Five of the six mayoral candidates for Cape Breton Regional Municipality weighed in on a proposed new library, among other business topics, at a forum hosted by the local chamber of commerce on Tuesday.
About 80 people attended the event at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, which was also live streamed by the chamber, but one candidate, Archie MacKinnon, was unable to attend due to a personal matter.
The other contenders weighed in on a wide range of business topics, including a proposed container terminal development and rail line restoration, international students and the province's capped assessment program.
The moderator, chamber CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn, told the crowd the downtown Sydney library is in need of replacement and the business community has been advocating for a new central library for years to help with revitalization of the commercial district and economic and social development "for our entire region."
Incumbent Mayor Cecil Clarke said council has already set aside $7 million to put towards a proposed new $26-million library on the Sydney waterfront.
Amanda McDougall, the library board chair and a first-term councillor running to replace Clarke, said a new building is needed, but so is fairer library funding from the province.
Library answers vary
Chris Abbass, who retired after holding several jobs in hospitality and sales, told the crowd he would move the proposed library's location to a $70-million multi-use recreational facility he is proposing in Open Hearth Park.
"If I can build this wellness centre, I can guarantee you there will be a new library in it," he said.
John Strasser, a retired engineer, said the currently proposed waterfront location would not be central and dismissed the question.
"It wouldn't be one of the first five priorities that the CBRM needs," he said.
Kevin MacEachern, who owns several businesses in Sydney, said the existing library should be renovated before a new building is built.
"My personal opinion, I think it's a waste of money," he said.
Budget, strategic plan touted
On another question, Yurchesyn said a leader's first 90 days are critical, according to Harvard Business School, and she asked for the candidates' plans for their first three months in office.
Clarke said he would continue his practice of having an open-door policy with council and staff to help prepare for weighty issues such as a new municipal planning strategy and municipal diversity and inclusion.
"Most importantly, a new council is going to be thrust into a new budget process and that budget process is going to take in the realities of COVID-19, the uncertainties, the need for recovery and also the need for a steady hand as the presiding officer and mayor to help guide people forward," he said.
McDougall said as mayor, she would ensure new councillors immediately get some training on their position and then start on a strategic plan for the council's term.
"We need to listen to community stakeholders who are invited to participate in the process and know firsthand from businesses what we have to do to have a successful next four years," she said.
Electronic voting starts
Strasser said he would focus on jobs.
Abbass said he would start with a review of council and staff expenses after striking a task force on child poverty.
"It's first and foremost what we need to take care of," he said.
Kevin MacEachern said he would start by meeting with constituents who have concerns and said he would specifically invite Mi'kmaw people and international students into the mayor's office to talk about their needs.
Electronic voting by phone and internet started today at 8 a.m. in CBRM and runs continuously until polls close on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.
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