozelle said. “Buy the man the equipment he needs to compact it down, bury it properly, and we won’t have the issues. Most of the issues will look after themselves if these guys have the money to do what they need to do.”
Sayne said the election was a chance for residents to tell her how she’s doing.
“I was inspired by community members that have encouraged me to run for a second term on Minden Hills council,” she told the room. “I believe I have the skills and the motivation to present your issues on council and provide leadership in solving community concerns. I would like to continue to be your voice on council. Do I have the strength to endure, to live up not only to your expectations of me, but also to my own expectations of myself to be a good leader? I believe the answer is yes to that. In this election you’ll have the opportunity to tell me if you think I’m on track with that.”
In Ward 3, the former Snowdon township, Russ Duhaime is running against incumbent Councillor Jean Neville.
“We have lots of important issues, with a lot of needs and a lot of wants,” said Duhaime, a recently retired educational assistant and former journalist. “We want our landfills properly managed and the seagulls all gone. We want high-speed internet from one end of the county to the other. We want economic development so that young people can find jobs here. We want affordable housing so that the same young people can afford to live here. We want good roads, we want manageable taxes, we want our arena and community centre built on time, and on budget.”
Duhaime added whoever was elected would need the energy to carry these things out.
Neville, who is seeking her third term on Minden Hills council, told the room she’d lived most of her life in the township, where she raised three sons and where they are now raising their children.
“I want my grandchildren to have a environmentally healthy, safe and prosperous community in which to grow,” she said. “I was also raised in a family that didn’t waste anything and reused everything possible. I advocate eliminating organic waste from the landfill, encouraging less waste altogether. I recommend bylaw changes that support more affordable housing.”
Sitting on the committees for the Irondale and Lochlin halls, “I’ve worked to raise money supporting these halls, that before my tenure, received no tax dollars from the municipality,” Neville said.
“I think you have to earn the right to represent your community, and I believe I have,” she said.
On the arena project
Resident Patrick Walshe asked Devolin why a feasibility study and usage and attitudes study had not been completed for the planned $10-million reconstruction of the Minden Hills Community Centre and S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena, and asked his competitors if they would “commit to stop the development of this nonsense” until thorough studies had been completed and reviewed.
“This council inherited a report from 2014 that this building was at risk, both in terms of the structure and in terms of the [ice] plant, for failure, and the ammonia that’s contained within it,” Devolin said, emphasizing the latter factor can be dangerous, even fatal. “There has been two and half years ... we’ve analyzed this, there has been public input and we’ve heard from many that they want a renewed facility that will last for the next 40 years, just like this one has lasted for the last 40 years.”
Campbell said he was in favour of revisiting the process.
“100 per cent, let’s pump the brakes,” Campbell said. “This is out of control. There is no reason that one person or one company should be getting a $10-million job without checking with at least three or four other people. Let’s find out why we’re paying $10 million. Totally out of control.”
Council agreed to sole-source the project to a lone bidder, an Ottawa-based company.
“I agree with Mr. Campbell, first of all, I’d stop the process immediately,” Hancock said. “First of all, this single-tender approval is wrong. We need to go back to the marketplace, we need the feasibility study, we need to understand the operating costs. There’s a lot to this. It’s a major project. It needs to stop now.”
Nesbitt, who sat on the task force for the project, said a lot of work had gone into it.
“When the arena first came into our hands, we didn’t just put our hand up, we did a lot of research,” Nesbitt said. “I’m talking hours and hours. So, if you think for one minute, that we just jumped into the water, it didn’t happen. We did a lot of research, to make sure we were making the right decision.”
“If we’d jumped in the water, we’d have a pool on this project,” Teljeur said. “The fact of the matter is, if it was such an urgency to build this thing, two things don’t make sense. Why did it take the entire tenure of this council, the effective tenure, to come to a decision? They had four yea to put this together. If it was such a struggle to get this done, they could have gone with a $2.4 million proposal that was there [in the 2014 report], and built it quicker, but they took four years to come to this, and this is a $10-million purchase we can’t afford.”
While the question had initially only been intended for mayoral candidates, Brezina opened up the floor to any other candidates who wished to weigh in.
Neville said the process had been an in-depth one.
“This was discussed this morning and if you’d attended council this morning, you would have heard a thorough report on this,” Neville said. “It’s not that we jumped into the water on this. It was a four-year task force that investigated this community centre upgrade, and it is necessary for this community.”
