By Andrew Wagstaff
PARRSBORO - The promise of a new nursing home for Parrsboro from one candidate, and a pledge to not accept payment without results from another, highlighted a mayoralty candidates' forum at the Parrsboro Fire Hall on Thursday evening.
Candidates Stanford Blenkhorn, Ron Levy, Joel Smith and Lois Smith responded to questions from a packed house of voters, following a similar forum featuring the five candidates for town council. Both events were hosted by the Parrsboro and District Board of Trade, with past president Frank Hartman serving as moderator and current president Karen Dickinson keeping the time clock.
It was Blenkhorn and Lois Smith, considered frontrunners by many in the race to replace the late Doug Robinson, who seemed to be swinging hardest for the fences. Blenkhorn, dressed in coveralls to present himself as "the working person's mayor" produced a signed pledge that he would not accept any honourarium payments as mayor unless he brought new jobs to Parrsboro. He followed this up by handing out copies of the pledge to his fellow candidates and challenged them to sign on.
"That's what makes a commitment to myself and to the community and to any other candidate, that, if they sign this. they know what they're in for," he said. "They have to find us jobs and they will not get paid five cents until they find jobs."
The mayor would be entitled to collect expenses, and could collect back honourarium payments once he or she produced jobs, according to Blenkhorn's commitment, which did not include service industry or processing jobs, or government grant positions. The other three candidates did not sign the commitment at the forum, but did take their copies with them. Joel Smith said earlier this week that he is preparing a response to the pledge.
Mrs. Smith, who gave up her council seat after 12 years to run for mayor, received cheers when she announced plans for a 22-bed nursing home to be built in Parrsboro. She said a private company has identified the former Scott property as the location, and that Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott is working with the town to get the new NDP provincial government to sign the necessary papers.
"Just think folks, of the jobs that would create, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," she said, also alluding to the town's economic development committee's work on developing new promotional material for the town to attract new business. "So, we are doing something in this town."
Levy focused on his solid record as a community leader, citing his past chairmanship of organizations like the Cumberland Regional Economic Development Association (CREDA) and the Parrsboro and District Board of Trade. On a more personal note, the senior citizen assured those that might be concerned about his health that he would be up to the task of being mayor.
"Yes, I'm a senior. Yes, I had prostate cancer, and after four years of aggressive surgery, I have a clean bill of health," he said. "I would not offer my time and energy to seek the office of mayor if I did not feel fit. And I have compassion to represent others that are of the 60-plus generation, and have or had health issues."
Joel Smith said that he has lived all over the country, and believes that Parrsboro is a wonderful place to live. He said he would lead a government both open and accountable to the people.
"I promise that I will be a team player, and assure that all people have a say on major issues, maybe sometimes even in a referendum," he said.
The questions from the crowd focused mainly on the town's future, touching on areas such as volunteer engagement, attracting business, retaining youth and attracting young families, and promoting and growing local businesses.
At one peculiar moment, resident Jim Merriam attacked Joel Smith's volunteering record by reading a list of local organizations and then asking him how many he belonged to. Ironically, it was Blenkhorn who jumped to his fellow candidate's defence, claiming that just because someone does not volunteer does not mean they cannot be a good mayor.
The interaction among candidates was cordial, with all four candidates responding to most questions, and actual debating among the four kept minimal.
The only thing representing a lively, back-and-forth exchange came over development plans for the town's sewer system. Lois Smith spoke of the completion of Phase One of the sewer project and plans for second and third phases that would include sewage treatment. Blenkhorn said he would pursue a sewage treatment plant, but one that is affordable, and criticized the town for not having a list of upcoming capital projects. Joel Smith challenged Lois Smith to explain when he would be connected to the town sewer system, and she told him it would not happen unless he paid for it.
The evening began with a moment of silence for former mayor Robinson, who passed away last month.
Parrsboro will elect its new mayor on Dec. 5, with advance polls taking place on Nov. 28 and Dec. 1.
By Andrew Wagstaff
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