The majority of candidates for St. Albert’s six municipal councillor seats would make creating a functional council, affordability and economic development their top priorities for a term on council.
All 25 councillor candidates spoke during an election forum held by the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night. Moderated by John Farlinger, a lifetime honorary member of the Chamber, the forum opened to a packed Arden Theatre with candidate introductions.
Over the course of three hours, candidates answered questions on transit, capital spending and taxes, as well as what their number-one priority would be if elected.
Ken MacKay, Shayne Kawalilak, Natalie Joly, Jacquie Hansen, Craig Cameron, Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon and Ray Watkins all cited council functionality as their top priority.
“That just means being respectful and professional, being willing to listen and recognizing the individual contributions each member of council brings into that role,” said MacKay.
“We’re not expected to agree on everything but you can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Kawalilak’s vision for a cohesive council team includes prior discussion of agendas so councillors aren’t discussing items for the first time at the council table, as well as team-building activities.
“I don’t know if you’re allowed to have fun at council meetings,” he said jokingly.
“If it’s possible, I’m going to do it.”
Joly said she sees the road map to success in George Cuff’s municipal inspection report, which was released publicly at the end of August. In particular, she said the council will need to take a big-picture focus.
“That last 10 pages of recommendations is really helpful for us,” she said.
Hansen said a council needs several factors in order to function properly.
“It requires collaboration, it requires following the rules and it requires knowing the roles and responsibilities,” she said.
Cameron tied his desire for positive council relationships to a broader desire for a total inclusion policy for the city.
“I’d like to see us avoid picking winners and losers,” he said.
Beach-McCutcheon said she wants to understand what is important to each councillor and then establish common ground in order to build relationships.
“We’re going to have to be together through thick and thin for four years,” she said.
Watkins said his goal would be a cohesive and effective governance team.
“I would do everything I can to create that goal,” he said.
Affordability and taxes dominated the priorities of candidates Charlene Jelinski, Sheena Hughes, Al Bohachyk, Jaye Walter and Tash Taylor.
Jelinski said the high cost of living in St. Albert is the concern she hears most frequently from residents.
“While I recognize the importance of maintaining and advancing our community through developments and projects that will benefit all, we need to be able to achieve this by finding creative, cost-efficient solutions that will allow us to proceed with the least amount of impact on taxpayers,” she said.
Hughes said affordable and realistic solutions need to be found going forward. She also pledged to continue fighting to re-instate Municipal Sustainability Initiative funds to the utility budget, which would bring down monthly bills for residents.
Council removed the funding in 2015, which resulted in a substantial jump for utility bills.
“I’ve been fighting for this for the past three years … and I will continue to take action until it’s reversed,” she said.
Bohachyk said he wants to work with the city’s internal auditor to examine departmental programs one at a time for all departments. The examination would include looking at mission statements to see if the program is fulfilling its role.
“If we are doing business that is unnecessary, we need to fix those issues,” he said.
Walter said the city needs to maintain its affordability.
“I believe we can also find efficiencies in government operations,” he said.
Taylor said she wants the city to update its affordable housing strategy in order to help with housing costs.
“It’s outdated, there are new practices that we need and can incorporate here to be more modern at the least and leading at best,” she said.
Fiscal prudence was also a common theme for the priorities of Leonard Wilkins and Steve Stone.
Wilkins said the city needs to start spending sustainably by planning for projects.
“Everybody here pays more than enough in taxes – we have to work toward fixing that,” he said.
“One way is to control your expenditures … the other way is by spending money as we have enough revenue to cover the expenses.”
Stone said he would look to restore responsible spending and work toward zero-based budgeting in order to cut back on expenditures.
“You think two per cent is not that bad, but … two per cent of a monster makes it a two-per-cent-bigger monster,” he said.
“We have to control spending.”
Bob Russell, Hannes Rudolph and Mark Kay pointed to economic development as their key priority.
Russell said the city needs to make progress on the land west of Ray Gibbon Drive, referencing the 250 hectares of land the city has designated for the Lakeview Business District, formerly known as the Employment Lands.
“We have to move our marketing emphasis from residential to nonresidential. The first step is to establish an area structure plan and market it not just in Alberta, not nationally but internationally,” he said.
Rudolph said the city needs to work quickly to attract and retain businesses in order to stave off potential high tax increases. One suggestion he made was to prioritize work on an industrial park for the Lakeview area.
“We are running out of industrial land for new businesses to build on,” he said.
Kay said development of that area will be key to ensuring growth for St. Albert.
“This area would keep jobs in St. Albert for yourself, your children and your grandchildren,” he said.
“I would exhaust myself in developing this area with the goal of attracting new investments and jobs into the community.”
Barry Zukewich said roads and business attraction are both important, but in order for those to move forward Ray Gibbon Drive must first be twinned.
“We’re not going to attract a business park to St. Albert in its current shape,” he said.
Jacy Eberlein pointed to the pending annexation of land by St. Albert from Sturgeon County as his highest priority.
“In council, I intend to ensure we have the districting appropriate for all our upcoming generations and generations from the past,” he said.
Affordable housing for seniors made the top of the list for Nestor Petriw and Wes Brodhead.
“We have a grey tsunami here in St. Albert and because we rely so much on residential taxes, the people who are now retired … are looking for places they can live and do it affordably, and also have access to things like quality facilities for recreation and public transit,” Petriw said.
Brodhead referenced the work by Homeland Housing, which he has been involved in, to build seniors affordable housing in St. Albert.
“In St. Albert, we have lots of for-market rate seniors housing. What we have a poverty of is seniors affordable housing,” he said.
Ufuoma Odebala-Fregene said she wants to see the city address rates of suicide.
“The first thing I would tackle is the mental health challenges we have in our community,” she said.
For Jan Butler, the upcoming plebiscite will be first on the list of issues to address.
“We all have those issues on our (ballot) … and what are we going to do next?” she said.
Gilbert Cantin cited traffic as his top priority.
“I would synchronize the lights on St. Albert Trail,” he said.
Mark Cassidy didn’t select a top priority, pointing to the seven items in his platform instead. One such item is the phasing out of photo radar.
“I feel that photo radar is a lazy form of policing,” he said.
“Public safety comes first.”