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Changes abound for Lunenburg candidates' meeting

by Robert Hirtle

 LUNENBURG - Complaints from a resident seeking a seat on Lunenburg council in the upcoming municipal election have forced changes to the format of a public candidates' meeting being hosted by the Lunenburg Board of Trade (LBOT).

 Stuart Simpson contacted this newspaper via e-mail last week accusing organizers of the October 9 event of succumbing to the influence of "backdoor politics," by replacing one of the three predetermined questions to be asked each candidate and eliminating a 30-minute segment consisting of open questions from the floor.

 Mr. Simpson provided a copy of an e-mail sent out by the LBOT dated September 25 that outlined a proposed agenda for the meeting, in which individual candidates would have 90 seconds to answer each one of three questions included in the e-mail, which would then be followed by a half-hour of questions from the public.

 The first predetermined question asked candidates why they think they would make a good councillor, while the third dealt with what the candidates' priorities are to spur business and development in the town.

 The second question, however, became contentious as it struck on the controversial issue of what will become of Lunenburg's schools.

 It read "The Village of Greenfield, Queens County was in danger of losing its elementary school. The citizens did not want that so they got together, raised the money and built a new school. Last month, this new two-classroom school was opened for their 32 students in [Primary to Grade 3]. The province will rent the school from the village for $72,000 per year. The length of the lease is 20 years.

 "The Town of Lunenburg already owns its own elementary school, Lunenburg Academy, with many more quality attributes than the Greenfield school. These include its National Historic Site designation, the top floor leased to the growing West Island College Class Afloat school, and a well organized and funded support organization called the Lunenburg Academy Foundation. As a prospective councillor, what is your position on schools in the Town of Lunenburg?"

 A second e-mail from the LBOT, dated September 29, explained that concerns had been raised with regard to the second question and the forum committee had decided to replace it.

 The correspondence also stated that the format of the forum had been changed, allowing candidates two minutes to answer each predetermined question and eliminating the open question period from the floor.

 The change also allowed candidates three minutes to give closing comments as to why they should be elected.

 Mr. Stuart said that "since there is no question to be included about the school closure, and there will be no questions from the audience, any person who doesn't want to talk about the school closure will not have to.

 "I believe that since there are four [sic] candidates who are running for re-election and none of them voiced a strong opposition to the closure of the school at the time, that they should be held accountable at this forum, either by way of a scheduled question, or questions from the audience," he wrote.

 "I am flabbergasted that certain people in town, whom I was not given the names of, have the power and influence to remove a question from the forum and eliminate any possible questions from the audience, while the regular voters have no say or influence in this matter at all."

 Craig Munroe, one of three members of the forum committee, said the question was pulled because the committee thought "it was a leading question" and that questions "should be more general in nature.

 "That's it in a nutshell," he said.

 Following Mr. Simpson's complaint, however, the committee reconvened and on September 30 agreed to change the format of the forum a second time, reinstating the public question period and extending its length to one hour.

 "The moderator will ensure that the questions are reasonable and not redundant," Mr. Munroe explained.

 A new second question asking "What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Town of Lunenburg and how would you deal with it?" was also added, replacing the question regarding the schools.

 Mr. Munroe said candidates are more than welcome to bring up the issue of schools in response to that question, should they feel inclined to do so.

 Mr. Simpson said that although he is pleased to see that the public will now have an opportunity to ask the questions it would like to have answered, "the fact remains that there is no scheduled question regarding the possible closure of Lunenburg Academy as an educational facility, which means the 'old boys' club' still holds a great deal of clout over events which should be non-partisan, which is both sad and disturbing at the same time."

 Mayor Laurence Mawhinney recently explained council's decision to support the construction of a new P-9 school in Lunenburg, pointing out that if the town insisted on having a P-12 facility built they may run the risk of winding up with no school in town at all.

 The mayor stated he believes the Academy will remain a key element to the town's historic roots, and will continue to function in the future as a house of learning in some capacity.

 He said council as a whole did not get involved in public debate held on the school issue, as it is laid out by legislation that those proceedings are to be conducted by the school board.

 The LBOT candidates' forum is slated to take place at the Lunenburg fire hall, October 9 beginning at 7 p.m.

posted on 10/07/08
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