Candidates were asked how they would go about solving myriad issues at the township’s landfills, issues that have included two clean-up orders from the MOE issued for the Scotch Line landfill last year.
“There’s a lot changing . . . I want to say so much, and I have to be so brief,” said Sayne. “I’ve got to say, we’ve got to reduce our waste, as individuals, as organizers, we need to organize ourselves better as staff, and as council, and what we take on and our contracts. There’s a lot of co-ordination that needs to be done. It’s not a 15-second issue, it has to do with that we’re a wasteful society, and we’ve got to learn how to recycle and reuse better.”
“I’ve talked to [property and environmental operations manager] Ivan [Ingram] a couple of times about the dump and I actually have his development plan here in front of me, the problem is, if you don’t have the money to be able to buy the equipment that you need to control the bears, the seagulls, bury the dump, bus the larger stuff, it’s going to get out of hand, and it is out of hand,” said Grozelle. “They need the infrastructure to be able to buy the equipment they need to do the job properly.”
“There are a couple of things that seem odd to me,” said Thomas. “Why don’t we spend some money . . . towards improving these? To get the compactors? To do something with the dump, because it is a dump, that’s all it is. Maybe incinerate it, who knows . . . the dump leaches into the water table, period.”
“The situation has gotten to the point now where, really something has to be done with this,” said Luke. “It’s gone on too long, and, as my colleagues have said, we don’t have the infrastructure to look after this thing properly. We haven’t got the money, we haven’t put the money aside for it, and we haven’t planned for it, and this is sad. And I think we need to start and do a heck of a lot more about that in the future.”
“We as a community need to do better,” said Hughey. “We need to do better at recycling, we need to do better at sorting our garbage, and we need to do something about organic waste. Honestly, it’s disgusting when we all go up there, and it doesn’t need to be. So again, it is about the money, it is about transparency, and it’s about all of those questions that you have, to be answered.”
“As I’ve gone around knocking on doors, I’ve heard so many stories, so many rumours, so many allegations and reports about this issue, I have no idea what’s the truth and what’s fiction,” Carter said. “So, obviously there’s something there . . . and it’s something we need to study and we have to come up with the right plan for our community.”
“I live across the road from the landfill,” said Cameron. “I’m the only one here that hears the trucks starting at four o’clock in the morning out there, moving the containers around. We need a whole new plan for the dump, and I think it can be done. The answer’s the entrance to the [Scotch Line] landfill needs to be taken further to the west, come in on a level spot there and then work on dumping the garbage down, rather than pushing it up.”
“Well, how about electricity? How about a scale?” said Bradley, adding modernizations would help keep better track of exactly what’s going into the landfill. “It’s been contracted out for so long, and there seems to be so many people working there on various things . . . maybe this should be done by staff, who actually are accountable and reportable to their direct supervisors and to council, as opposed to being contracted out.”
Minden Hills contracts out the operation of its landfills, and council recently voted to award a contract to Watson’s, the company that previously looked after its landfill, after a contract with company Highlands Environmental expired.
“Like Bob’s comments, I’ve heard lots of things and it’s hard to tell fact from fiction and I think we need to bring a lot more clarity to the situation, and certainly a lot more accountability,” Teljeur said. “Certainly whatever the cause is, we can’t keep paying for these costs that are being absorbed, because the MOE is coming after us. We’re going to lose that dump, if we’re not careful.”
“We have talked in council, today, I can’t really say because it was in closed, but we are working on this, as we speak, and for the last, quite a few months,” said Nesbitt. “OK, but we have to work together on this. It can’t just be, the council working, it has to be everybody working together.”
“First of all, this is probably one of the hugest liabilities the township is looking at,” said Hancock. “It’s environmental, we have leachate, we have all kinds of problems on that site and a number of other sites. There is some problem . . . and I’m not sure the root of it, it must be at the management level, and council should be stepping in to take care of this problem. It’s not operating properly right now.”
“We received in the last year, an approval for a 25-year plan,” said Devolin, “that we will be moving forward with. Council’s not very happy with the rate of what’s gone on there, and certainly we have made two changes, and will continue to make changes until there’s the appropriate outcome.”
The township has switched landfill attendant contractors and also the consulting company it uses to take readings at the landfills.
