In this corner: fans of Fanshawe College moving downtown on the (city) taxpayer’s dime. In that corner: t-shirt clad supporters of incumbent councillor Sandy White, who voted against spending another $10 million to help the school buy the Kingsmill’s building earlier this year.
Who would emerge victorious from the Ward 14 debate Wednesday (Oct. 1)?
Choosing a champion from the five of seven candidates in the southeast London ward who showed up at the debate organized by the Summerside Optimist Club is probably impossible, but at least everyone got a seat this time.
About 135 people attended the debate in the main hall at the Summerside Community Church on Commissioners Road, filling almost three-quarters of the chairs set out.
It was a stark contrast to just about every other ward-level debate so far, with organizers regularly overwhelmed by the interest in the 2014 election and voters packing side rooms in libraries and churches across the Forest City to standing-room-only status.
There was no hollering form the back for candidates to speak up, in fact the church’s sound system pumped the conversation out into the halls at a louder volume than it was within the chapel where the audience cheered and jeered White and challengers Jared Zaifman, who placed second by 116 votes in 2010, the internationally experienced Steve O’Connell, council chambers gallery stalwart Steve Hillier and an energetic, hip-shooting business owner named Allan Tipping.
David Collier and Ali Hamadi were absent.
So with a well-organized event and a relatively respectful crowd, the quest for fire was on in earnest and the closest the evening came had Fanshawe written all over it.
White got into an exchange with an audience member when she tried to explain that she is all for the college in the downtown, but stands by her vote against giving it another $10 million on top of the $20 million already earmarked to draw students to the core.
Council voted 8-7 in favour of the grant top-up in a dramatic end-of-term twist in still-summery September.
Members of the crowd that White said afterward “support Fanshawe” challenged her as she argued that $10 million was earmarked for industrial land development in Ward 14.
“I don’t align with any group,” she said. “I vote my conscience. I can tell you, (at the door people are telling me they) aren’t happy about that. I’m not unhappy about Fanshawe being downtown, but I’m not happy about the extra $10 million. I think they got more than enough.”
The candidates also fielded thoughtful questions on poverty and homelessness, job creation, the downsides of the Southwest Area Plan (SWAP, which some feared would draw more commercial development out of Ward 14) and their ability to commit hours every week to council and the community.
Most candidates answered with a relatively vague variation of “as long as it takes,” but Zaifman said he took a 12-hours-per-week job earlier this year so he would have the time to be a city councillor.
“We’re working for the people," he claimed.