Mount Forest residents hear from mayoral, council, school trustee candidates

MOUNT FOREST – Roughly 50 residents of Mount Forest sat in the lower leisure hall of the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex on the evening of Sept. 29 to hear local candidates pitch their views and persuade electors.

It was the second Wellington North all-candidates night last week, with around 40 people having pitched questions to mayoral and school trustee candidates at the Arthur arena on Sept. 27.

The Sept 29 event was hosted by the Mount Forest Chamber of Commerce with 88.7 FM The River radio host Chris Holden feeding questions to candidates running for mayor, Ward 1, and Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) trustee.

UGDSB trustee candidate Daniel Kelly did not attend, and was also not present the night of Sept. 27.

Wards 3 and 4 have been acclaimed with incumbents Lisa Hern and Steve McCabe retaining their seats.

In Ward 2, Menno Klunder, who is running against incumbent Sherry Burke, has backed out, though his name will remain on the ballot.

Addressing the room, Burke said, “Tonight, I offer my commitment, dedication and ask for your support when you receive your ballot, re-elect Sherry Burke, councillor Ward 2.”

There are three candidates vying for the Ward 1 seat, to be vacated by current councillor Dan Yake, who is running against incumbent Andy Lennox for the mayor’s seat.

Each stepped to the podium to deliver a brief introduction.

Candidate Shawn McLeod said he doesn’t have all the answers for Wellington North’s future, but he would work hard to build relationships and be a strong voice for Wellington North residents.

He noted infrastructure as a priority and said growth is “starting to rev up in a big way.” As the population changes, he said the community would have to work hard to make people feel welcome and part of the township.

A prepared speech was not how candidate Jeanean Mousseau wanted to introduce herself. Instead she positioned herself as the antithetical politician, and emphasized her role as a volunteer firefighter, mother and neighbour.

“I’m not your average, run-of-the-mill politician out there pandering for votes,” she said.

Nor did she knock on a single door asking residents for their votes – “they want to prepare supper, get their kids to bed, and spend time with their family” – and she doesn’t have a platform or an agenda.

“My goal is to simply do the best job possible, to make decisions that are sound and responsible in a way that accurately represents the voices of the residents of Wellington North,” she said. “Everyone deserves a say in their future.”

Candidate Penny Renken took the opposite approach, knocking on the door of every home on every street within the ward.

“It was gratifying to hear some say that they enjoy living in Wellington North and had no concerns,” Renken said.

“But I still ended up with a list of areas where we are lacking in both services and amenities.”

She spoke of key areas she sees as priorities: infrastructure; year-round recreation for youth, seniors, and those with special needs; and affordable housing.

As Renken ran over her allotted time, Holden, with a big smile, gently inched closer to Renken as she sped through her final remarks, her voice quieting, as she moved away from the mic.

There was a big round of applause and laughter in the room.

School trustees also gave introductions.

Current trustee Robin Ross excused herself early from the evening following a tough and emotionally exhausting day, and suggested electors reach out to her with any questions following the meeting.

How do you view your role?

With a minute allotted to each, candidates were first asked to explain the respective roles they were seeking.


Lennox said being mayor is about trying to help council and staff reach collective goals, advocating and cheerleading for the community, and maintaining and forging relationships with governmental counterparts.

Yake said the role of mayor is “to inspire the community” and do all he could to make Wellington North best place it could be.

Leadership for Yake means participating in discussion with other levels of government, steering council when decisions get difficult, inspiring the community, and making out as “best as we can with what we have.”

Ward 1 candidates

McLeod said it’s a councillor’s responsibility to “set the tone and to inspire people to do the best that they can” while being a cheerleader for staff and the community.

“You’re the voice and you’re the one they see standing up front … and you better be there to help, that’s the goal,” he said.

Mousseau sees councillors as people who represent the community and works to speak up for the community.

“I [would be] there to be your voice and I [would be] there to convey what it is that the community wants to see happen,” she said.

Renken said councillors serve two purposes: representing the ward and the township as a whole.

Candidates’ best qualities

Candidates reflected on what they saw as their best qualities, but Renken wasn’t sure if she had any single best quality.

