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Perth South candidates face off in all-candidates forum

Moderator John McIntosh said questions from the floor at Wednesday’s candidates forum in Perth South should be “professional and respectful in nature.”

They were.

The same can be said of candidates’ presentations and their responses, including those of mayoral rivals Bill Wilhelm and Roger Fuhr, who are repeating a contest for the mayor’s chain of office they engaged in four years ago.

Fuhr in his opening remarks fired a few salvos, terming the past four years of government “embarrassing” and suggesting the township could do better.

And he suggested to the large crowd present at South Perth Centennial Public School they deserved better services and “a bigger bang for your buck.”

Still, what followed by way of questions and answers indicated a remarkable degree of consensus among all of the candidates – including the two running for mayor.

They all indicated opposition to the prospect of wind turbines, backing council’s already stated position the township is “not a willing host.”

They unanimously voiced support for the notion of showing a united front once council decisions are made, and several candidates suggested it’s time to stop rehashing the past and to look to the future.

Everyone appeared to agree that, when it comes to replacing or repairing bridges, priorities have to be set based on assessments and informed reporting and on what’s affordable.

A suggestion from the floor testing candidates’ views on discontinuing the ward system of voting also put everyone, including incumbent Mayor Wilhelm and contender Fuhr, on the same side in favour of across the board voting.

Currently, electors in Downie Ward elect three councillor representatives. Their counterparts in Blanshard Ward elect three as well.

A suggestion from questioner Peter Black that the township consider debenturing to keep a couple of threatened bridges functioning gained some traction and, to a man and woman, all 12 candidates for council and the two mayoral contestants had no trouble stating something positive the current council had achieved.

Wilhelm pointed to the township’s $5 million in reserves, which he suggested could be used in conjunction with federal or provincial grants – when they come – to fund infrastructure projects. He suggested as well the reserves will allow for a consistent tax rate.

Taxes hadn’t increased more than 2% per year, he said, and the township has “zero long-term debt.”

Incumbent Blanshard councillors Liz Armstrong, Cathy Barker and Melinda Zurbrigg, and Downie incumbents Bill Adams, Jim Aitcheson and Stuart Arkett collectively pointed to achievements that included the township’s new waste disposal site, an asset management plan, paving of 35 kilometres of roadway and repair or replacement of 10 of about 60 bridges.

Armstrong pointed out it can cost about $2 million for each bridge.

Despite the congeniality there were a few hints of discord.

Candidate Doug Hicks, for example, complained of a bickering council.

“No one seems to get along,” he said.

Bill Jeffrey, one of five candidates for Downie Ward, said he was “concerned about the way we spend money.”

Chuck Armstrong, one of seven contenders for three Blanshard seats, said nothing is to be gained by “hashing over what’s happened in the past.”

Sam Corriveau, also a Blanshard candidate, called for a more aggressive approach to attracting new business in the township. He acknowledged he owns land in the James Street South area but suggested expanding industry there and diversifying is the path to increasing the township’s industrial tax base.

As in the last election, the continuing depopulation of the township and need to attract young people was mentioned, along with the need to retain township homes for future use.

Fuhr made the point that he would ensure, if elected, that citizens have “the right to input” for the entire four years of council.

The candidates forum – which included school board candidates – was staged by the Perth South Ratepayers Committee. An estimated 130 citizens attended.