Sign up for our free weekday bulletin.

‘Polite Debate’: Big field of council hopefuls agree on just about everything

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Debate among council hopefuls broke out for one brief moment Wednesday when Michelle Parks challenged incumbent Terry Burrell on the condition of Sarnia’s roads and sewer system.

Otherwise, the 21 candidates participating in the municipal debate for Sarnia’s four city council seats were remarkably cordial as they answered questions at The Imperial Theatre.

Susan MacFarlane receiving some technical assistance as Anne Marie Gillis introduces herself at Wednesday’s debate. (Cathy Dobson photo).

Virtually all agreed that improving infrastructure is the city’s number one priority, although candidate Briana Reid received applause when she said Sarnia council’s top concern should be mental health.

Burrell was the lone voice on stage defending council’s record on infrastructure.

“We have a very good asset management plan,” he said, adding that about $100 million has been spent to improve Sarnia’s infrastructure in recent years.

“There’s always something that needs to be done but we have done very well looking after our assets. We are doing well,” Burrell said.

Parks was the only one who took him to task.

Andrew Stokley and David Ross Wood. (Cathy Dobson photo)

“I would say if you were a resident of Coronation Park or central Sarnia…you wouldn’t think the asset plan is all that great,” she fired at him.

Parks referred to fellow candidate Georgette Parsons who told the audience earlier she is running because of her concern about Sarnia’s infrastructure and, specifically, the hardship caused by massive flooding this summer. On Aug. 4, approximately 430 homes were flooded during an extreme weather event that overwhelmed the city’s sanitary sewer system.

“It was very disheartening to see all the people’s (belongings) on the boulevard,” Parsons said.  “…to me, it’s crucial to refurbish our antiquated system and mitigate flooding….”

The city’s asset management plan needs “a serious look at,” Parks told Burrell. “That’s definitely a number one priority.”

And that was it for debate. The format for the all-candidates event allowed only four or five candidates on stage at one time and required each group to answer two questions submitted by local residents. Moderator Peter Norris repeatedly tried to encourage debate and specifically allotted time for it, but the candidates chose to stick to their campaign platforms. 

Organizers said they were surprised with how little debate occurred but said the format successfully allowed voters to get to know candidates and decide if they were articulate and informed.

Wednesday’s event was the second of two all-candidate debates sponsored by the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, The Book Keeper and The Imperial Theatre. Nearly 290 attended in person while another 200 watched online.

Notably, there were four candidates who did not participate in what many say was one of the best opportunities to discuss issues with the electorate before election day Oct. 24. Incumbent George Vandenberg was not there. Kip Cuthbert, Mike McCann and Marie Williams were also not on stage.

Tuesday’s all-candidates event at the Imperial Theatre featured mayoral candidates Mike Bradley and Nathan Colquhoun, as well as the slate hoping to win city/county seats on council.  Both events are available for viewing in full on the Chamber’s website until Oct. 23. The link is:

More like this