Organizers didn’t know what to expect when they planned Monday evening’s Candidates Debate in Virden. So they put out 200-plus chairs in the Sunrise Banquet Hall and hoped for the best.
The crowd packed the hall to standing room only.
Paula Brazil of the Virden Community Chamber of Commerce said after the event, “We wondered, ‘will people come?’ I was blown away by the turnout.”
Virdenite Chris Dunning was in the audience for the two-hour event and said it was excellent.
“It was very informative. I was overwhelmed at the attendance tonight. It shows there is community support to build a new council. And hearing from the candidates helped me decide who to vote for. I’m glad we came out!”
While there was no opportunity for the candidates to engage in actual debate, all 12 were given multiple trips to the microphone to address the audience and answer written questions.
Candidates running for mayor are Murray Wright, a former Virden councillor, and Brock Koop, a current councillor. They were the first to introduce themselves at the start of the evening and the last to answers questions at the end.
In between, all the candidates got two minutes to answer questions they received in advance and could prepare for. Wright’s first question was about the condition of downtown Virden, and he didn’t pull any punches with his answer.
“Appearance-wise, a lot needs to change,” said Wright. “We have to do something about the vacant lots, which shouldn’t have to wait a year and a half for someone to make up their mind what they’re going to do with it.
“Right now, as I’m driving downtown and dodging potholes, it’s not as attractive as it should be.”
Koop was asked how he’d decide if a new infrastructure project was worth building.
“I would need to take a look at the financial benefit first. The infrastructure would need to benefit the majority of the community not just the individuals who stand to gain from it.”
Next came submitted questions that the candidates had not seen in advance.
Koop drew a question on how he would find the money to pay for his election promises. Although he hasn’t made many yet, he said he’d work closely with the province (“our number 1 source for dollars”) and federal government for more funding. “It’s imperative we have a good relationship with our MLA.”
Wright was asked if policing in Virden is adequate. "In the last couple of months, I have seen very few police around schools where they should be. And I hope this gets back to them.
“How do we change that? Funding. There's a lot of money leaving southwest Manitoba and going to provincial and federal government coffers. I think it's time for some of that to come back to us here for policing, hospitals, and fire department. Three necessary things we need.”
Travis Penner, running for councillor, told the audience he wants two things: to see the tax base grow by attracting new businesses to Virden and “hold the line on taxes”.
He also gave the thumbs up to walking trails in Virden. “I’d love to see that along the creek.”
Karel Munchinsky is concerned about crumbling infrastructure and wants better financial planning at the Town. “We need to budget long term so it doesn't come down to individuals who can't pay it. We need to look at other ways of collecting that money (for new sewage treatment plant). It should be based on usage rather than hookup. I don't think that's fair.”
Ray Moorhead wants more transparency from the Town. “We need to restore citizens’ trust in town hall by letting them know where the money is being spent on projects.”
Tara Cowan, a current town councillor, drew a question about the lack of paving on the road to the arena and parking lot. She informed the audience that the environmental LEED certification bestowed on Tundra Oil & Gas Place recently “required us not to pave the parking lot for environmental reasons - flood mitigation and drainage.” But, she said, it could be graded more often.
The final question of the evening went to Murray Wright who was asked how he would remedy the problem of micro-management at the town office.
“We should change it so department heads have more responsibility and they in turn report to council, to alleviate some of the administrator’s work and make people happier about the way the town office is run.”
The election date is Wednesday, Oct. 24.