THUNDER BAY – With 26 candidates vying for the five available at-large positions on the next term of Thunder Bay city council, voters will have plenty of choices when marking their ballot.
In an effort to put faces to the names, about 75 people came out for a Tuesday evening meet-and-greet session with 21 of the at-large hopefuls at the Moose Hall.
“I think this election is very important for our city, for our community, and we really want to make an educated decision as to who to vote in,” Lori McKay said. “Who will do their part for our city, for our community, to affect positive change?”
Seven of the at-large contenders are either incumbent councillors or have previous Thunder Bay city hall experience. With such a crowded field, many voters are still trying to learn about some of the political newcomers.
“I’m trying to distinguish between them all. There are so many candidates that it’s helpful to see them in person, get to meet them and see what their positions are,” Shawn Bell said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to gauge what their platforms are just by seeing what they say online.”
The format, similar to speed dating, allowed voters to sit down across the table from a candidate for a five-minute interval before they were encouraged to move along to a different candidate.
The face-to-face experience presented a chance for voters to see how candidates respond to direct questions.
“When you’re in a live situation, people don’t have their answers as rehearsed. They’re answering off the cuff and it helps to give you a better idea of what people actually are standing for,” McKay said. “Is it just the usual political-speak or is it something genuine to their heart?”
For Bell, the format meant that candidates would have to expand on their ideas and how to make them happen.
“I’ve heard a lot of nice things being said about how everyone needs to work together and do wonderful things but I haven’t heard a lot of details about what the platforms actually are,” Bell said. “That’s what I’m hoping to hear.”
The candidates also had a chance to learn about which issues matter the most to different people.
“Crime is a big thing, as well as positive change for the city moving forward and economic growth,” Rachelle Murphy said.
McKay, who also pointed to crime and public safety as key issues, stressed the importance of determining which candidates are capable of being proactive and thinking creatively.
“You want to make the best possible choice and you don’t want to take that lightly. Our tax dollars are invested in these people and what they do for our city. If you don’t make an educated decision, you may as well take your tax dollars and flush it down the toilet or burn it,” McKay said.
“It’s not going to do us much good if we’re not choosing the best people for the job and people that are actually wanting to bring our city forward into this new millennium we are facing. We can’t keep doing things the old ways that we’ve been stuck in the past of doing.”
Bell wants to see how the candidates plan to strengthen one of the city’s neighbourhoods.
“I really want to hear what the plans are for filling in the cores, especially the south side – Fort William – which is where we live,” Bell said. “What are we going to do to bring people back to the downtown core?”
Online and telephone voting opened on Tuesday and will be available continuously for 24 hours a day until polls close on Oct. 22. Advance polls are open at the West Thunder Community Centre on Wednesday and the 55 Plus Centre on Thursday and Friday. The election date is Oct. 22.