Ed. note: This week, The Community Press is pleased to bring you Part Two of our interview with former Kapuskasing mayor, Mr. Alan Spacek. Today, read about the challenges the former mayor faced during his time in office and what he sees not only in Kapuskasing’s but Northern Ontario’s future.

Kevin Anderson

editor@lapressecommunautaire.ca

CP: Successes are the pleasant part of the job, but your years in office haven’t been without their challenges. What do you see as some of the biggest ones?

AS: It really does seem as though every time things appear to be cruising along nicely, something very challenging comes along. But as a team with council, you get the information, you discuss it and you make a decision based on the information you have.

We weren’t perfect, but we always did our best to make the right decision based on the information we had.

During my time as mayor I’ve seen really big issues come up, which posed big challenges.

The first would be our energy project.

We were looking for an opportunity to supplement our deteriorating tax base and we had infrastructure for a community that used to support 12,000 people.

There wasn’t a lot of construction going on and the Green Energy Act was going to be a great opportunity.

Unfortunately, there were some significant challenges put in front of us. I can’t say much more about it, because there is a criminal court case underway as it relates to this file.

Having said that, I’d like to personally mention Paul Nadeau, who has done an admirable job stepping into a very difficult situation. Working with Paul, we were able to right-size the ship and get projects built, finished and in production and I am grateful that year’s down the road, certainly once everyone has forgotten about me, those projects will be a significant source of revenue for the municipality.

As far as the District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) file goes, it was certainly a big challenge and it was a big disappointment to me personally.

What we had previously, was a very strong, trusting relationship along the Highway 11 corridor and in a very short period of time that was destroyed.

There are the issues of the details of the DSSAB file, but there is also the fallout or collateral damage to relationships that were going to be quite a large benefit, such as regional economic development, regional transportation, regional cooperation etc.

As of late, changes have been made that will allow a process to repair that, but it will take time. People have long memories. But it’s important that we work together as a region.

I personally feel there is going to be a regional government structure put in place and if we don’t work together at the local level, it’s going to be very, very difficult to get the benefit of that if and when it comes.

I’ve been hearing more and more feedback from a number of different sources that say that is the future of Northern Ontario.

In the FONOM territory there are 110 municipalities. There are four large urban centres and a number of smaller ones. Over 80 per cent of the FONOM membership are communities under 5,000 and about 50 per cent are communities under 2,000, and I’m hearing the government is of the view that it can’t support that many small municipalities under what it perceives the costs are to do that.

I’m hearing that from both inside and outside of government.

So, I think it’s important that as a region, we work together closely. And by working together closely and say… sharing services, we can have the benefit of regional government hopefully without going to the level of having formally-elected officials from another area making decisions about our communities.

I have great reservations about that and I think the DSSAB illustrated very well what a negative dynamic can be, when it comes to allocating costs on a per capita basis.

Northern Ontario is the only county in the province that doesn’t have two-tiered government including a regional government.

One thing that I’ve found through this DSSAB experience is that there are five DSSABs in Northern Ontario, and they all have the same dynamic, except for one.

The one that seems to be working well, is the one where you have a large, urban centre and small, rural centres surrounding it, but each have their own DSSAB.

My opinion is that you can’t mix large urban and small rural. The competing interests are just too diverse.

I know that the large urban centres feel that as regional centres they play a different role, but along with that, I feel comes the responsibility to support the region that, in essence, supports them.

They are the educational hub, the healthcare hub, the provincial government hub and the commercial retail hub that many people from all outlying municipalities go to and create significant economic activity – aside from the thousands of jobs that are there as a result of being those aforementioned hubs.

It needs to be a relationship, where all of that is recognized and you can’t cherry-pick one service in isolation and say it needs to be per capita.

CP: I’d like to talk to you about your successor. Mayor Plourde was a councillor for 24 years before being elected to his current position. He is coming into a council with five new faces. Do you see this as a hindrance or a positive?

AS: I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult challenge. Dave is a very capable person. His experience and his ability to communicate are going to be real assets and I’m also very confident that the new councillors are going to take the time to learn and accept some of the advice from the new mayor and councillor Credger.

There’s also a benefit to a new perspective, especially with no personal agendas, which can be a big distraction.

These newly-elected people seem to be genuinely focused on making their community a better place to live and when I look at the platforms these new councillors ran on, I think that was the underlying theme in each of them.

I also find it interesting that the average age dropped significantly. I was very pleased with that.

I must say I was personally disappointed in previous elections when young people took the time and put forward a good campaign and weren’t elected.

I think this time, a lot of these councillors, and this race in general, got the interest of new voters and a lot of those new voters were younger people. And that’s very encouraging because certainly front and centre in my mind, because of my children and now my grandchildren, is the importance of the longevity of the community, its ability to thrive and to offer all of the services we should have.

I think that was the motivation for a lot of the new councillors to run and the motivation for a lot of people who voted for them.

CP: Anyone who knows you, knows you kept a pretty hectic schedule as mayor. What have you got planned for your free time now?

AS: I’m still very passionate about Kapuskasing and Northern Ontario and I will continue to work to better both.

I’ve been asked by FONOM to stay on two files – the forestry file, which started out as a reaction to the environmental movement to shut down the forestry sector.

That is still in play but they’ve now taken their game to the federal level and I’ll continue leading that file on FONOM’s behalf.

The other is an AMO committee called the Aboriginal Initiatives Committee, and they’ve asked me to continue sitting on that committee as a FONOM representative for the foreseeable future.

I’m also doing some consulting work. I’ve worked on a lot of files over the years and feel happy to share the benefit of my experience when and where necessary.

CP: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people of Kapuskasing as you bow out?

AS: Absolutely. I’d like to say it has been a phenomenal experience and a privilege to serve as mayor.

I’ve been very proud to travel the province and say I’m from Kapuskasing.

You know, it’s a real honour to be acclaimed as the head of council and it isn’t a gesture I took lightly, so I hope the citizens are pleased with my efforts and those of the councils that I served with, because we worked as a team.