“I like working with people, I like helping people,” she said, adding she volunteers with the Cultural Roundtable, her church, and the hospital auxiliary.

“When I take on a role, a responsibility, or commitment, I want to see it followed through and completed,” she said.

“I fully believe that you should be committed to whatever you’re going to take on and do the bet job that you can do.”

Mousseau also likes giving back to her community, and listed off organizations she has volunteered for. Her best quality, she said, is her pragmatism.

McLeod’s choice was his leadership ability.

“I know when to get out of the way, I know when to step in, and I know when things are going in the right direction and let good people do what they’re doing,” he said.

Dependability and commitment were Yake’s responses. He called them his “greatest asset” and hopes to bring those qualities to the table if given the chance as mayor.

Lennox said he’s able to look to the future and get an idea for where things are going, and getting others to rally around that vision.

UGDSB trustee candidates tackle big questions

School board trustees were faced with addressing big subjects, such as the current state of schools in the county, and currently policy direction.

Natalie Breau spoke of her daughter’s journey through the education system as someone with autism, and Daniel Greer said schools are “in a state of flux” because of the pandemic and need a return to structure.

When it came to policy, Greer suggested communication hasn’t been as effective as it could be, and Breau focused on the need for mental health resources for students and teachers, and a need for increased engagement from parents and the community.

How do candidates measure success?

Candidates next spoke of how they measured success.

Lennox measures success against set goals: “Once we have an agreed-upon goal, how are we making out?”

Success for Yake is harder to define, but he wants to ensure “everybody that lives in this community be proud to live here and that we do everything we can to make that happen.”

For McLeod, success isn’t always measurable.

“You have to make sure [things] are done in a fair, equitable, and honest way, so we try to avoid as many controversies as we can,” McLeod said.

Mousseau measures success through goal-setting, identifying objectives, and overall community and resident satisfaction.

Renken said success is dependent on everyone working together as a team.

“You’re not going to achieve success no matter what you’re going to try unless everybody is working towards the same goal, at the same time,” she said.

When describing their leadership styles, the mayoral and Ward 1 candidates all said involving everyone, and arriving at common ground and priorities were important.

What does equality in education mean?

Breau and Greer described what equality in education means to them.

“I believe every child deserves to bring their true, authentic self to the classroom … I believe that also leads to learning,” Breau said.

“It means everybody is treated the same … everybody that comes in should have the opportunity to learn the same thing,” Greer said, adding “there shouldn’t be anybody left behind.”

How do candidates address difficult decisions?

There are always difficult decisions to be made in public office, and candidates were asked to talk about how they would do that.

“My role is more than making difficult decisions,” Lennox responded, saying he also facilitates difficult decisions.

Lennox said he tries to gather all the information he can, but his ideas alone, he added, aren’t the best.

“Listening becomes really important as we try to formulate the best decisions for our community,” he said.

Yake echoed Lennox’s remarks when he said, “difficult decisions can only be made by listening, hearing what people have to say, taking their opinions … it has to be a team effort.”

McLeod said gathering as much information before making a decision that affects an entire community is crucial.

Mousseau fell back to her pragmatism and said she doesn’t allow emotions and feelings to sway decisions.

“You need to gather all the information, and once you have all the information the facts really decide for you,” she said.

Renken agreed with previous comments, and added she believes the time needs to be invested to make a decision best reflecting everyone’s interests.

Maintaining small-town culture

What about small-town culture in the face of growth?

“I am big on small-town culture,” Renken said. “I love the country and I love our town being small.”

She admitted it won’t always be so and acknowledged the necessity of density targets.

“However, I would like to still see this town maintain the look of a small town,” she said.

Mousseau said, “We need to focus on maintaining [our] history and building upon it, ensuring that we don’t lose our identity.”

“It’s not just bricks and mortar,” McLeod insisted. “It’s how people are treated and how we treat each other.”

“We need to engage people; you need to know your neighbours, you need to look out for each other,” he said.

Growth is here and ongoing, Yake warned.

And one of the most important ways to address that, he said, is for council to become more engaged with development and what’s going on within the township.

Lennox said coming together and sharing experiences and integrating that collective wisdom and experience will make the community better.

How about Wellington North’s future?

