Preventing crime and supporting businesses were major points of discussion during the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce’s municipal election forum Monday evening.
The event, which was hosted virtually, featured five of the six mayoral candidates and many who are running for a seat on city council in the Oct. 18 election.
Mayoral candidates James Allen, Buck Buchanan, Ken Johnston, Bradley Magee and Jeremy Moore attended the forum, with the majority of them saying there is a need to provide city businesses with tax incentives.
Allen said Red Deer has lost too many businesses over the past two years and the city should be providing businesses with more “opportunities” and tax reliefs.
Buchanan said he wants to see the city take advantage of its location, as the biggest hub in central Alberta.
Magee said high taxes have forced businesses into Gasoline Alley. Moore said Red Deer needs to “come to the table,” as Gasoline Alley has the competitive advantage right now.
Johnston, who had technical issues initially but did enter the virtual forum towards the end, said it’s important to make the downtown a more vibrant place through residential attraction and events.
In addition to tax incentives, Magee said businesses would benefit from a reduction in crime, especially in the downtown. Moore said a more “visual” police presence would help calm crime, and Buchanan said he would like there to be a hybrid police force run by the city and RCMP.
Allen said he would have a “zero tolerance policy” towards crime and would also aim to eliminate homelessness. Johnston said there needs to be a collaborative approach to social challenges as well.
The sixth mayoral candidate, Dwight G. Hickey, was not present at the forum.
Council candidates were also asked about crime, ongoing social problems and economic development.
Craig Curtis said the city needs to look at new, innovative ways to protect businesses in a post-pandemic world. He said one possibility is to attract people from Edmonton and Calgary who work remotely to Red Deer, as a more affordable community.
Graham Barclay and Nicole Lydiard said it’s important to retain Red Deer Polytechnic graduates within the community because they add to the economy.
Hans Huizing and Dax Williams said Red Deer lags behind in 5G connectivity and the infrastructure needs to be more robust.
The city needs to listen to the business community regarding the challenges they’ve been facing, said Bruce Buruma. Brenda Campbell suggested tax incentives and relationship building are keys to supporting local businesses.
Harish Ratra wants Red Deer to diversify its economy and include new trades, such as technology.
Council should create a regional business plan with other central Alberta communities, said Matt Chapin.
Incumbent Michael Dawe said he believes council needs to keep city costs under “strict control” and watch its spending.
Victor Doerksen said the city should ensure there is strong infrastructure in place and a predictable competitive tax, and then get out of the way for investors.
Chad Krahn said he wants to change the city’s reputations as a place that says “no” to small businesses.
Jason MacDonald said he wants speed up licensing and approvals for businesses.
Sadia Khan said she believes under-utilized properties should be revived and the city should make it easier for businesses to get through red tape.
Kraymer Barnstable said due to high taxes and crime, he understands why businesses wouldn’t want to come to downtown Red Deer – he encourages tax incentives for businesses as well.
Sarah Harksen said the city must promote small business and offer grants and lower startup fees in order to keep them in Red Deer.
Cindy Jefferies said she wants to simplify processes for businesses and invite innovation. The downtown needs a boost, she added.
Janise Somer believes it’s important to revitalize the downtown, and to address crime and social disorder in the community. Ryan Laloge said there needs to be less crime for the city to be more welcoming and foster growth.
Lisa Spencer-Cook said she wants a shelter to be built for the city’s most vulnerable population. She also calls for better mental health services and a treatment facility, in addition to the overdose prevention site.
Grace Engel said she wants more rehabilitation services available instead of an overdose prevention site.
Incumbent Lawrence Lee stressed the importance of constructing the permanent homeless shelter, adding the facility needs to include other services such as addictions and mental health counselling.
Fellow incumbent Dianne Wyntjes, who also wants the shelter built, said it’s important to help vulnerable individuals feel more connected to the community.
Incumbent Vesna Higham said she wants the existing shelter and overdose prevention site out of the downtown and drug treatment centres operational as soon as possible. On the business front, she hopes to foster a more “streamlined” process to attract new development, insisting council must be flexible.
Sheyi Olubowale said it’s important to build relationships within the community and bring people together.
The following council candidates did not attend Monday’s forum: Calvin Campbell, Stephen Coop, Lindsay LaRocque, Jozef Mihaly and Liam Milaney.