During the second election forum held in St. Albert by the Chamber of Commerce, mayoral candidate Malcolm Parker delivered a blistering statement on his fellow mayoral candidates.
Parker, Cam MacKay and Cathy Heron all took the stage Wednesday night to answer questions in front of a packed audience at the Arden Theatre. Hosted by the Chamber and moderated by John Farlinger, the forum gave all three candidates a chance to make their case for why they should be elected mayor.
Parker, who has steered clear of finger-pointing during his campaign, used his eight-minute opening comment and five-minute closing statement to take aim at his competition, specifically in light of a municipal inspection report by George Cuff detailing dysfunction on the current St. Albert city council.
Both MacKay and Heron are current councillors.
Parker called the numerous conflicts that have erupted on council over the past four years “a constant distraction” and expressed his opinion the dysfunction would only continue if MacKay or Heron were to be elected.
“It is this animosity, distrust and dysfunction this council will be remembered for,” he said.
“After four years of strife, lawsuits and inaction, no one person can claim the moral high ground.”
MacKay used his opening statement to discuss some of the priorities he has, including promoting business and looking at traffic concerns.
“The city deserves to have a mayor that isn’t only found at ribbon-cutting events and committees with per diems, but one that also has the character and leadership to stay focused on the goal of improving the city and getting it back in line,” he said.
“The stakes are high and consequences matter.”
Heron used her time to describe the position of mayor as more than looking at specific issues facing the city. It’s also about personal character and being the face of St. Albert, she said.
“Being mayor is about more than these issues. It’s about more than your one vote on council,” she said.
She added regional collaboration, housing, environmental stewardship and traffic are on her list of priorities.
Mayoral candidates wade into specifics
Candidates answered a total of 14 questions over the course of the evening, which were compiled from the audience.
Addressing the task of attracting business to St. Albert’s Lakeview district, formerly known as the Employment Lands, which lacks services, Heron said the city first needs to bring down its offsite levies.
She added the city could look at front-ending work to install services to the property area.
“They cannot be afraid to take some of that risk, because the payoff in the long run will be huge,” she said.
MacKay said he would only look at front-ending service installation if the city exhausts its other options. His preferred strategy is to find a developer who is already interested in the Lakeview district.
“Find out what they would like to see here and develop a set of land use rules and policies that work so they’ve got a product that they can take to market, and they can see how they’re going to make money,” he said.
He added another option would be to develop a business park north of the city.
Parker said he has been frustrated by a lack of activity on the property, which was zoned when he was on city council.
“What we’ve got to do is get the stakeholders, which includes the landowners, the city economic development department, our developers, and work together to make this thing happen,” he said.
Other questions candidates fielded included their greatest achievement, what they want residents to say about the council in four years’ time, how they would protect the river valley and what their long-term vision is.
Asked whether they would support re-instating the municipal planning commission (MPC), candidates fell on both sides of the topic.
Parker said he wants to review the commission, which council dissolved in 2008. This year, council deferred a decision about whether to re-instate the commission until after the election.
“What I’d like to do is review it, understand it better and if it has some merit, then I would propose that we re-instate it and work with it,” he said.
“If it doesn’t have value and it’s just going to be another bureaucratic nightmare for everybody, then let’s not do it.”
Heron said her support would depend on the structure of a new MPC.
“The one we had before was eliminated for a reason and I would not want to see it re-instated in that form,” she said, pointing to delays the MPC caused for the development community and noting the Chamber of Commerce recommended against the commission.
Instead, she suggested council form an urban design advisory committee.
“I think the underlying desire for MPC is to have more public input into planning,” she said.
MacKay said he sees benefit to the commission and would be supportive of bringing it back.
“We’ve got a lot of bright, smart people here in town who are willing to volunteer their time to build our community, and the municipal planning commission offers them an opportunity to step forward and to do that,” he said.
The mayoral forum on Wednesday followed a forum Tuesday night with the 25 councillor candidates.