Photo illustration by Elling Lien
St. John’s isn’t the only municipality holding an election on September 29. Citizens will be electing or re-electing their mayors and councillors in over 140 towns and cities across the province, including Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South, and Torbay.
Development is a critical issue in the elections of these rapidly-expanding communities, and candidates have conflicting views on how to manage growth.
Shawn Hayward follows the campaign trail.
The rumble of excavators and pounding of hammers reverberate throughout the communities bordering St. John’s. As the economy of the northeast Avalon expands, so too does the demand for housing and recreation. With ample land at a relatively affordable price, towns surrounding the capital city have grown rapidly in the past decade while most communities in Newfoundland and Labrador have shrunk.
Growth means a greater tax base but it also poses challenges for municipal governments. Many of the candidates in the upcoming municipal election have focused their rhetoric on development, each presenting a different vision of how it should unfold in their respective communities.
Two men are running for mayor in Paradise: Ralph Wiseman, who has been the town’s mayor since 2005 and a resident for 36 years, and Kurtis Coombs, a 19-year-old political science major who has lived in Paradise most of his life.
“As usual with a growing town, it’s infrastructure,” says Wiseman, when asked what’s the major issue in Paradise today. Wiseman says water, sewer, and recreation facilities are being strained by the town’s status as the fastest growing municipality in Atlantic Canada.
Wiseman says the lack of recreation is covered by a five-year plan that includes 256 acres for open space recreation.
“This will probably be one of the largest parks in the metro area,” says Wiseman, who added he also will work on getting a sports arena for Paradise.
Driving in Paradise can take a long time during rush hour, and Wiseman says he plans to improve it with a $50,000 traffic study. Topsail Road has become a busy commuter’s route between Conception Bay South, Paradise, Mount Pearl, and St. John’s, but Wiseman says the road hasn’t been upgraded to accommodate the increased traffic.
“Trying to make a left hand turn on Topsail Road during peak periods is sometimes virtually impossible,” he says. “That causes a bottleneck for traffic.”
Coombs says Wiseman hasn’t done enough to deal with development during his four years as mayor. Many of the problems he witnessed in Paradise as a boy are still affecting people there today.
“The services haven’t met the demand,” he says. “You just have to look around the municipality to see people are unhappy. We need to start advocating to the government for proper recreational services and funding.”
When asked how voters react to his age, the 19-year-old Coombs says people are looking for a new, younger face.
“The face of Paradise has changed drastically,” he says. “What a lot of people I’ve talked to door-to-door are saying is that there needs to be fresh blood in council. I thought age might be something I’d have to combat on the campaign trail, but it actually is playing to my benefit. People are very receptive to see someone of my age running.”
“I respect Mr. Coombs and I’m impressed with him taking on the challenge,” says Wiseman, “It’s fine to say we have problems, that doesn’t fix the problem. You have to have a plan to fix the problems.”
Conception Bay South
With no one to run against, Woodrow French has become mayor of CBS by acclamation. Seven people are running for four councillor at large seats, and another six are running for three ward seats.
In the west part of town, CBS still hasn’t provided water and sewer services to some homes, according to French, which he says is unacceptable.
“We have houses 30 kilometres from the Confederation Building still without basic services like water and sewer,” says French, who has been mayor since 2005.
French says there are many young families who have recently built homes in the east end of town, and they’re looking for parks and sports fields for their children.
“The needs down there are for recreational facilities, which is something we have in our five-year plan to the government,” he says.
French says he concerned about the lack of municipal participation by new comers to his rapidly-expanding community.
“I’m surprised actually. I thought there would be a lot of younger people involved in this election,” he says, noting only one person running in this election hasn’t sat on council before.
Like French, Mount Pearl’s mayor, Randy Simms, has won a new term by acclamation. Only two people, Rose Clarke and Dave Aker, are challenging the incumbents for their council seats.
Mount Pearl isn’t growing as fast as Paradise, and Clarke says services like snow clearing and garbage collection are excellent. She’s more interested in how the town is being run.
“What I’m hearing is we don’t have a council that’s open to the public,” says Clarke, who is from Miami, Florida, and has lived in Mount Pearl for 31 years. “In other words, when people go to open council meetings, there’s no place for people to get up and speak. Everything is rubber stamped. They’re looking for a time, a place where they can meet the six councillors and the mayor.”
Clarke says it’s difficult challenging incumbents for a seat, because voters generally support people who have already elected.
Aker couldn’t be reached for comment.
The mayoral race in Torbay puts the incumbent, Bob Codner, against the present deputy mayor, Mary Thorne-Gosse.
Torbay’s population grew 36.9 per cent between 2001 and 2006, and continues to expand. Codner says it’s his goal, if he wins his third term as mayor, to catch up with the development boom.
The town needs to expand its municipal depot and community centre, and build more sidewalks, according to Codner.
As the demand to live in Torbay goes up, so does the value of land, and the taxes people pay on their property. Codner says he expects property values to go up 30 per cent next year.
“That translates into a big burden on tax payers,” he says, adding that he plans to encourage industrial and commercial development, to lessen the tax burden on home owners.
Thorne-Gosse says the town has to manage development more carefully to maintain Torbay’s small-town atmosphere.
“A lot of the residents would prefer to see Torbay as a rural area, and keep the culture we currently have,” she says. “At the current time we don’t have a lot of recreation programs or amenities we would like to see.”
Thorne-Gosse says Codner hasn’t applied for provincial and federal funding programs that could have been used to pay for new recreation buildings and parks, and improve quality of life for young families who have recently moved to Torbay.
If you have opinions on how your community deals with development, or any other issue, you should probably, like, vote. Anyone 18 or older who is a Canadian citizen can cast their ballot. Check your community’s town website to find polling stations.