In a hotly contested mayoral race, Sarnians have a choice between two front-runners who admit to polar opposite styles.
Incumbent Mike Bradley calls himself a watchdog and the chief executive officer of the city.
Opponent Anne Marie Gillis says she’s a collaborator and “one among equals.”
“You may not like my style on occasion. I don’t like my style on occasion,” Bradley told the second of two mayoral candidate forums in the campaign.
“But the reality is that’s who and what I am. I’ve given my whole life to this community. I have no pension. I have nothing from this job except the memories and privilege of serving you,” he said.
Gillis countered, saying she doesn’t believe in “strongman” leadership.
“It’s not about being the most experienced in the room – although that’s a great asset…what you really want is someone who can collaborate and co-operate with the new people (on council),” she said.
Gillis and Bradley spoke to an audience of about 80 assembled by the Seaway Kiwanis at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club.
Kiwanis member Toby Bidtnes said the other two mayoral candidates, Kip Cuthbert and Fred Ingram, were invited to participate but did not show up.
Gillis and Bradley each dealt head-on with the prickly issue of Bradley’s record of harassing city hall staff during the last term.
Twice he was docked pay after two separate investigations found he had bullied staff. Three of four senior administrators who filed complaints left their jobs, and Bradley was barred from speaking directly to staff. Gillis, a city councillor the past 15 years, was appointed intermediary.
“I won’t belabor that point,” Gillis said during opening remarks. “(Intermediary) is not a role I sought out and it was not much fun, to be honest, but I took it on anyway because I can work with people in a wide variety of circumstances.
“I’m a collaborator and a networker. That’s what I do.”
Bradley, speaking to an audience weighted with council candidates who have said they support him, began by saying he would speak from the heart.
Real change is needed at City Hall, said the 30-year mayor, Ontario’s second-longest council head after Milton Mayor Gord Kantz.
“It’s about the balance between the political people and the regime that is running City Hall…,” Bradley said.
He said he’s disappointed Sarnia’s debt increased last term with more taxes and staff added.
“But the bigger issue for me is this: Citizens have been refused the right to speak at council,” he said to applause.
Bradley said he and veteran city councillor David Boushy were “gagged” when they tried to speak about such issues as hospital demolition and naming rights for the sports complex.
“I’ll admit the last couple of years (saw) great tension at City Hall. I will admit some responsibility for that, but all I was doing was asking the questions that needed to be asked.”
Bradley went on to say he made mistakes and learned some lessons.
When asked if he participated in training to improve relations at City Hall, Bradley said the training he signed up for was cancelled in December of 2015 because the trainer wasn’t available.
He said he ultimately sought counselling on his own.
“It was quite valuable to me. And at the end they said, you know what? You don’t have an anger issue. You don’t have a harassment issue. You have a stress issue.”
Gillis said she intends to repair roads, support local industry, cut red tape and make sure staff is empowered to work hard and make Sarnia an employer of choice.
She added she is concerned Sarnia has lost 6,000 good-paying jobs during the years Bradley has been mayor.
“Our population has been stagnant and our children have left town to find work,” Gillis said. “…I want to take the city forward, to press the fast-forward button, not the reset button,” she said, taking a jab at Bradley’s pledge to undo the past four years and “reset” council’s position on everything from debt reduction to IT at City Hall.
Voting started Oct. 11 and is ongoing around-the-clock until 8 p.m. Oct. 22. Votes can be cast by computer, telephone, cell phone, iPad, tablet or laptop.
Anyone with technical difficulties can go to a voter help centre at City Hall daily until Oct. 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Oct. 22 from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Help centres are also available at Clearwater Arena, Bright’s Grove School and St. Patrick’s High School from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Oct. 22.