Sarnia mayoral candidates differ on need to add new residents

Mayoral debate with Mike Bradley and Nathan Colquhoun (Screenshot from Oct 11 debate at Imperial Theatre)

Sarnia’s mayoral candidates have different takes on the need to grow the city’s population.

Incumbent Mike Bradley and Councillor Nathan Colquhoun took part in a nearly hourlong debate from Imperial Theatre Tuesday evening, and growing the city was a topic of conversation.

Colquhoun was asked if there’s anything that can be done to grow Sarnia’s population, which has been stagnant for 20 years, and if he thinks it should grow.

He said during the past two decades, everyone has been talking about how to get more people to come to the area.

“Where I just, I really care about the 70,000 people that are here and I want to make a city that’s flourishing and healthy rather than one where we’re just trying to get all these new residents into our crumbling infrastructure and all the amenities that we don’t have. I don’t want to get more people here yet, I want to make the city awesome for the people that live here already.”

Bradley said independent studies have shown that the city has been growing over the past couple of years. He said during that time, he’s been working with Lambton College’s Immigration Taskforce to bring more immigrants to Sarnia.

“We’ve been meeting quietly, we’re looking at matching the college’s growth in international students and offsetting that with a number, percentage of people coming into this community.”

Sarnia population sign. BlackburnNews Sarnia file photo by Meghan Bond.

Sarnia population sign. BlackburnNews Sarnia file photo by Meghan Bond.

Bradley said without immigrants the community will not grow.

“If anyone thinks that the status quo is workable, it’s not, there will just be a decline, the decline will continue when you can’t get skilled workers and all of the other issues we’re facing as a community and a country,” said Bradley. “So, the key is growth, and we’ve proven here that international students can make a big difference in the community and help diversify it at the same time.”

Colquhoun said while he’s thrilled for Lambton College bringing folks to Sarnia, the city wasn’t ready for them.

“Rent shot up, all of a sudden people were living seven people to a home trying to make it all work and we did not have the proper way to go about it. So, whether that was a lack of collaboration early on with the college, saying ‘hey, what’s your plan for the next 10 years, how are we as a city going to accept what is going to happen when you start bringing all of these new people into the city?’ I don’t know what happened but we didn’t do it right.”

Other debate topics included the province’s strong mayors bill, integrity commissioner complaints and working with upper-tier government.

In the second half of Tuesday’s event, six city/county candidates took the stage. Incumbents Margaret Bird, Brian White and Mike Stark were joined by former councillor Andy Bruziewicz, Chrissy McRoberts and Al Duffy.

The second of the two-part debate series is Wednesday night at Imperial Theatre. All 25 candidates running for one of four city council seats will take to the stage at 7:30 p.m.

Election day is set for October 24.

– With files from Stephanie Chaves