Tom Van Dusen
RUSSELL – Voters who attended Russell Township’s first all-candidates meeting last Thursday at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School were generally pleased with both the unusual format and time provided to everyone on the podium.
The list of those seeking office in the Oct. 22 municipal election is a long one: There are three candidates for mayor, incumbent Pierre Leroux, Shawn McNally and Charles Armstrong; and nine candidates for council, incumbents Jamie Laurin, Andre Brisson and Cindy Saucier, along with Nicolas Daoust, Marc-Antoine Gagnier, Richard Kargus, Rick Renaud, Isabelle St. Amour, and Mike Tarnowski.
Meeting organizers Theresa Wever and Mark Lalonde established a format which bypassed questions from the floor and prolonged debate that can often degenerate into accusations and recriminations. Candidates were given a few minutes to introduce themselves and present their platforms and an opportunity to meet at individual booths with 100-plus residents in the room. Only mayoralty candidates received a few prepared questions from organizers.
“We wanted to get away from the planted questions and long-winded explanations which really serve no purpose other than extend the length of the meeting,” said Lalonde who served as moderator, moving with ease from one official language to the other.
Often chosen to moderate political meetings in Russell Village, Lalonde said participants he spoke to seemed satisfied with the format. What made it work, he said, was the opportunity to visit with candidates later in the school lobby.
The three candidates for mayor had little difficulty distinguishing themselves and their platforms. But with nine in the running for council, candidates had to try hard to separate themselves from the pack. With at least four years of experience under their belts – 12 years for Laurin – the bilingual incumbents easily stood out.
Two newbees who demanded extra attention were Tarnowski and Renaud, both for impeccable fluency in two languages and for their backgrounds of volunteerism and community activism. Both have financial and management expertise and both are long-time township residents. If elected, both are pledging greater council accountability.
Coming up tonight (Oct. 10) 7 p.m. at Embrun Community Centre is an all-candidates meeting sponsored by Russell Township Toastmasters. Originally, a French language debate was to have been held last night (Oct. 9), but organizers decided to merge two into one bilingual event.