The fireworks were set off early and often at Tuesday night’s mayoral candidate’s debate.
Of course, with a rash of questions loaded with gunpowder, explosions and accusations were bound to follow close behind.
First and foremost was reaction to a $126-million lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city by Horizon Wind, upset at the city’s decision to approve just 14 of its 18 planned wind turbines on the Nor’Wester Mountain range.
Mayor Lynn Peterson, handcuffed for legal reasons callled the claim unfounded, but, echoing an official city statement released earlier in the afternoon, said she has yet to see a statement of claim from the city.
“I’d like to tell you more but I can’t,” Peterson said.
Keith Hobbs wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the topic, and took the offensive, saying the entire proposal was poorly negotiated handled from the outset, earning the applause of most in the 300-plus crowd at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
“This council has put this city in jeopardy,” said Hobbs.
Hobbs added he had earlier predicted the city would face a lawsuit from Horizon Wind, though his $26 million figure was about $100 million less than he expected. Peterson said at the time the statement was uttered it was a ridiculous claim and simply not true, that there was no lawsuit when the two faced off at the Lakehead Labour Centre Sept. 16.
“To say there was was nonsense,” Peterson said.
Third-time candidate Frank Pullia, who voted against proposed turbine locations Monday night, said he had reservations about the project from the beginning , but like Peterson he believes the lawsuit has no grounds.
“I think the city is in a good position,” said Pullia, elected in an at-large bid in 2006.
Again Hobbs went on the attack,saying Pullia only voted against the project to win votes in South Neebing.
“Four years ago you should have had it right,” Hobbs said . ‘
But when the discussion turned to crime, it was Peterson who went on the offensive, stating that although Hobbs has repeatedly claimed to have had a crime prevention strategy in place since 1997, her research shows nothing of the sort, she said, poring through minutes of Police Services Board meetings from the dates Hobbs said he presented his plan to the board.
“There is no record of any plan anywhere,” said Peterson, adding she also looked into other years such as 2004 , when she sat on the board. “A crime prevention plan would have made the news.”
Pullia said on his two police and one paramedic ride-alongs last year he realized that substance abuse is plaguing police and other emergency service resources.
“They’re clogging up the system,” Pullia said. “We should have done something already but as a councillor I can only do so much.”
Hobbs said as a former police officer he’s been on 10,000 ride-alongs and that both Pullia and Peterson were on council when neighbourhood policing was disbanded. Peterson countered saying that community policing was a matter for the police board and chief.
“Council is supposed to keep this city safe,” Hobbs told the incumbents.
Colin Burridge added that it wasn’t just the city’s job to keep people safe.
“It’s the police’s job to make sure you’re safe,” said Burridge before telling an anecdote where it took city police 45 minutes to respond to an assault in his neighbourhood one night. “Why are all the police officers on in the daytime?”
Hobbs said when he’s mayor he’ll take one day a week called “Walkabout Wednesdays” where he and members of council would walk around town and speak with residents and businesses. Hobbs said he would make up that day by working Saturday.
“I’m not going to gyp you out of a day,” Hobbs told the audience.
He then detailed his experience working with federal and provincial governments through various roles within police services before Peterson told him he’s missing some experience.
“But you don’t know municipal government,” Peterson said to some jeers from the crowd.
“If that’s experience,” Hobbs told Peterson. “I don’t want any part of it.”
When asked whether there was a plan B for waterfront development, should private developers back out, Peterson said she expects the hotelier to sign a deal with the developers in a matter of weeks and that plans have not changed.
“The developers are not walking,” Peterson said.
Meanwhile Pullia said all along he’s had concerns about the development at Prince Arthur’s Landing.
“The waterfront was supposed to unite the city, not divide it,” said Pullia.
Jeff Irwin, who also vocally opposed the Horizon Wind plan, said the problem with waterfront development, and other city projects, is that part-time councillors are trying to do a full-time job. As a result, the city won’t get what they expected from the project.
“Have we created a destination?” Irwin asked. “Or have we created a housing development?”
The municipal election is scheduled for Oct. 25.
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