Gan council hopefuls face off for last time

From housing to crime, Gananoque faces a number of issues ahead, town council hopefuls told a packed house at the Firehall Theatre at an all-candidates meeting this week.

Candidates include Colin Brown, Bruce Burt, Katherine Christensen, Patrick Kirby, Anne-Marie Koiner, Vicki Leakey and Marion Sprenger, while Couns. Matt Harper and David Osmond are seeking re-election. They faced off in their final debate before Monday’s municipal election.

All candidates were present for this debate.

On the topic of what projects or ideas would be championed or promoted within the first year of being on council, Brown said it would be affordable housing; for Leakey it would be communication with the community, along with public forums; Sprenger said it would be accessibility and community and grassroots programming; for Koiner, it would be effective management of the town’s limited resources.

“Look after the pennies and the dollars will follow,” said Koiner.

Burt said he’d promote an independent seniors’ centre and affordable seniors’ housing within his first year on council; Kirby’s priority would be the establishment of a youth centre in town to combat crime; Harper pointed to promotion of tourism, youth and seniors’ centres; Christensen would focus on tourism; a major topic of discussion for Osmond is the environment and protection of the town’s waters.

“We also have a housing shortage; it’s not just affordable housing,” Brown said on the topic. “The Kinsmen (building) has been a hot topic. We need to find a plan for that going forward.”

On the topic of crime in Gananoque, hopefuls said it can be combated with a public forum for better understanding of the root problem, and more social and youth programming.

“The more programming we have the better we are,” said Christensen.

Regarding increasing winter tourism in Gananoque, Leakey said the town is in a position to bring in tourism 12 months a year, capitalizing on the infrastructure the town already has, like the arena and theatres; Sprenger said focusing on the town’s atmosphere is paramount for tourism.

“Surroundings must be clean, presentable and clear of obstruction,” said Sprenger.

“Property standards can be an issue and should be enforced. Although I do have a concern of too much investment in one economic driver, tourism income is discretionary spending. Other sustainable investment opportunities that provide a feedback loop into tourism is needed, like new home business concepts.”

Koiner said tourism in the winter can be improved by programming the town already has, along with having one access point where information is put together regarding programming and activities available in the town.

Kirby echoed Leakey’s thoughts; so too did Harper and Christensen, who added that synergy was missing within the town’s tourism community, and that the organizations that promote tourism in the town should be able to work together.

Brown said programming and attractions like the curling club, the Canada 150 rink and hockey tournaments can bring in winter tourism.

Osmond said winter tourism is a challenge as the town competes with TLTI and Kingston.

“I think there is some risk of throwing too much money at winter tourism events, especially when we know our prime season,” Osmond said, pointing to the summer months being a prime season for tourism in the community.

“We need to focus on our Francophone visitors; we need to find a way to get some New York (license) plates back up here as well,” said Osmond. “If we build it, they may not come, so we want to make sure we don’t forget that we’re focusing on our key season.”

(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)