A wide-ranging question and answer session for Bracebridge’s two mayoral candidates was attended by nearly 150 people.
The Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate between incumbent Graydon Smith and challenger Lori-Lyn Giaschi-Pacini on Wednesday night. A number of topics were curated from the public and asked by Bruce Kruger.
In their opening statements, both candidates affirmed their commitment to the town and its people, but also to the challenges that lay ahead in terms of affordable housing, the hospital and getting a new arena complex completed.
There were a number of questions presented. We have selected roughly half of those presented and transcribed those responses in full.
What are your top three priorities other than the hospital?
LL-GP – Hospital funding is definitely one of them. Bracebridge needs to have an advocate at the table for the people. Without an advocate at the table, the people don’t have anyone to fight for them.
The arena and library complex is another area we need to be focusing on and getting that 68-year-old arena moved to a new location. And get us a new library in our town.
The other thing we need to be looking at is unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it is the new cannabis laws. That is something we are going to have to hit as soon as we come into power in December because time is short to be making major decisions on this. We want to make sure we make the right decisions for the people of Bracebridge.
GS – I am going to take the hospital as a given and certainly reiterate the need for housing in the community. We’ve seen the need spike in the community in the past 18 to 24 months. Supply is not keeping pace with demand, especially in the rental market.
We need to make it through policy changes easier for developers to get rid of some of those upfront costs that can be barriers to make it expensive to develop in Muskoka.
I think there are things we can do that don’t impact the municipality in any meaningful way but will be meaningful to developers. Working with them, realtors and developers we can find that path.
Certainly, we talked about the arena and library complex. We are getting to a point where we don’t want to put good money into a bad facility. So we want to get that looked after.
The other thing is managing our planning for the future to ensure all growth is managed growth. And that we are working towards a community that retains that Bracebridge character and continues to grow.
Please explain your approach to the housing problem, affordable and upwards in our community, especially when many say, not in my backyard. Would you support a municipal land transfer tax if that option was granted?
LL-GP – I don’t know I would support a land transfer tax. I have talked to a number of residents and I’m not hearing support for another tax. I think that we need to find other ways to gain revenue at Town Hall. We do need to start to get new developments we need to start making sure those developments, that there is affordable housing within those new developments. We need this for the young people and we need this for the people wanting to downsize. So we need to be cognizant about what we are lacking so when new developments come into town we need to make sure that parts of those developments are fulfilling the need within our housing market and that is affordable housing.
GS – Thanks again. I ’ve talked about housing already so I don’t want to repeat myself. The market is particularly stressed because of some of the changes the federal government has made around mortgage lending and (the) stress test. The affordable housing market for purchases now is in the high 200s and the low 300 thousand dollars. Which seems like an incredible amount of money so I think we really need to be looking at some very different policy initiatives like land lease communities and working with the development community to make sure we are reducing costs where we can without impacting the municipality, but those that have a big impact on the developer, to make it a little more friendly to do business here. Make sure the development community wants to be here and seize the opportunity to help.
As for the land transfer tax, I don’t think there are enough transactions to really make it worthwhile specifically within the municipality. It certainly would be poorly received by the realty community who is already commented on that.
The population of Bracebridge has remained stagnant for a number of years. What would you do to increase the growth of population businesses and services?
LL-GP – I believe the reason it has remained stagnant is because we have lost a lot of very good businesses. When we lost those businesses the people could not find jobs. So the people had to leave. So that decreased our population. And then it turned around when people were wanting to come back and a lot of those people are seniors. Because they don’t need jobs. They want to retire in a place like Muskoka especially down in the southern region where they are selling their homes for a high dollar and they are being able to come up here and live in paradise and buy a cheaper home and bank the rest of their money. So I think that is the real reason why we have been stagnant. Again we need to get businesses. We need to create jobs and this will bring the younger people back with their families.
GS – I want to dispel the notion that we are not growing. I don’t think that is a fair assessment. We grew at four per cent rate over the last five years between the 2011 and 2016 census which was the same as Huntsville and more than Gravenhurst. And some of the townships are decreasing. There are towns in Ontario that are contracting. So we are still growing and we are on the positive side. And we are growing jobs. There is no question the unemployment rate five years ago was 10 per cent in this area. And now it is about 5.8 per cent in the last statistics I saw. So it is getting better. Things don’t get better at the wave of a wand. It is incremental and we have to work hard to get businesses here. I think that is working. We’ve got policies that are attractive to business and we have made Bracebridge a very business friendly community. But you know the ultimate solution for growth is jobs and opportunity and housing to go along with it. That has become a common theme tonight and something I am dedicated to working towards.
LL-GP – I will be working diligently on your behalf as a voice at the Bracebridge and District table. I take my responsibility very seriously, It is time for change. Bracebridge needs a mayor who is available to the people as and when needed. I have helped hundreds, possibly thousands of residents battling injustices when no other civic leader would do so. I am the only District Councillor who is tirelessly fought for all residents in Muskoka. As mayor, I will continue to assist residents in any way that I can in order to address their concerns while at the same time respecting the value of your dollar. As mayor, I will continue to be there for the people in the future. Bracebridge needs a mayor who will foster better communication with the residents of the town including residents in areas affected by reconstruction and or new development.
I have always been openly available to any and all residents and I am committed to finding better ways to inform and communicate with residents. Bracebridge needs a mayor who has a track record of working with and supporting various associations like the Friends of Muskoka and the Muskoka Lakes Association fighting against things like high-density development on our waterfronts.
