Lake of Bays Mayor Terry Glover took turns with mayoral hopeful Linda Thompson fielding questions from the public.
Key topics of the hour and a half long forum, held at the Dwight Community Centre last week, were development, housing, and being more represented at the District of Muskoka.
In his opening remarks, Glover listed his priorities as improving broadband service, noting the recently-acquired fibre internet at the Baysville library; tourism and arts in the community, including the renovation of two community centres; and improving emergency services, which involves getting the township its own paramedic station.
Thompson’s opening statement listed her qualifications, with “significant” business management experience, as well as 14 years on council in Port Hope, eight of them as mayor. Her listed priorities included accountability to the taxpayer, and management through “strong strategies, protocols, and policies.”
Responding to a question about the role of council in planning matters, Glover said development should follow the town’s official plan as much as possible.
“I think it’s important, from council’s perspective, that we really adhere to the official plan. We follow all those policies, and certainly the planning act,” said Glover, noting that he only has one vote as mayor, and has to respect if council decides otherwise.
“Council’s job is to work with the community, and I think a real leadership role is required in dealing with developers,” said Thompson. “The mayor has the opportunity to go out and meet with developers. They can’t make decisions on their own, but they can meet, they can put forward the best interests of the community, what they want to see, and bring that back to council and planning staff.”
Glover noted that he’s met with many developers as mayor. “I’d like to think we come to conclusions that benefit both sides. It can be difficult sometimes.”
They both cited Langmaid’s Island, the focus of a previous question about an Ontario Local Planning Appeal Tribunal decision to approve development of 32 lots on Lake of Bays’ second-largest island, despite the efforts of the township.
Thompson said a “strong approach” is needed to keep developers from overreaching, later noting that the township had “very little control” over the tribunal’s decision. Glover agreed, saying he’s already working to keep the development “as small as possible” and believes they can keep construction an extra five metres away from the shoreline.
Both candidates agreed that resorts should be held to the same development standards as everyone else, with current conditions of the property upheld.
On the topic of housing, Glover said the municipality is looking at tiny home developments, adding that they need to do better than municipalities, where a $650,000 home is considered “affordable.” Thompson says her focus would be on backlots and hamlet areas, and would discount developers who sign long-term agreements to keep a property as attainable housing.
Both candidates agreed that repurposing Short Term Rental Accomodation (STRA) properties into affordable housing is not the solution, as many of these properties could not qualify as such.
Fielding several questions on the township’s interests being outvoted at the district level, Thompson and Glover both said they would advocate for better representation.
“You can argue back and forth, you can discuss it however you want to, it’s going to have to get down to working together,” said Glover. “We’re going to have to sit down with the towns, individually, and work out a plan.”
Glover added that the township has petitioned the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, and he has personally met with minister Steve Clark in the past, but found no success. However, he said he believes a partnership with local municipalities is possible, based on recent discussions.
“I would not wait, nor would I hope that it comes up. I would make sure it comes up. It’s about quiet consultation and negotiation, meeting with individual councillors and individual communities,” said Thompson. “I’m sure many of the other rural communities feel the same, that they are pushed over by the three towns.”
Thompson added that she was part of a successful effort to downsize the council of a different upper-tier municipality in the past, and believes she can be again.
Glover and Thompson were both in favour of calling a referendum on the matter, either district-wide or in partner municipalities.
The municipal election is Oct. 24.