Fireworks, even some controversy at mayor’s forum

It was a lively and sometimes even controversial all-candidates forum for the mayor’s race in North Battleford on Tuesday.

The forum was put on by the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Downtown North Battleford Business Improvement District. Three of the five candidates in North Battleford agreed to take part: Lois Laing, David Gillan and the incumbent Ryan Bater.

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Candidate James Sieben withdrew due to illness and Misa Nikolic objected to the format. See more on that further on in this story.

Like the provincial all-candidates forum the week before, this event was held without members of the public present in the audience at the Western Development Museum. The forum was videotaped for Access 7 TV and streamed on Facebook Live on the chamber’s as well as the Downtown North Battleford Facebook pages.

The three candidates stuck to familiar themes of their campaigns. Ryan Bater touted his experience and his ability to build relationships, and his accomplishments over the last four years including righting the financial ship for the city.

“We’ve been able to get our finances under control. We’ve reduced our long term debt by 23 per cent over the last four years,” said Bater. He pledged a “continuous focus on crime reduction, stable property taxes and getting our economy back on track.”

Gillan pointed to his experience in municipal administration as finance director in Battleford and North Battleford. He pledged action on the crime issue, addressing the city’s “image as a crime town.” Gillan pledged work on crime reduction, and engaging youth in activities such as sports.

“I don’t like to drive by and see empty ball fields, empty soccer pitches, empty gymnasiums. We have all the assets and the best volunteers we just need some funds to give our kids access.”

He called this one of his highest priorities if elected.

Laing stuck to her main issues, which focused on addressing crime, a focus on mental health and addictions, and to create economic opportunities in North Battleford so that “everybody has that opportunity here”.

“Things have kind of gotten a little astray, and so my goal is to address that issue,” said Laing.

A variety of questions were posed on topics such as the newly re-elected Sask. Party government, building relationships with Indigenous people, downtown revitalization, economic development, street repairs, city human resources issues, and the hot-button issue of amalgamation with Battleford.

You can view all the responses at the chamber’s and at the Downtown North Battleford Facebook pages where the full forum video is posted. The forum will be broadcast on Access TV Nov. 2 at 8:30 p.m., Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m., Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m. and Nov. 6 at 6:30 p.m.

The event was not without fireworks, some of which took place off the debate stage. One involved a dispute that erupted over the format on the day of the forum.

One candidate, Misa Nikolic, took issue with the format and pulled out just prior to the event. At the Downtown North Battleford Facebook page, Nikolic posted his reasons why he decided not to participate.

“I did not like that the format wasn’t shared with me until the day of the forum,” Nikolic stated. “Other candidates had a distinct advantage in that regard. I had planned for a typical political debate, where candidates could question each other, and in which they are arranged standing in an arc so they can all face each other. Here, James [Sieben] and I would have been set on the stage above and behind the other candidates, and judging by the camerawork, I would have been out of picture most of the time. Great view of the water bottles, though! Too bad they aren’t running.”

There was also a question raised about the participation of Warren Williams at the forum.

Williams, who is a current chamber director, was tasked with posing the chamber’s questions to candidates at the forum. But it prompted one member of the public to write in on social media asking why Williams was involved, since he was also running for council.

Williams decided to bring up that question live at the forum and addressed it head-on, where he emphasized, “I’m not creating the questions, I’m simply reading them.”

“It’s a valid comment,” Williams said.

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