Chamber forum lets candidates play to full house
Wide range of topics covered
| Posted: Friday, Oct 18, 2013 02:30 pm
A packed room greeted civic candidates at the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce’s forum hosted Tuesday night.
The second of the formal forums for municipal council candidates held this election season left some spectators having to stand as voters crowded the room at St. Albert Inn and Suites.
All 16 councillor candidates and both mayoral candidates were on hand to give opening and closing statements. Mayoral candidates got to answer all the questions put forth by the panel, including ones just for the would-be mayors, while councillor candidates were put into small groups that got to address a couple of questions each. The questions were developed by a panel of past chamber chairs based on submissions from the audience.
Topics were broad-ranging while some topics, like transportation, transit, utility rates and tax rates, were tackled by candidates at the St. Albert Taxpayers Association forum held on Oct. 10.
John Goldsmith, Roger Bradley and Tim Osborne were asked about how they, if elected, planned on being transparent.
“By telling people what’s going on, as simple as that,” said Goldsmith.
“To be open and transparent means to be engaged with the community and include them in the decision making process,” Bradley said, adding more community leagues would be great ways to keep in touch with each community.
Osborne said transparency comes down to availability, and added his suggestion that as a councillor, he’d distil each week’s meeting agenda to a few paragraphs on a blog for the public.
“Providing people with an opportunity to share their feedback,” Osborne said.
Candidates Mark Cassidy, Cathy Heron and Norm Harley were asked what they would do to encourage new doctors to set up practice in St. Albert.
Cassidy noted the plans for a medical office building near the hospital. “Providing the necessary space and making it user-friendly for doctors,” he said of how to attract physicians.
Heron noted the work she and Malcolm Parker did during the current council’s term to bring in more doctors and said what’s needed is to make St. Albert attractive to new medical school graduates, noting there are marketing materials geared to them.
“We always need to work with partners and our biggest partner in this is the Primary Care Network,” Heron said.
Harley suggested visiting physicians and finding out what the ones here think would help bring in more.
“I think if you go to the people the young doctors are going to work with and find out what they think is important,” Harley said.
On the attraction topic, candidates David Climenhaga, Hughena Burke, Gareth Jones and Ted Durham were asked how they’d bring more young families to St. Albert.
Climenhaga said ways need to be found to have affordable housing for young families, and also suggested working with other levels of government to make sure there are good education options here.
Burke suggested sitting down with school trustees as well as getting public input and dialogue on why school enrolment, which was mentioned in the question, was not increasing.
Jones said St. Albert is falling behind in growth, and suggested the need to form partnerships with Sturgeon County and developers and work with them on affordable housing.
Durham suggested taxes are keeping out businesses that would offer employment that would bring in more people.
“Our slow growth is because we’re not attracting businesses that will employ people full time,” Durham said.
Candidates Cam MacKay, Malcolm Parker and Bob Russell were asked about the location of tourism information at city hall. The chamber has proposed moving tourist information back to their building.
MacKay said he’d like to see it back at its old location on the south part of St. Albert Trail, but said there would have be negotiation of who pays for what.
“There should be some cost paid by the chamber,” MacKay said, noting he thinks the primary beneficiaries of tourism are businesses.
Parker agreed the south location in the chamber building is the right location, and pointed out he has a notice of motion before council to address that issue.
“The reason I support it is because when people come to a community, the first place they go to look for information is the chamber of commerce,” he said.
Bob Russell said he was in the original negotiations and thinks it’s still best to have the tourist information centre where it’s visible.
“That can be done at that location,” Russell said, though noted they still need to negotiate it.
Library space was the question given to candidates Sheena Hughes, Wes Brodhead and Gilles Prefontaine.
“The library for me is just a jewel,” Hughes said. She said the space is too crowded and they need to find a way to get more space, but cost effectively.
Brodhead noted the case for additional space for the library was made years ago, but it needs support to move it from conceptual project to reality.
“We need to see a groundswell of community support,” Brodhead said.
Prefontaine noted the library is more than just books – it’s also technology and community space.
“They provide such valuable programming to residents within this community,” Prefontaine said, noting the program portion is what needs more space and suggested creative alternatives are needed to find space.
Mayoral candidates were able to weigh in on every question, but both Shelley Biermanski and Nolan Crouse got the opportunity to answer two aimed just at them – one on if they supported the proposed expansion of Servus Place, the other on if they’d favour a single mill rate to spur business development.
Neither Crouse or Biermanski were in favour of an expansion at this time of Servus Place. Biermanski suggested the recreation facility should be privately managed, though not privately owned. Crouse said in the long term expansions are likely needed, but didn’t see them happening in the next five years.
On the topic of a single mill rate, instead of non-residential and residential properties paying different rates neither said they’d be in favour.
“I would want to look at all the options before I answer that question,” Biermanski said. She said an internal auditor is needed to look at the books and start finding ways to lower taxes.
Crouse said Alberta cities are not allowed to hire internal auditors, with the exceptions of Calgary and Edmonton.
“I would not change the mill rate structure,” Crouse said. “Our mill rate for business is right in the middle of the pack for the region. And it’s lower than Edmonton.”