County residents got to see their future councillors in action last week as 18 council candidates took questions at an all-candidates debate.
About 150 people came to the Cardiff Community Hall last Oct. 9 for a three-hour debate between 20 of the 21 candidates running in the 2013 county civic election. Division 5 candidate Wayne Bullock did not attend.
Run by the St. Albert and Morinville chambers of commerce, the remarkably civil forum involved written questions from the audience posed to the candidates by host Darel Baker.
While most candidates used their opening statements to list their credentials, a few used them to take shots at current council members.
Div. 5 incumbent Joe Milligan, for example, criticized council for showing a lack of transparency and diplomacy. “Without diplomacy and transparency, our meetings become petty, repetitive and inefficient, and that is a waste of taxpayers’ money.” Councillors need to stop micromanaging or undercutting administration, he added.
Div. 6 incumbent Karen Shaw addressed the “Texas model” of development espoused by mayoral candidate Don Rigney, which she said involved no zoning and little planning. “Yes things move quicker, but I’ve heard loud and clear that this is not what you, the residents, want.” Residents don’t want a system that could put a gravel pit next to their home, she said. “You value your rural lifestyle, and you want to keep it.”
Jerry Kaup, who is running in Div. 4, said the focus of council had to change. “It seems easier to spend big dollars on oil conferences rather than roads, plans and some of our small business parks,” he said, in an apparent reference to the travel habits of some of the incumbents. Riviere Qui Barre and Alcomdale both had pressing water issues that needed immediate action, he said. “They need help.”
Div. 4 incumbent David Kluthe said he was “very frustrated” that other members of council had supported higher taxes, and said that they were simply rubber-stamping administration’s recommendations. Like Rigney, he said the county should bring in zero-based budgeting and start contracting out road construction.
Sturgeon County was “on the cusp of greatness” with the NorthWest upgrader, said Div. 1 incumbent Don McGeachy, as it would nearly double the county’s tax base. While his division had some of the worst roads in the county, he promised to keep working on their improvement if re-elected.
Div. 1 councillor Dan Derouin won a few laughs by starting most of his speeches by spelling “i-n-f-r-a-s-t-r-u-c-t-u-r-e” – a word he admitted misspelling on his campaign literature.
Thomas Yurchak of Div. 2 also amused the audience when he trumpeted his complete lack of political and volunteer experience, saying that the county needed someone other than a politician in council.
“Do we hire a politician to do this, or do we hire someone who has no idea what he’s actually doing in the political arena?” he said, to laughter.
Questions were posed to three candidates at a time, with candidates grouped by random selection.
When it came to lowering taxes in future budgets, Div. 3 candidate Ian Skinner proposed a freeze on all property tax hikes followed by a review of the assessment system.
Div. 2 candidate Barry Lupyrypa called for a crackdown on administrative waste. “Money’s being spent everywhere but the (Sturgeon) Valley,” he said.
John Bowes of Div. 3 appeared flummoxed by this question, and eventually said the only way to lower taxes was to cut services. “If you want better roads, you can hire an engineer to get better roads,” he said. “You’ve got to go to the people and say, ‘What don’t you want to pay for?’”
On the subject of improving regional relations, Div. 4 candidate Corey Graham said council would have to have open communication and make sure that others knew there were new people on council. “We all will prosper more if we work together.”
Ferd Caron of Div. 1 had a similar response. “We’ve got to find out what their needs are and we’ve got to express what our needs are,” he said. “We have to know what’s good for all of us.”
On the environment, Div. 2 candidate Susan Evans said the county’s proposed municipal development plan would protect large amounts of green-space once enacted. “Another thing I’d like to see protected is farmland. Without farmland, we can’t eat.”
Rick Kuefler of Div. 6 was also concerned about development encroaching onto farmland. “The most important thing in life right now is water,” he said, and protecting was a big concern in the county.
On the necessity of road bans, Patrick Tighe of Div. 5 said any decisions on them had to be based on facts, with a consideration of who was operating heavy machinery and what benefits resulted from it.
Wayne Bokenfohr of Div. 3 said the county should direct surpluses towards infrastructure rather than debt repayment. “Without more infrastructure, we can’t attract more business.”
Healing divisions within county council starts with mutual respect, said Div. 5 candidate Deanna Stang, when asked how she would fix council divisions. “When you walk out of those council chambers, you have to agree and stand united.”
When it came to bringing fire protection to the Sturgeon Valley, Div. 5 candidate Jacob Middelkamp noted his experience as a volunteer firefighter and said, “It is very important that everyone have the same protection for fire.”
County residents will cast their votes this Oct. 21.