Peering into the future, candidates supposed what Wellington North would look like four years from now, should they be elected.

Lennox envisions a community moving forward together to make the township a welcoming place for newcomers and finding creative ways to integrate newcomers into the community.

“We’re facing new challenges that come with this growth, it’s an exciting time, but we’re going to need to put our heads together and come up with the solutions to tackle, as I spoke of earlier, the impossible for our community,” he said.

“I’ve said it before, I want everybody that lives here, everybody that comes here, I want them to be proud of this community,” Yake said.

He added he hopes the township can continue on a path of ensuring “we have a caring, progressive, and vibrant community.”

Though he hopes for more housing options, McLeod doesn’t see huge changes in the next four years and would like to ensure people are supporting local businesses.

Mousseau sees “a lot of growth and an increase in population” and wants more child care availability and more business attraction to deliver more jobs.

Renken narrowed her vision to a single word: “cohesive.”

She wants to see the township and businesses come together to attain any type of recreation they can.

Community engagement

A written question submitted from the audience asked about the best way to engage the community in important discussions.

“We need to be taking the discussion to the people,” Lennox responded, adding discussion and conversations need ramping up, especially after the past two years.

Yake said he believes council needs to work harder and put more of an effort into pulling everyone together and engaging with the community as a whole.

With the distance between Mount Forest and Arthur, McLeod said there will always be different perspectives and there’s a need to work together and connect boundaries.

Mousseau said “getting out there and talking to different people in the community” is important, and mentioned using technology as a way to engage.

Renken said the divide between Arthur and Mount forest will be “very difficult to get rid of.”

“The only thing I can see, is to hold joint meetings with residents from both Arthur and Mount Forest,” she remarked.

The space between is more significant for trustee candidates who would represent not only Wellington North residents, but also those in Minto and Mapleton.

“Having a presence in each area is critical,” Breau said.

She would want to visit schools in each area and advocate for sharing of resources.

Greer said representing such a large area comes down to doing his best to ensure people’s voices are heard.

Toward the end of the night, all candidates were asked to make a pitch about why they deserved votes.

The pitch: UGDSB trustee candidates

Breau emphasized her experience as an accountant in understanding budgeting and resource allocation, and spoke of her ability to ask hard questions.

“I think I have empathy for those who are navigating particularly the special needs system. … I can provide that support and empathetic ear to their issues,” she said.

“I hope that I can make an impact; I believe in education and I think I can make an impact.”

As an “excellent listener,” Greer said he wants to ensure people’s voices are heard.

He said he understands the background of what goes on at schools (his parents were both teachers) and wants to focus on the needs of students and families in the area.

“We also need to focus on the teachers,” he added.

“Because without them, we don’t really have anything. They’ve got one of the most important jobs on the face of the planet.”

The pitch: Ward 1 candidates

Renken said, “I like to think that I could possibly be the best candidate for the councillor for Ward 1 because I’ll do my best.

“I’ve been a Girl Guide for 55 years, that’s my motto all this time: ‘try and do my best in whatever I do.’

“I like to work with people and I will listen to what the residents have to say, and work with them and try to accomplish as much as we can in the time allotted for us.”

“I will honestly say that I don’t know that I am the best candidate for councillor in Ward 1,” Mousseau said. “That’s up for you to decide.”

So, who is the best candidate? The one elected, she said.

“I would bring transparency and accountability. I’m not going to make arbitrary decisions, I’m gonna listen to what the community wants and vote accordingly,” she said.

McLeod emphasized his long-term commitment to the community—“I’ve lived in Ward 1 for 34 years”—and his leadership and organizational roles.

The pitch: mayoral candidates

Yake said it is difficult to answer the question, but said he wouldn’t be running for mayor if he didn’t believe in himself and the good he could do for the community.

“I’ve put 28 years, almost half my life, I’ve dedicated to this community as a municipal politician,” Yake said.

“I’m willing to commit, I’m dependable, I’m open to new ideas, I think we just need to bring some excitement and enthusiasm into our community.”

Lennox said “we can’t do everything” and efforts need to focus on shared goals and rallying around the best solutions for the community.

The night abruptly came to an end once questions ran out, and those in the hall began chatting with others and shaking hands with candidates.