SUMMERSIDE – Monday’s Summerside mayoral debate was lively affair.
The three people vying to be the city’s next leader and 22 others running for council seats gathered at the Harbourfront Theatre to make their cases as to why they deserve to represent their city. They were joined by a nearly full auditorium of guests, eager to analyze what the candidates had to say.
The candidates for mayor, Nancy Beth Guptill, Brent Gallant and Basil Stewart were posed a series of questions decided upon beforehand by the event sponsors, the Journal Pioneer and the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce.
Many of their answers earned cheers from the crowd, while others received skeptical murmurs.
When the subject of the failed $1.3 million Michael Jackson tribute concert in 2010, and the Hopping Report into the fiasco, was brought up, Stewart and Gallant clashed. Stewart was mayor and Gallant was on council at the time.
Stewart had mentioned that Gallant had voted to in favour of sending a second payment to the failed concert’s promoters at the time.
“You said if we didn’t send the second $500,000 we were going to lose our first $500,000 – that’s what you told me,” charged Gallant back at Stewart; the two men raising their voices and speaking over each other, before moderator Brad Works, managing editor of the Journal Pioneer, stepped in to move the conversation along.
The rest of the debate was more collegial.
Stewart, who served as the city’s mayor from 1985 to 2014, weaved his messaging of lowering taxes and electrical rates, building a new fire hall and working cooperatively with provincial and federal funding partners, throughout his answers to many of the questions.
“There are provincial and federal dollars available for a lot of projects – and I want to work on that if I’m elected mayor. I know I can work well with the other two orders of government. It’s important to sit down and negotiate … and I’m prepared to do that,” said Stewart.
Gallant, current councillor for Ward 4, and who has been on council off and on for 17 years, focused much of his talking points on the progress made by the current iteration of council. He touched on things like increased spending on infrastructure, the fact that the city’s debt has been reduced by several million dollars, the pension liability has been decreased significantly and on more unique projects like Credit Union Place’s solar farm.
“This experience will serve me well in the job as your mayor. I have a high level of energy and a commitment to work hard on your behalf,” said Gallant.
Unlike her opponents, Guptill is a newcomer to Summerside municipal politics. But she downplayed her position as a potentially anti-establishment candidate and said she would rather people vote for her based on her experience, attitude and ideas.
“This election is about looking into our future. We have a strong economy and now is the time we start looking ahead. It’s going to take new vision, fresh perspectives, innovative approaches and full leadership from municipal government to get us there.”
In all, the trio tackled nine questions on issues ranging from debt and transparency to youth outmigration and the city-owned electric utility.
Candidates running for a council seat were each given two minutes to make their case and talk about the issues important to them. The few that did go over their limit quickly found their microphones cut off as moderators kept the proceedings moving at a brisk pace.
Topics on the council-specific side of the event varied widely, though there were some recurring themes. Affordable housing, economic growth, reducing the cost of accessing Credit Union Place and crime were all things prospective councillors from all areas of the city brought up.
There were, however, more ward-specific concerns as well. Numerous candidates in wards which comprise the former municipalities of Wilmot and St. Eleanors brought up ditch infilling as something they wanted more focus on. Candidates in Ward 5: Hillcrest – Platte River spoke of ongoing concern regarding the Pope Road extension and the traffic issues it creates.