Getting Red Deerians back to work, addressing the economic impact of COVID-19, and finding a solution for the city’s temporary homeless shelter are the most pressing local issues according to three mayoral candidates.
But it all depends on which candidate you ask.
Three out of six mayoral candidates participated in Thursday’s online mayoral forum sponsored by the Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre: Ken Johnston, Buck Buchanan and Jeremy Moore.
Johnston said one in 10 Red Deerians are out of work and that’s why economic development, and having a mayor focused on being an economic ambassador for business, is vital.
“We’ve got empty buildings. We’ve got an industrial park that needs some uptake. We have Capstone that’s waiting to get off the ground. We have downtown office space. People want to see a mayor help Red Deer get back on its feet,” said Johnston, a two-term city councillor.
“The social ills will be there, but near full employment means a successful future and some hope for all of us,” Johnston said.
Buchanan said the economic costs of the pandemic, and the disagreements in the community about COVID-19 passports and vaccinations, must be addressed.
“Me personally, I’ve never seen people so polarized at each end of the spectrum,” said Buchanan, a four-term councillor.
He said there are costs associated to being in a state of local emergency, like the drop in transit and recreation users.
“The economics of this thing are huge. That’s the single most important thing we have to deal with and try and figure that out, if there is a way to figure it out,” Buchanan said.
Moore said a lot of people are concerned about the future of the temporary homeless shelter.
“A lot of people are concerned are we going to push these people out into the cold. The last thing we want to hear is somebody tragically dying this winter because we didn’t take action on a social issue,” said Moore, an electrician who runs his own company.
“Hopefully in the spring we hit the ground running and we help to improve our homeless situation and our drug abuse situation and get our social issues under control. I think that’s one of the major issues people are concerned about in the community,” Moore said.
When candidates were asked about the city’s efforts to advocate for the expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, Buchanan said city council has struggled to make the province listen.
“It needs to be updated and upgraded. What that looks like, or what that’s going to end up like, that’s anybody’s guess. But we have to continue to do our very best to advocate to the province. Sometimes they have a bit of a deaf ear. Definitely it’s the responsibility of mayor and council to make sure they’re listening,” Buchanan said.
Johnston said council has spoken with one strong voice to say “enough is enough” and Premier Jason Kenney did announce a cardiac centre and $100 million for expansion.
“Our voice is getting heard and we are moving the needle. We are banging the drum hard on the hospital. Frankly it’s an embarrassment to our whole health system. We’re the fourth busiest hospital in all of Alberta and we’re way, way behind in basic services,” Johnston said.
Moore said unfortunately the project is grossly underfunded in today’s dollars. The province has to get caught up and deliver.
“Red Deer is the perfect place to put a very significant amount of money into health care. We have the space. We can draw the professionals in here and we can serve all of Alberta out of Red Deer. It’s long over due. Send the money and we’ll build it,” Moore said.
When asked about ways to reduce crime, Johnston said he would promote social enterprise to get unemployed street people into an enterprise where they feel valued and they have meaningful daily activity.
“When you get people working, when you get people active that way, they don’t turn to crime,” Johnston said.
Buchanan said statistics show crime is actually way down, but that’s not the public’s perception when it comes to the downtown.
“We have to make people feel comfortable, and whatever that takes needs to be done,” Buchanan said.
Moore said making police presence visible would help reduce crime. Far too often police officers are never seen, and when they are, they are driving to calls.
“They never seem to have time to drive through the community, and help calm the community, and let the criminals and those that have behavioural issues know that the police are around. If the police are visible it will go a long way to curbing the crime,” Moore said.
Mayoral candidates James Allen and Bradley Magee had attended a previous virtual forum also hosted by the Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre.
The organization has two more Meet the Candidate virtual series coming up on Oct. 15.
Note: This story was updated Friday morning to highlight mayoral candidates James Allen and Bradley Magee had attended a previous forum.