Candidates for Red Deer’s top elected position tackled a number of questions at the first of two planned mayoral forums on Thursday night.
But it was the controversial bike lane pilot project that drew most reaction from the more than 100 residents packed into the downtown branch of the Red Deer Public Library.
Third-term Coun. Cindy Jefferies explained the over-arching reasons and intentions for trying bike lanes were good. She told the crowd that communication and engagement with the public could have been better. Jefferies said if she had known how much the pilot had aggravated and concerned residents she would have done things differently.
“Did we get it right? Absolutely not,” said Jefferies. “Our timing was poor. Why did we end up putting them on the road three days before school went in? I don’t know. Lesson learned.”
While Coun. Tara Veer made it clear she voted against it when the bike lane pilot map came to the city. She gave the reasons of too much change overnight, loss of parking and driving lanes in one vote of council without any general public consultation.
“It ultimately polarized our community to be pro-bike or anti-bike,” said Veer. “When I think if we had actually taken some time to look at the broader cycle infrastructure in the community and actually come up with a long-term plan and some phased implementation, we could have accomplished the right outcomes.”
Dennis Trepanier said the money spent on the bike lane pilot could have paid for at least seven more police officers in the city. He said there should have been a cost benefit analysis for the bike lanes.
On the issue of a living wage policy in Red Deer, Chad Mason questioned the need for another wage when there is already a minimum wage in place.
Mason said this is part of the provincial not the municipal government’s mandate. He said the city should not spend any time on this issue.
“We elect people to make these decisions,” said Mason. “It’s their responsibility. Municipal government has enough to do. We have to look after roads. We have RCMP. The communities who have this obviously do not have enough to do. They are twiddling their thumbs and come up with a (living) wage.”
Jefferies argued the communities that have a living wage use it as a lens as one way to look at their community and the affordability of living within their community.
“I think that is a useful tool for us to understand and for us to share with businesses and employers in our community,” said Jefferies. “Minimum wage is one thing but what it really costs to live in a city might well be another. It’s important for us to understand and recognize there is a difference.”
Veer was asked specifically why she asked to sever any reference to a living wage from a recent notice of motion that asked council to support efforts of the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance to make headway on poverty issues in the community.
Veer explained she supported the main motion identifying the city’s role in working with the alliance in the community. Veer said she severed the living wage reference because she thinks there needs to be a plan for these issues in the community. Veer said she not like this motion because it was jumping to one outcome without public consultation.
William Horn said he sided with Jefferies to some extent but he said the costs associated with it come out everyone’s pockets.
“ I think that we can do something to help some of these people … It is definitely a problem here,” said Horn. “The costs associated with it come out of all our pockets. We have a social responsibility to improve everyone’s lives. And we have to do something with the minimum wage in Alberta. It’s definitely set too low. It’s a great opportunity here but there are problems we have to address right in our city.”
The next mayoral candidates forum is hosted by Red Deer College at City Centre Stage on Oct. 8.