Election gives West Nipissing chance to move on from years of council in-fighting

A northern Ontario town whose council barely functioned in recent years is getting ready to pick its next group of leaders. Of the nine people who took part in the in-fighting on West Nipissing council, only four want to stay at the table. 

Only 4 of the 9 people currently around the council table want to return for another 4 years

A crowd of people sit in the arena hall in Sturgeon Falls, listening to ten mayoral and council candidates on stage.
The West Nipissing Chamber of Commerce was surprised by the turnout of Monday night's debate, with over 200 voters packing into the Marcel Noël Community Hall Sturgeon Falls. (Erik White/CBC)

After two years of watching their town council bicker and call each other names, the voters of West Nipissing were eerily quiet during a candidates' debate in Sturgeon Falls Monday night.

The crowd of more than 200— significantly more than the few dozen who came out for a provincial election debate in the spring— sat and listened patiently for over two hours as those hoping to serve on the next council for the municipality of 14,000 calmly laid out their ideas. 

"I thought it was going to be, excuse the word, a pissing match. And it was not," said Dan Roveda, one of the most outspoken councillors during the in-fighting, now running for mayor.

"This was a pleasant event and I think we all have proven that we can all work together."

But the political newcomers running against Roveda say the best way to do that is to get new faces around the council table, including in the big chair.

"I'm not entangled with the conflicts of the current council," said mayoral candidate Kathleen Thorne Rochon, whose campaign slogan is "Let's put the unity back in community."

"To cure the problems that we've seen at council, it's going to take a seismic shift and it's going to take more than shuffling the chairs."

A mayor's gavel sits on a table in an empty council chambers with a West Nipissing logo on a screen on the far wall.
Council candidate Réjean Venne argues that some of the discord on West Nipissing council would subside if they gave up on virtual meetings returned to the council chambers, as most other municipalities have. (Erik White/CBC)

Lavigne farmer Dave Lewington says he would try to get to the root of the impasse that saw council go months without holding formal meetings, forcing the provincial government to intervene. 

"Real dedication admits that there are problems that need addressing. Not to pretend that the past didn't happen and move forward regardless of what caused those problems," said Lewington. 

Candidates did talk about the need for more housing in West Nipissing, the under-discussed problem of drug abuse in the largely rural community and hopes for redeveloping the huge empty lot in Sturgeon Falls left when the paper mill closed 20 years ago.

West Nipissing mayoral candidates Dan Roveda, Dave Lewington and Kathleen Thorne Rochon sit at a table on a stage.
The three candidates running to be West Nipissing's next mayor are (left to right) Dan Roveda, Dave Lewington and Kathleen Thorne Rochon. (Erik White/CBC )

But moving past the last four years is clearly the top issue.

"The elephant in the room is obviously the ongoing council that is there right now," said Ward 2 council candidate Roch St. Louis.

"Obviously the way for me to try to help and assist and resolve that is by running for council."

A sign welcomes drives on Highway 17 to West Nipissing
Candidates pointed out that West Nipissing has made provincial and national news in recent years because of the in-fighting by mayor and council. (Erik White/CBC)

"If elected to council, I won't ever be on one side of the table, but I promise to always show up at the table," Ward 1 hopeful Réjean Venne told the crowd. 

"I promise to vote for the idea brought to the table, not for or against the particular councillor," said Ward 1 council candidate Kris Rivard, who ran for the Green Party in the recent provincial election. 

Lise Senecal served several terms on West Nipissing council in the 1990s and returned for the last four years, but admits she considered resigning because of the toxic environment, which has seen municipal staff restricted from attending council meetings in order to protect their mental health. 

A crowd of people listen to candidates speaking on stage
Only three of the incumbent West Nipissing councillors are running to keep their seats. (Erik White/CBC)

"People are fed up and they been saying for the last two years everybody should change and I agree with that," she said.

"Because none of us did the job they're supposed to do, which is put the municipality first."

But Senecal, who prides herself on speaking her mind, worries that the new council might be too focused on always agreeing with each other. 

"I'm concerned about the next one, because you might have a very good quiet council and everything, but that doesn't mean it will be better," she said.

"But it won't be me sitting there. I'll pay my tax, that's what I'm going to do." 

Lise Senecal wears sunglasses and a heavy coat on a wintry day
Lise Senecal decided not to run again for West Nipissing council and doesn't feel like any of the incumbents deserve to serve for another four years. (Radio-Canada / Frédéric Projean)

Sturgeon Falls voter Michel Gervais, who moderates the West Nipissing Municipal Action Group on Facebook,  wishes the candidates would talk more about what they will do, rather than what the last council didn't do. 

"There is little substance, I mean, there is some for sure, but we're just focusing on council's problems," he said. 

"People are passionate, people are talking about it, which I think is still good. There is a sense of hopelessness though, unfortunately."

A white cardboard voting booth with '2022 municipal elections voting booth' written on the side in English and French
West Nipissing is one of several northern Ontario towns that vote by mail, but a voting booth is set up in the municipal office for those who want to drop off the ballot in person. (Erik White/CBC )


Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to