THE GLOVES ARE OFF: Fiery exchange at candidate session Tuesday night

CORNWALL, Ontario – What was at one point a calm political gathering at a Cornwall seniors’ complex exploded Tuesday night with profanity-laced exchanges and a fear that a fight would break out among candidates for city council.

The exchange was sparked by a question from the floor about controversial raises for city councillors and things fell apart at the end of the debate when candidate Roland Besner approached incumbent Glen Grant to further discuss the issue.

“He said straight out ‘(expletive) you,'” said Besner. “I put my hand on his shoulder and I told him ‘Don’t be so emotional.’ He takes my speeches too personal.”

Grant wasn’t having any of that in an interview later, adding he took offence to Besner calling him a “(expletive) sucker.”

“The person who said that, he’s said some pretty negative things about me in the community that aren’t accurate,” Grant said in an interview. “He started getting mouthy on the way out.”

Things got so bad that there were fears among some in attendance that punches would be thrown, said witnesses.

“I said if you really want to get into something physical I can accommodate you,” Grant said.

Besner added: “He took my hand off his shoulder…(and said) ‘Don’t touch me!’ And he pushed me really hard. He was making a scene at this point.

“Thank god there was a chair behind me, to support me.”

Besner has no plans to follow up the physicality with police and suggested Grant is the one offering half-truths.

“He owes me an apology,” he said.

Candidate Mark MacDonald, who organized the event for seniors and others living in and around the apartment complex, pulled out a video device to record some of the shenanigans.

“All hell broke loose,” said MacDonald, who was asked by Grant to put the camera away. “I said ‘I can use a camera, it’s a free country.'”

MacDonald, Besner and other candidates have come out against the raises, while Grant and other incumbents have defended them.

More political talk will take place Wednesday night, 7 p.m., in Cornwall when a session for candidates is convened at the Royal Canadian Legion. The event is sponsored by the Cornwall and District Labour Council.

A mayoral debate takes place Thursday, focusing on health care, and a televised debate sponsored by the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce goes next week.

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