St. Albert’s council candidates took the stage in the first night of a two-part virtual forum on Tuesday evening.
The two-hour forum on Zoom was hosted by the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, and moderated by Stephan Khan, former MLA of St. Albert and member of the chamber’s government affairs committee.
During the forum, the candidates were divided into three groups. Each group answered a question on a different topic. Candidates were given one “wild card,” an opportunity to speak on a question not posed to their group. The questions touched on regional collaboration, transparency and communication, and land use.
Eighteen of St. Albert’s 20 council candidates attended, with Isadore Stoyko and Mike Ferguson absent.
Khan posed a question about regional collaboration, noting the Edmonton region is collaborating in many areas including economic development, transit, and agriculture.
“In your opinion, what role should St. Albert be playing in regional collaboration?” Khan asked.
Sheena Hughes said when it comes to collaboration, St. Albert should have its best interest in mind, noting she takes issue with the regional approach St. Albert has taken to transit.
“We need to make sure we have not been taken advantage of,” Hughes said. “What I’m seeing in regional collaboration is often Edmonton looks after its best interest.”
Kevan Jess disagreed with Hughes’s position on transit.
“I think it makes perfect sense for a community in the area,” Jess noted. “A lot of other regional services, however, don’t make sense. Only if the provincial government does something foolish and gets rid of the RCMP would regional policing potentially also make sense.”
Wes Brodhead argued St. Albert has “100-per-cent authority” in the area of public transit.
“I would challenge people to read the reports before they start making comments that St. Albert has lost its autonomy,” Brodhead said.
Jennifer Cote referred to collaboration as a “double-edged sword.”
“I understand the attraction of regional co-operation,” Cote said. “If we’re currently facing a shortfall with things like repair, maintenance, and replacement (RMR) funds … we have to ensure the value [from collaborative agreements] is there for our residents.”
Ken MacKay said the opportunities for the Edmonton Metro region are “endless,” arguing the scope should be global.
“We're not competing with Calgary," MacKay said. "We're competing with Denver and Minneapolis ... Yes, we have to ensure a strong voice for St. Albert in our region. We also have to have enhanced municipal collaboration, and it is happening.”
Sandy Clark, Rachel Jones, Wally Popik, and Donna Kawahara also spoke to the importance of regional collaboration.
"When we had that fire at Citadel Mews, fire trucks came from Morinville and Edmonton to help us, and we need to be able to do the same for them," Kawahara said.
With regard to transparency and communication, Khan posed a question to one group of candidates about how the government interfaces with the public.
“Communicating with the community has been an ongoing struggle for the city,” Khan said. “What plans do you have to increase the accessibility of government for the citizens of St. Albert?”
Cote said this issue of communication inspired her to step up and run.
“We need to foster respect for different points of view,” Cote said. “Not only within council, but when people come to speak to council, we should be encouraging our residents to participate.”
Shelley Biermanski said as a councillor she will “respect that the citizens have a say in tax dollar spending.”
“I would not waste money on public surveys and in turn ignore them,” Biermanski said.
Mike Killick held up a city report he said he had obtained through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request.
“I paid over $400 for a 95-page report, and after waiting for six months I received it,” Killick said. “The report was almost 100-per-cent redacted or blacked out. Does this look appropriate to you? The administration must deliver better information, and council must demand better, because residents deserve better.”
Ross Guffei said his personal experiences have led him to believe the city has a problem with a lack of transparency.
“I’ve had some really interesting experiences with the city,” Guffei said. “I’ve asked many questions trying to find out exactly what we’re doing, and what I generally get is a political answer that is a non-answer.”
On the topic of land use, Khan posed a question about the city’s new Municipal Development Plan (MDP), a high-level document influencing all other planning in the city. Kahn noted city council will be tasked with creating and modifying other city plans to align with the MDP.
“Are there elements of the new MDP you think will lead to increased opportunity for St. Albert, or that will cause challenges?” Khan asked.
Natalie Joly said the MDP is “really exciting” for St. Albert, adding the development of a river protection strategy will be key for the future council.
“Right now, a lot of the development around the river isn’t really done with a particular strategy in mind,” Joly said. “I would love to see that happen in St. Albert over the next term.”
Shawn LeMay argued it is “critical” council be clear and proactive in communications about city planning, noting he is against the density formula “aiming to cram even more families per hectare … at the risk of community safety and further traffic congestion."
“We need to know the plans ahead of time and they need to be clear to all of us,” LeMay said. “Also, why are we only now speaking of protecting the river valley? We should have been doing this years ago.”
Joseph Trapani spoke about the importance of pursuing growth that fits with the character of St. Albert. Louis Sobolewski said his impression of the MDP was at times "a little unrealistic."
"St. Albert dos have a habit of going out and starting projects that are very long-term or expensive," Sobolewski said. "We need to keep an eye on that."
Gilbert Cantin argued the city hasn’t properly built access to the north, despite this being a main area planned for growth.
“It’s time to start talking about a fourth access on the east side of the city to make sure that traffic flows properly,” Cantin said.
Leonard Wilkins mentioned one area of land-use planning he argued was “not being addressed appropriately.”
“Every single council candidate found out through an information request there is a cannabis retail store going in right next door to a daycare,” Wilkins said. “Daycares … should have the same courtesy extended to schools and after school care [with limits on how close cannabis stores can be].”
The next forum will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 13) on Zoom. Those wishing to attend can sign up on the chamber website at www.stalbertchamber.com to receive a Zoom link. The event will also be live-streamed via Facebook.