Avondale byelection attracts big field of candidates

By Mark Squibb & Chad Feehan / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Residents of Avondale go to the polls Tuesday to elect three new members of council following a series of resignations this past winter.
Nine candidates are vying for votes, and The Shoreline reached out to each council-hopeful for interviews ahead of next week’s byelection.

Justin Foote
Justin Foote has called Avondale home for the last 20 years. The owner of Flynn’s Store, Foote worked at the store for about five or so years before taking on the ownership. Foote has previous work experience as a mechanical engineer and has volunteered with Scouts groups over the years.
“I’m in a position where I have a bit of free time, and I’d like to support the town that have supported Flynn’s for generations, and so it’s a good time to give back, so to speak,” said Foote. “I always keep an open mind. I’m open to suggestions and open to discussing different solutions to problems. It’s not my way or the highway. That doesn’t work on council, or anywhere else.”
Foote said he has concerns about speeding and the number of abandoned properties around town, which he said pose a safety threat, and would work to address those issues if elected.
He said Avondale is the crown jewel of Conception Bay Centre, and he’d work to promote the town to make it more attractive to young families.

John O’Leary
John O’Leary said that he was not planning on running for council as he is already an active member of the Knights of Columbus and the local volunteer fire department, but his “conscience, family, and friends won me over.”
“Over the past while, I’ve heard people say they are disappointed with the current council,” said O’Leary. “The organizations within the town are not getting the respect they deserve. They are volunteers, and we all know that volunteers make up all small towns. I’ve seen a lot of frustration from these groups. They are hurting.”
O’Leary added that while money (or a lack thereof) always presents challenges, the town is doing well financially, and Avonale boasts significant tourism and heritage potential.
O’Leary boasted specifically about the fire department, of which he has been a member for 37 years.
“We have a very vibrant fire department, which is led by a great, young chief, (Chad Costello)” said O’Leary.
Without getting into detail over an apparent rift between the fire hall and town hall, O’Leary noted that since January, the town has lost a town manager, office manager, and assistant maintenance person.
“I know all of these people personally, and have worked with them well,” said O’Leary. “Hopefully, with this election, a lot of these things will change.”

Caroline Cantwell
Caroline Cantwell promises to be a voice for the people of Avondale.
“I think the people of Avondale need somebody to speak for them and for their concerns,” said Cantwell. “I think our community needs more volunteers and needs more for older citizens of our communities.”
Cantwell has volunteered with local community recreation groups hosting dinners and dances in nearby communities such as Colliers and said she would like to see such a group in Avondale hosting events for residents.
“They raise money throughout the year so they can provide activities like ‘Breakfast with the Easter Bunny,” said Cantwell. “They offer things for their community that we should have for our community.”
Cantwell, who was born and bred in Avondale, was briefly brought on as a staff person in 2011 to help get the town back on the rails after a series of council and staff resignations. The provincial government had dissolved what remained of council and took control of the town.
“I think our council needs new people, new ideas, and more community-based things,” said Cantwell. “Our community really needs somebody to speak up for them and listen to what they might want for their community.”

Barbara McGrath-Barber
This is Barbara McGrath-Barber’s first foray into municipal politics.
She grew up in Avondale, and earlier in her career worked in various positions on the mainland including with the Teamsters union in Ontario as a dispatcher and accountant, eventually becoming an executive board member for 17 years.
After moving back to Avondale in 1991, she worked on the Hibernia project in the warehouse and eventually as a foreperson from 1992 to 1997, before carrying out her own genealogy business for another five years after that.
McGrath-Barber has also worked in Alberta with a union representing camp culinary and hospitality workers.
Since returning home in 2017, McGrath-Barber said, she has donated time and money to helping the community’s less fortunate while juggling personal projects.
In addition to donating to Christmas food hampers she also monitors the food pantry, sometimes donating food straight to those whom she knows could use a hand.
“When I felt the food pantry was being misused, let’s say, by a couple of people, I then turned around and brought meals to people who I knew would need it,” she said. “I told nobody about it because it’s nobody’s business who I bring it to.”
The need for fresh faces on council, the elderly, and keeping taxes reigned in are among the items on McGrath-Barber’s agenda.
“I want to be one of those faces,” she said. “I want to be an advocate for the elderly and make sure they’re properly looked after without getting heavily taxed… I want to be a voice for them.”

Don Lewis
After leaving Avondale council amidst a spat of resignations just two months ago, Don Lewis is feeling hopeful once again, having added his name to this month’s byelection ballot.
Given his previous five-year run on council, Lewis is confident in both the future of the council, and his ability to be a positive asset to the community.
He said government funding isn’t what it used to be, which puts a fine line between providing essential services to residents while keeping costs and taxes down.
“I feel that I have a lot of experience to make a good councillor, to be a part of making these decisions,” he said.
Previously a construction worker who traveled a lot for work, Lewis has been a safety instructor at the Ironworkers Local 764 for the past seven years.
He said being able to lay down roots in the community allowed him the time to put into council.
“It keeps you in touch with the community,” he said.
His recent resignation notwithstanding, Lewis is hoping his past involvement in helping Avondale get a new fire truck, and a marina, along with his work to improve the town’s infrastructure will inspire confidence in voters.
“The residents know what I did when I was on council,” said Lewis. “I don’t see them not voting for me. I’m expecting to get good support.”
Even though the Town’s whittling down to a skeleton crew a few months ago was enough to shake his confidence, the number of people throwing their name in the hat for the byelection seems to have him in higher spirits.
“We got a lot of people who are interested in council,” said Lewis. “I’m sure with people interested we will get a clerk. That will all come… I think we will succeed.”

Susann Fifield-Costigan
Susann Fifield-Costigan moved five minutes from Chapel’s Cove to Avondale just a year and a half ago, and in that short time has been inspired to become a contender for a seat in the council chamber.
Originally from the Springdale area, Fifield-Costigan has lived in Labrador and Alberta and has worked in a varied number of fields including the mining industry, dog grooming, and transport.
Currently in between work as a coach bus driver with DRL, her new found free time dovetailed perfectly with her recent interest with the goings-on at Avondale Town Hall, she said.
Fifield-Costigan noticed a number of posts looking to fill various positions with the Town, namely town clerk and maintenance worker, and her property tax bill was suspiciously late.
“My curiosity started getting piqued,” she said.
When she attended a council meeting early in the new year as a spectator, she was surprised to see so many empty seats at the council table.
“It seemed to me that the council was no more,” said Fifield-Costigan. “There was no more council in our town, and I couldn’t believe it. So, I threw my name in and here we are today.”
Costigan described herself as a contributing resident of Avondale and would like to see it come alive, especially during the tourist season.
“I’ve always had a go-getter attitude, right from my days of being a single mother. I didn’t take no for an answer unless I had to,” she said.
While she was in Labrador, Fifield-Costigan volunteered with Faith’s Haven Animal Shelter, looking after dogs in need of foster homes. She also contributed to Christmas hampers, and community cleanup efforts.
“It takes a village,” she said. “Many hands make light work.”
Fifield-Costigan said she doesn’t see running a town as all that different from running a home, despite the different variables. As a homemaker herself, she suspects her experience in stretching tight budgets would be valuable.
“I’m a problem solver,” said Fifield-Costigan. “I like problems, I work good under pressure. I like taking on challenges.”
Candidate Jon Furneaux politely declined an invitation for an interview. Candidates Tom Gushue and Donna Phillips could not be reached for comment.

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