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Candidate Q & A: COVID-19

All candidates for the St. Albert municipal election weigh in on how they plan to navigate the ongoing pandemic.

Send us your election questions
The Gazette has reached out to all St. Albert candidates with a list of 12 questions, and the answers will run in The Gazette each week as the Oct. 18 election approaches. Question topics touch on taxation, climate, development, funding shortfalls, business, traffic, transparency, reconciliation, the city’s Badger Lands solar-farm project, and more. Now we want to hear from you. What questions are at the top of your mind going into St. Albert’s municipal election? Email us the questions you'd like candidates to answer: [email protected].

The Oct. 18 election coincides with Alberta’s dire fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

St. Albert’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force — a committee established specifically to generate strategies to assist residents, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses in recovering from the impact of the pandemic — released a final report on Aug. 30. How that report is implemented will be up to the incoming council. 

Further, the ongoing nature of the pandemic means that further decisions surrounding the impact of COVID-19 will be on the horizon. The Gazette asked all candidates running in the St. Albert municipal election what actions they would take to support St. Albert as the pandemic continues. 

Mayoral candidates had 120 words to answer the question:

David Letourneau: One of the largest impacts COVID-19 has had on people is their mental wellbeing, a lack of connectedness, and a reduction in their sense of community. A key lesson learned from these effects of the pandemic is the utmost importance of quality public spaces that allow citizens to engage in safe activities. Developing quality public spaces within St. Albert’s already abundant supply of parks, river valley, and trails promotes social activities as well as a sense of community. Through engaging in partnerships with local businesses and programming the city spaces, there is an opportunity to create a vibrant downtown, engaging green spaces, and a river valley more accessible to all residents.

Angela Wood: I believe that, like with all other serious issues, we should take a calculated and pragmatic approach. This will require openness and acceptance. COVID-19 has had a large impact on the ability for families to come together, mental health, and our economy. The effects of COVID-19 have extended beyond the immediate threat to health, and we need to focus on rebuilding the community and having the community want to come together to heal and make our community stronger. We need to support organizations that will help achieve this goal.

Bob Russell: Council should be guided by science and support the use of masks, vaccination, and social distancing as the first steps in defeating this pandemic. I would ask council to be positive examples of these steps.

Cathy Heron: I am so proud of St. Albertans for leading the province in vaccination rates. I am also thankful to the group of residents we pulled together to sit on the Recovery Task Force. There are many recommendations coming from the task force. To highlight a few: adapting business service delivery (more online and e-platforms); incentives for new development in target areas such as downtown and Lakeview; enhancing our incubation ecosystem; develop an internal marketing campaign; encourage neighbourhood connectedness with initiatives similar to the driveway firepits; more outdoor recreation such as skating on the river. Food sustainability through community gardens. Bring a youth mental-health hub to St. Albert, re-imagine our relationship with our social service partners. And so much more.

Council candidates had 80 words to answer the question:

Mike Ferguson: None. Especially if this support is to come from the taxpayer.

Ross Guffei: This is a very difficult question for me to respond to. I will start by stating that both myself and my wife are fully vaccinated. I am not an expert on the details of this particular subject. I am torn between protecting the general population and health system versus the rights of individuals to have freedom of choice. My training tells me that there has to be a decision made that will balance those two issues.

Natalie Joly: My first responsibility is personal, to get vaccinated. I received my second dose in June. My second responsibility is ensuring that residents are supported through access to safe supports, recreation and culture activities, and the information we need to stay healthy. We must also support local businesses by listening to and responding to their calls for support that will help them thrive. We are in this together as residents, businesses, and Albertans. Our collective efforts will see us recover quickly.

Mike Killick: I would follow the provincial guidelines. Implementing a unique set of rules could hinder St. Albert as we are so closely linked to other communities around us. I recognize that this impacts people's lives both physical and mental, their livelihoods, access to education, access to recreation, etc. I would work to keep St. Albert services and businesses open to serve the community while doing everything we can to keep residents safe and healthy.  

Shawn Lemay: We must keep in mind that so much of the direction comes from the provincial level and above — we must respect our jurisdictional health authorities. That said, I believe there is much more the city could have done to help mitigate the local impact and, should this pandemic continue, we should be far more assertive. As a trained and experienced emergency management official, I understand all too well the struggles and impacts associated with such protracted events.

Sheena Hughes: The government's COVID-19 decisions have had an overwhelming and exhausting impact on our community and created isolation and division. It has resulted in negative effects on our mental health, our relationships, and our financial future. We need to rebuild by encouraging community, acknowledging the need to connect with others, and recognizing what we have endured. The next council needs to support the community organizations that both help with the current effects from the pandemic and strengthen our community moving forward. 

