Council candidates quizzed
There was little opportunity for prepared answers on Thursday as 29 of the 30 candidates for Red Deer city councillor positions fielded questions at an election forum hosted by the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
Members of the audience, which numbered nearly 450, quizzed the candidates on everything from poverty to parking. Moderator Ken Kolby, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, chose a handful of council hopefuls to answer each question and restricted their responses to one minute each.
Municipal spending was one of the issues raised, with incumbent Paul Harris defending the city’s fiscal record. He said Red Deer remains well below the debt limit imposed by the province, with the annual cost of servicing the municipal debt $51.07 per person.
Bob Bevins said Red Deer has about $111 million in tax-supported debt, or more than $1,000 per resident. He would like to see zero-based budgeting and improved efficiencies sought in every city department.
Jonathan Wieler said the cost of capital projects, such as a new swimming pool, must be spread over the life of that asset. Darren Young acknowledged that debt is a reality for any growing city, but said Red Deer needs to manage its finances more closely.
A woman in the audience asked how city residents can gain a greater say in municipal spending, especially bigger projects.
Incumbent Buck Buchanan said the city has tried to engage the electorate through methods like open houses, budget meetings and more recently social media, with limited success.
Tim Lasiuta said people need to make an effort to get involved.
“Engagement sometimes can be a phone call,” he said.
Bettylyn Baker said councillors should strive to engage with people, perhaps by attendance at events like Red Deer’s Public Market.
Gary Didrikson thought a ward system would give Red Deerians a greater say. Serge Gingras proposed an alternative: dividing the city into four quadrants and assigning two councillors to each on a rotational basis.
The candidates were also asked how they would keep city businesses from moving to Red Deer County.
Victor Mobley, Terry Balgobin and Stephen Coop said a competitive tax structure was critical in this regard. Ken Johnston and Jerry Anderson added that the quality of services the city offers is also important.
Several of the questions dealt with social issues, including the cancellation of the local Winter Inn program for homeless people due to a loss of provincial funding.
Incumbent Lynne Mulder said this was a concern for council, although the decision reflected a desire to move from temporary shelter to more permanent solutions.
Calvin Yzerman said such cuts are the consequence of a boom-and-bust economy, but efforts should be made to ensure winter housing is available.
David Helm said the city should take the time to find an appropriate solution with public input. And Troy Wavrecan also felt community input was needed.
On the broader issue of poverty, Dawna Morey suggested that the non-profit sector can play an important role in addressing this problem. Dan McKenna echoed her view, but also proposed speaking with the provincial government about Alberta’s minimum wage.
Incumbent Dianne Wyntjes distinguished between a minimum wage and a living wage, and said she supports the latter. Wyntjes also suggested working with agencies, the provincial government and the federal government to deal with the problem.
Another concern raised was Red Deer’s ability to accommodate a growing population.
Janella Spearing said she’d focus on affordable housing and work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Ben Ordman said a range of issues need to be addressed, including education, housing alternatives, a living wage policy and children’s programming.
Lawrence Lee pointed out that the problem is the result of a positive situation: growth. He said careful planning, as well as improved services and programs, are appropriate responses.
Calvin Goulet-Jones said growth-related issues will continue to arise. Planning is the key, he said, and the city needs to work with private industry, as well as social and non-profit groups, to ensure required services are available.
Tanya Handley felt that the key to dealing with growth pains is a reasonable level of taxation so that residents can better manage their expenses.
On a question related to crime prevention, Ordman said his time on Red Deer’s policing committee taught him that the problem is not as severe as many people assume. Handley and Spearing suggested otherwise, with Spearing and Goulet-Jones praising the city’s Crime Prevention Centre, and Goulet-Jones recommending more police officers for Red Deer.
Other candidates who took part in Thursday’s forum were Matt Chapin, Lloyd Johnson and incumbent Frank Wong. Dennis Moffat was absent.