Additionally, I was in favour of realizing seasonal residents be included as a whole individual and not one half, which is used in deciding representation around the table. They own property and pay taxes here just like anyone of us and therefore they deserve the same respect.
Bracebridge needs a mayor who will speak up to right a wrong. Again, I have a track record of doing so and will continue to do so as your mayor.
Bracebridge needs a mayor with business experience and acumen. My penchant for business is well known. As mayor, I will use this business experience to encourage new businesses to locate to Bracebridge. As mayor, I will use my business experience to cut waste and inefficiencies at town hall.
As mayor, I will use my business experience to make informed and financially responsible decisions on behalf of residents and businesses alike.
Bracebridge needs a mayor who is a team player and who promotes open and transparent discussion at council. Decisions at town hall should be made by the mayor and all elected councillors. The councillors must be fully apprised of what is happening and must be included in all engagements that occur. Staff is there to advise but council is the governing body with the responsibility to make the final decisions.
As mayor, I will ensure there is full and frank disclosure of all relevant information and full discussion before any decisions are made.
Bracebridge needs a new mayor who is passionate about our town and who will take the appropriate steps to protect it by allowing only well thought out and responsible developments including road re-construction. Such developments and projects must fit with the character and charm of our town. I was born and raised in this town. I want it to be prosperous. But I also want it to retain as much as possible the character, beauty, and charm that I grew up with that we all treasure. It is a new day and it is time for a new mayor.
I have proven communication and leadership skills. I have the skills to promote our town and region. I have the ability to lead and guide council. I have the business acumen to make financially responsible decisions. I have the determination to achieve prosperity without sacrificing the environment or character, beauty and charm of our town.
Most importantly I have the stamina, integrity and personal resolve to truly be a mayor for the people.
GS – Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak and answer your questions. I will say it is a little bit rich to position oneself as the only person who stood up for Muskokans around the table. There are 22 district councillors that are all working hard for their constituents and there are district councillors in many wards in Bracebridge including myself that work hard for constituents every day. So I reject the notion that only one person is doing the job around the table for this community. In fact, I have been doing the job to the best of my ability for the last eight years. I think I have brought energy, zeal, and frankly a new approach to doing the job in the community. When it comes to communication I don’t think anybody has embraced new styles of communication as much as I have done. Nor do I think anybody has been as willing to go out places and meet, whether it’s their house, the coffee shop, the grocery store or the sidewalk, or on Facebook. By doing Q and As, town halls, answering questions for three hours at a time with bad typing skills at that.
I really think I have done my very best to get the message out to the residents of Bracebridge and beyond. I think that has been recognized and I am happy it has been recognized by other leaders in Ontario that have asked me to fill certain roles representing small urban communities and I have been proud to do that. It’s been suggested in the paper a couple of times that takes away from my roles here.
It certainly does not. It makes me a better mayor in this community. I know that I need to learn from others, other great community leaders throughout Ontario and bring that home and use those approaches here. So I am proud of my work for municipalities in Ontario and proud of my work in Bracebridge.
I’m also proud that we have led a council for the last two terms that does its business without drama and rancour and moves on. We debate, have a great conversation. We don’t bring personalities into it and we roll on to the next piece of business. That means we get business done in Bracebridge. And that doesn’t happen with every council but it has happened with ours. And I think it is because I give everybody a wide berth to say what they need to say but without getting too far off topic.
We have made a difference in the lives of people in Bracebridge by a number of programs. One of them is creating the simple but effective transit system that is carrying more people than we expected and helping the young and old in our community. It’s not perfect but we needed it to start somewhere.
One day a lady stopped me on the street and she said: “Are you the Mayor?” I said yes I was. She said “I just want to tell you that I have been taking the taxi to see my grandson across town several times a week and I don’t have a lot of money and it’s been a lot of money to do that. But now that I can take the bus I don’t have to spend my money to get to my grandson. I can spend money on my grandson.”
That’s why we do things in this town. That is why we build social infrastructure in this town as much as we build core infrastructure. But we do need core infrastructure. We built a new fire hall in conjunction with the District of Muskoka Paramedic outfit making it a joint facility that not only looks amazing but functions well. We saved the taxpayer money by combining services together and bringing the project in on time and on budget that will serve us for decades to come.
We’ve been frugal with your money because we have been putting money away for capital. Not piling it into operations. Unlike higher levels of government, we don’t run deficits at the municipal level. We don’t have an operating deficit in Bracebridge. We borrow some money from time to time to build capital infrastructure that will be around long after that loan is paid for. Even our external debt right now is relatively low with the fire hall coming online and purchasing the Timber Mart lands which is something the community definitely wanted to do.
Our economic development initiatives have been talked about tonight and winning awards. Our community improvement plan which was designed to help commercial building owners downtown — oversubscribed for three years running. Because we have got new people coming in, new business owners with fresh ideas and they want access to capital and they want help from their community and we are providing it for them and that’s why we are winning awards for those programs.
I see a downtown that mixes waterfront and retail together using the lumber yardlands that we purchased attracting visitors to a place that is fun and exciting year round. Leveraging the trail network that comes to a head in that space and using it as a launch pad for people to come to our community whether they live here or are visiting here for adventure.
We need to complete our new arena complex quickly. I’ve been advocating with the province for that funding. Frankly, it is time they stepped up. They have not provided reliable and consistent funding for recreation projects for several years. We’ve been good soldiers. We’ve waited. We need our share.
And lastly, we must always be listening to you. Just because we have that document, the strategic plan. It’s just a guide. Ideas change, opportunities come and go. We have to be nimble and respond when needed. I have a vision for this community and I hope you will support that vision. Thank you.