A great deal of careful planning is going into organizing meetings for the unusually large number of Niagara-on-the-Lake candidates running in the Oct. 22 municipal election.
There are two scheduled all-candidates meetings in Niagara-on-the-Lake so far, one at the community centre and one at St. Davids, and others in the planning stages.
The Chamber of Commerce has created a format that includes all 32 candidates – 25 people are seeing one of eight positions for town council, four are hoping to win the one seat at the regional council table, and there are three mayoral candidates. The chamber-organized meeting will be held at the community centre Oct. 4, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm.
The format has been changed from past elections, when audience members could submit questions before the meeting that would be directed at a particular candidate.
To be able to wrap up in a reasonable amount of time, each council candidate will be given three minutes to introduce themselves and speak to the question: what will you do to support business growth during the next term of council, if elected?
Candidates for regional councillor and lord mayor will be given five minutes each to introduce themselves and answer the same question. There will be time at the end of the question period for a meet-and-greet.
All but two of the candidates are available to participate in the evening.
This year, due to limited capacity and the large number of people expected, members of the public were asked to order a complimentary ticket in advance on the chamber website, and the 280 available seats were taken quickly, with a waiting list if more seats can be added.
Nicole Cripps of the Chamber of Commmerce said this week the meeting will be recorded by Cogeco, and organizers were also trying to have it livestreamed for people to watch at home.
The Queenston Ratepayers Association has also scheduled its meeting, and will follow a similar format to other years, but will tighten up the time allotted for the questions and answers, says QRA president Jim Armstrong.
Council candidates will have three minutes to speak initially; regional and mayoral candidates will have five minutes.
There will be questions from the audience as for previous elections, but they must be succinct and to the point, with no rambling, said Armstrong. Candidates will have a minute to respond, controlled by moderators Rob and Helena Copeland, and there will be no debate, he said.
The question period will be divided into 15 minutes each for the group of regional and mayoral candidates, and 30 minutes for the 25 council candidates. All questions must be directed at only one person – no blanket questions, no derogatory or inappropriate language or insinuations, he said, and no “back-and-forth” between questioner and candidate. “The question presented is the one that gets answered.”
The biggest change is a move from the Queenston Library, which only holds 60 people, to the Willowbank lower campus, formerly the Laura Secord school. The building is wheel-chair accessible, and the plan is for about 150 seats for the audience, withl some standing room allowed.
The switch in location also offers more parking, Armstrong sad.
The association members briefly discussed holding two meetings, one for the candidates for council and one for regional council and mayoral candidates.
“It was suggested, but it was going to take twice the organizational time and two nights to bring people out,” said Armstrong. “Instead we decided to go for broke and get it all done in one night.”
It is likely to be “a long haul,” he said, with the expectation of wrapping up around 10:30 p.m., and there may be some candidates who get few or no questions.
“We can't control that, and we don't control the questions. What we can control is this is not a debate session – it's an opportunity to ask questions, and nothing more or less. The one criteria is being polite.”
He and moderator Rob Copeland are prepared to shut down anybody who asks “inappropriate or impolite” questions, he said.
“We like to have an open forum, but we don't tolerate nonsense. We consider badmouthing other candidates inappropriate. We expect they all come forward with an avowed interest in the community, and you've got to hand it to anybody who does that. But to get into dirty politics is not appropriate for NOTL.”
The meeting will be held at 5 Walnut St. in Queenston Wednesday, Sept. 26, doors open at 6 p.m.
St. Davids Ratepayers Association president Gregory Dell says his board members are still working out the format for their meeting, but have chosen dates – they will divide the candidates between two eveings.
The first will be held for mayoral and regional candidates, on Oct. 9. The second, Oct. 16, will be for town councillor candidates. Both meetings will start at 7 p.m. at the St. Davids Lions Hall on York Road.
As in previous years, they expect questions to focus on issues that have an impact on residents of St. Davids, such as the future of the community pool, heritage, and safety and traffic concerns.
Administrators of the Facebook page FocusNOTL are holding a series of meetings, with the focus on the 21 new candidates for town council. Only those who are not currently on council are being invited.
The Facebook post says with the unusually large number of new candidates, and the restricted amount of time they would be afforded at all-candidates meetings, the group wanted to provide a forum for candidates to meet voters, present their qualifications, platform and vision for NOTL “in a more intimate setting.”
The meetings are not open to incumbent candidates, the Facebook post says, “as they are well-known to the electorate and will likely receive most of the ‘air’ time at the all-candidate meetings.”
Four sessions have been scheduled, Sept. 11, Sept. 19, Oct 3 and Oct 9, each with five to six candidates participating. The meetings will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion hall on King Street, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Gary Burroughs, Terry Davis, Stuart McCormack, Sandra O’Connor and Bernhard Peters attended the Sept. 11 meeting.
Norm Arsenault, Simon Bentall, Clare Cameron, Dennis Dick and Jordan Williams will speak Sept. 19.
Allan Bisback, Wendy Cheropita, Andrew Niven, Erwin Wiens and Anne Kurtz-Just will be at the Oct. 3 meeting, and to wrap up the series, Crispin Bottomly, Mark Brown, Lauren Goettler and Katherine Reid will be at the Legion hall Oct. 9.
Written questions are being requested from the public, and will be read to the candidates, each of whom will have an opportunity to answer. Questions can be submitted to NOTLELECTION2018@COGECO.CA. Each candidate will have 10 minutes to speak, followed by a 30 to 45 minute question and answer period, and time for a meet and greet at the end.
There has been some push-back on Facebook – FocusNOTL has been open about wanting change on council, and some see the exclusion of current councillors as undemocratic. Others see it as an opportunity to get to know the large number of new candidates.