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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Letter: Refusal to allow candidate meetings at community centre is misguided
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

The misguided decision by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake chief administrator, Marnie Cluckie, and the acting town clerk to not rent the community centre auditorium to FocusNOTL was shown in full force at last Tuesday night’s mayoral Meet & Greet.

Due to capacity limits at the NOTL Legion, we had to turn many people away at the door. They were not happy.

And a woman with mobility issues was unable to come because she could not navigate the stairs to the second-floor Legion hall.

We could not live stream the event because the Legion does not have the broadband capacity that the community centre does. And, lastly, a reporter was not allowed to enter because we were already at capacity.

As a result, the Town of NOTL staff have done a great disservice to the residents they profess to serve.

Because even though we said we would comply with the requirement to have all candidates attend, the town insisted that we have all 20 candidates representing three different candidate groups, be at a single event.

The stock answer from the town is: “That’s the rule. No political events at the community centre.”

But they allowed it in 2018 for the Chamber of Commerce.  

This year I was first told “no” by the then-town clerk, before he resigned.

Then, the acting town clerk said I could rent the community centre but only if I had all the candidates there at the same time.

When I said we would comply with the all-candidates condition, but attendance would be spread over five nights, all would be treated equally and each session’s questions would be put to all candidates, I got no response.

I explained the benefit of giving candidates up to 25 minutes of air time versus having  all 20 candidates at one meeting where they would be lucky to get three or four minutes.

When we followed the FocusNOTL format in 2018, all candidates received 10 minutes to present their platform and answered five questions each.

In many of the all-candidate meetings put on by other entities, some candidates didn’t even get a chance to speak.

I think some councillors advocated for my approach, but also were told, “That’s the rule.”

My point in all this is that there was plenty of time for councillors to change the rule, if indeed it needed changing. Staff continues to run the policy show at council.

Instead, councillors did what they normally do when confronted by staff – just accept and move on.

I believe we need staff that can think outside the box and put residents’ interests first before enacting policy and we need councillors who will stand up to staff and tell them, “We are the elected officials and we make policy.”

On the bright side, at our first meeting at the Legion, we were able to record the session and post it on YouTube. On the first afternoon the recording was available more than 600 people viewed it.

The interest in our format meant a full house, standing room only. I’m happy that our little group is making a difference by giving all candidates an unfiltered opportunity to get their message to voters.

The Legion gave us a favourable rental rate and we encouraged people to make a donation to the Legion in recognition of their civic contribution. We collected $347.

I am very proud of my fellow NOTLers for their generosity. I asked for contributions of loonies and toonies and we got mostly folding money.

Joe Accardo
FocusNOTL