“I was born here, I grew up here,” Campbell said. “Sunday afternoon was a drive to look over the dump to the bottom of the hill, to see what was down there. We’re looking up a mountain, and I agree with Richard. I think this should be in-house, and run by staff of Minden Hills, and let’s see if we can’t get a cap on what’s going on here. There’s some opportunities with that dump, as well as some disadvantages.”
“I ‘ditto’ what Brent just said,” said Neville. “I was going to mention the 25-year plan and the issue’s money. We need to remove all our organic waste from the dump. We have to not be making so much waste or recycling, get rid of single-use drinking bottles,” she said, picking up one of the bottles that had been provided for candidates. “We all have to work at this.”
“Good waste management is very expensive, bad waste management is more expensive,” said Duhaime. “Your question was when are we going to do it? It needs to happen right now.”
Heather May of Aging Well Haliburton noted that the township has a housing task force and studies.
“We need housing, now, for the elderly, and for the young,” May said. “Can you tell me what you will do, in the next four years, about housing?”
“I think it starts with our bylaws, our building, our inspections,” said Campbell. “We were trying to build and the hoops and red tape, it’s insane. I own a small piece of property in town and would love a tiny house community. But there are some awfully big obstacles in its way.”
“I’m actually going to agree with Jarrett on this,” said Devolin. “The biggest obstacle is the Ontario Building Code, and it lags more than a decade behind the realities and what your public expectations are. And, we need them to change it so we can have tiny houses, and lots of other initiatives in our community.”
I’m going to suggest that we have to start at the province,” said Hancock. “I think we should be approaching the province for some funding for this program. I think it’s critical and you can talk about zoning, you can talk about where you are with building code, but we need some money to help subsidize this program and get something built.”
“We did Phase 1, now we’re going to make a Phase 2,” said Nesbitt, in reference to the Pinegrove Place affordable housing development near the arena, “and I’m 100 per cent for tiny houses.”
“A tiny home development could be built here,” said Teljeur. “This is about political will. You can rezone a piece of property to be an RV park and it’s perfectly allowable under the building codes right now. I helped a gentleman and his wife about two weeks ago, when it got cold bring wood to their house, they have no options, they’re living in what at best, is described as a shack. They couldn’t even do this; they couldn’t get a tiny home, because right now, it’s not available. It’s not going to solve all the problems, but it’s certainly a good start.”
“For the funding, I mean [HKLB MPP Laurie Scott] said for years that we’ve been abandoned by the previous government,” said Bradley. “She’s now a minister in the government. I think we need to knock on her door, as well as Jamie Schmale, who is at the federal level, when housing projects come along. It’s not that we don’t have a part to play, like donating land and other things when we can, and money as well as money from the county.”
“The county and the province are the ones that need to look after housing,” said Cameron. “Housing is just too much for the local level to try and support.”
“I think if we wait for the province and the country to come to our aid, we’re going to be waiting an awful long time,” said Carter. “We’re a little low on the totem pole. I’ve been working and looking at community bonds, I think we have to start investing in our own community and being our own developers in starting to develop homes on our own.”
“Yes, completely agree,” said Hughey. “The tiny home initiative or a senior campus are totally feasible here. If I look around this room, I could probably pick out at least 25 people that are aging to the point where they’re not going to be able to maintain a house that they’ve had their entire life, and those people should be taken care of. They’ve built this town and we should respect that.”
“If we look at all our abilities in the township, I know for a fact, there is an awful lot of people here that have talent,” Luke said. “And, there is a good, strong viable group out there, that is working hard to put this in action. I think we need to get behind them and support them, but we also need to count on our federal people and also our provincial people, and get them out of this rhetoric.”
“I agree that the province is the place that we have to hit first,” said Thomas. “I have no problem knocking on Laurie Scott’s door, I know her very well, but it has to come from there and we have to have some initiative from our side to push there. I know it’s been done, and tried before, not successfully, obviously. I don’t mind mixed housing, I don’t mind the tiny houses idea, I don’t mind any of them, but the bylaws, we can do something with the bylaws. If you put a second unit on your own lawn that you have a house on, and are restricted to a certain size, you can put a tiny house on that. The bylaws change.”