Leonard Wilkins: Our best option is to follow the vaccine records check for facility access. Two of the hardest hit segments of our city are small business and the underprivileged. I would work with city council and these segments of our community as to how to best support them.

Louis Sobolewski: I would listen to the experts and follow their advice about what measures need to be taken to keep people safe, while still allowing businesses to continue to operate. Right now, following expert advice means encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, supporting the mask mandate, and requiring vaccine passports as per provincial guidelines.

Jennifer Cote: Our governments — council included — have failed to engage in meaningful two-way dialogue with community members regarding COVID mitigation strategies and their impact on everyday life. As a result, people have suffered mentally, emotionally, and financially — specifically our most vulnerable. People deserve to have a say in how we navigate forward, and I will initiate this conversation. We must place community health at the forefront, yet recognize the importance of individual choice and the pivotal role it plays in our democracy.

Isadore Stoyko: Believe in the science. Get vaccinated to protect each and everyone. Promote a safe environment for everybody by getting vaccinated.

Ken MacKay: The impact of COVID-19 on our community has been profound. I support the recommendations coming from residents who made up the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. We need to increase awareness of available supports and programs for businesses and our residents. We must support businesses through incentive programs, encouraging partnerships, and reducing red tape. We need to encourage spontaneous-use activities such as the pop-up fire pits and the freezeway at Lions Park and ensure supports are available for the vulnerable.

Rachel Jones: Many of our residents are struggling with loss of loved ones, mental health, isolation, and stress. St. Albertans are resilient but are feeling tired. I would seek to support health-care teams and first responders in St. Albert, work with our community to learn about what mental-health supports are needed, and check in with residents to see what they need for their children and extended families. Building connections is my superpower and I’ll do just that. 

Donna Kawahara: As a health-care provider for 28 years, I have direct experience with this pandemic and the pressures it brings. It is imperative that we ensure the health and safety of all individuals. I support masking and vaccine requirements for businesses and public buildings. I respect those who have medical and religious vaccine exemptions; we must support their personal needs without marginalizing them. St. Albert residents should do what we know is right, not wait for the province to make a decision.

Joseph Trapani: COVID-19 has several problems. We know by fact that it is a deadly virus; but there is too much confusion/information from the government, the press, and even the public. Once we hear that it is good and other times it is bad or not working currently. I would like to see council put out a fact document on why we need to be vaccinated, wearing masks, and to follow provincial and federal guidelines. That way the community will know and hope they will be doing the right thing. This been done on several other issues or concerns.

Wally Popik: I would support having a clear approach from the federal government that includes all levels of government. St. Albert needs to work toward getting some consistency in addressing this problem from a health and safety point and not a political point. People need clarity in what is and isn't acceptable. I would hope that the health and safety of all Canadians would take priority over party politics.

Gilbert Cantin: Businesses did and will shut down if this pandemic keeps going much longer. I don’t think the city can substitute a demand that is not there. The only thing the city can do is to extend tax payments for businesses in trouble. What we can all do as individuals is buy from the small business to allow them to survive past this pandemic. Please listen to the science and get your vaccine so we can all move on past this pandemic.  

Wes Brodhead: First, I would support any measures that hastened the return normal life in our community. I would support the restriction exemption program for city facilities. I would support masking requirements in public buildings. I would support a safe work environment for all civic workers. I would support enhanced civic educational measures to encourage all St. Albertans to be fully vaccinated. However, I would push back against a return to a full lockdown of civic, business, and recreational services.

Shelley Biermanski: I have never seen a time when people were more pitted against each other and so confirming that the current methods are not working. Social beings cannot stay locked up forever. We need discussion of treatment options for individuals who test positive for COVID. Sending people home to quarantine alone with no treatment advice seems senseless. Early intervention would probably keep many individuals from ending up in hospitals once their health has greatly deteriorated. Seniors have particularly been abandoned. 

Sandy Clark: It’s important for consistency and direction for businesses, schools, and the public that public-health mandates be led by the province and not municipalities. Municipalities must support these directives and provide safe, healthy environments within municipal facilities for staff and patrons. I believe the current restrictions are necessary to keep people healthy and safe, especially those unable to receive a vaccine or children under 12, and to allow all businesses the ability to continue to operate without further disruption. 

Kevan Jess: Given weak/unclear provincial direction on operations I would consult with business leaders on what the city can do to support business as they make decisions and implement/enforce rules not of their making. This could involve expedited approvals of things needed to shift business models, greater assistance/presence from law enforcement where applicable, as well as additional legislative clarity. I would also explore means to reduce or defer costs of the city on ratepayers, particularly small business, in a fair manner.  

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