“I look at Hunter Creek Estates for an example,” Grozelle said. “I don’t think people want to rent, I think that they want to own. And I watch the houses in there go . . . they’ve sold 25 or 30 of those in the last two years . . . so there’s a need for them. If we had one of those, at our level, that we looked after and that we maintained, and you pay the lot fees for. I think we could put another 100 units in there, and they would sell.”
“I think we could do something better with our rezoning,” said Sayne. “I think it is political will.”
“I was on the committee for the first housing rights conference back in 1990, it was our only national housing rights conference. I’ve worked on housing ever since then with several different organizations and co-operative housing and different models. We’ve got to put our words behind what our housing task force is doing in Minden Hills here. They’re working very hard and we’ve got to support, all the way, their suggestions.”
“The need’s been identified clearly,” said Duhaime. “What council needs to do is find ways to make it happen, which is eliminate the zoning bylaws that are standing between accomplishing that goal.”
“We’ve got to work at adhering our bylaws to allow tiny houses, garden suites, granny flats, and this bylaw about one having one kitchen on a property instead of two . . . I’ve got a big enough house, but I can’t have two kitchens on one property,” said Neville.
On the ward system
Resident Lois Rigney asked if it was possible to discard the ward system, and hold municipal elections at large in Minden Hills.
“I’m going to say why not . . . I think any of us would do a good job,” said Hughey. “I think it’s a very archaic system, and I’d be happy to get rid of it.”
“Sure,” said Carter, “I don’t feel strongly either way on this one. There’s some good parts to having wards, because then you have people who look after a smaller area, but I agree it’s a small community.”
“Yes, it can be done, and it would be done through the council,” said Cameron, explaining the township’s proposal would then go to the provincial level for approval.
“It can happen,” said Bradley, who added he could see some drawbacks. “Kind of like the Ghostbusters questions, ‘who you gonna call?’ . . . In a way, I do kind of like the ward system . . . you have a go-to person.”
“I think that anything that ends up saving money for taxpayers [is beneficial],” said Teljeur. “If we can streamline things to make them more effective, providing we protect the interests of the voters . . . I think anything like that is a good option.”
Hancock said he would ultimately like to see the number of councillors in Minden Hills shrink.
“Yes, you have the ability to have your councillors elected at large, that’s possible and you can reduce the number of council,” Hancock said. “I believe this township should reduce the number of councillors.”
“I’m on the record wanting some electoral reform, both at the lower tier and upper tier,” said Devolin, who, earlier this year, pointed out that between the two levels there are 32 separate council seats in Haliburton County. “I think that it would be reasonable for the community and the politicians to have a conversation so that we’d be ready for the next election, because my fear is, there will be something imposed on us.”
“I think it’s a logical next step,” said Neville. “After our original amalgamation, I think it was necessary that we handle things in a ward situation because some of our wards are less populated and paled by comparison to Minden, but it seems like a great idea to think about at this point.”
“To be the odd one out, I’m not a fan,” said Duhaime. “I think if you get rid of the ward system, then everything becomes Minden-centric. There’s commerce throughout our municipality, there’s commercial operations in Gelert and Irondale and in Lochlin, and they need people they can call, and who will understand, and who can be responsive to their concerns.”
“I can tell you as Ward 2 councillor, that I take calls from across Minden Hills, and actually sometimes outside of Minden Hills,” Sayne said. “And though I’m in Ward 2 and I pay great concern to my constituents in that area, I do respond across Minden Hills.”
“We haven’t even been elected yet, and you’re laying us off,” quipped Grozelle. “I do agree with it. I think that if you went with less people because of the number of people we have ... anything that’ll save taxpayers money.”
Thomas said the origin of the ward system had been to allow the municipality’s smaller communities a voice at the table.
“I think it was a representative thing that they did then,” Thomas said. “But I don’t have a problem with everybody elected representing everybody, because if I’m elected and you’re in Ward 3, you can still call me. I’ll talk to anyone.”
“I think it is a real good idea,” said Luke. “If you look at it from any standpoint, if you drop two people off of the slate as it stands right now, over four years, you’d save about $155,000, just right off the bat. So just maybe think about that a little bit. I’m all for it.”
Long-time Ward 1 Councillor Lisa Schell has been acclaimed as the township’s next deputy mayor. Current deputy mayor Cheryl Murdoch is not seeking re-election.
A candidates meeting for the mayoral and deputy mayoral candidates of each of the county’s four lower-tier municipalities will take place on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Fleming College campus in Haliburton Village.