Four years is a long time in politics, but not in reality. Whether it be community planning, climate change, or city status, many decisions made by Morinville’s leaders in the next four years will have implications for decades to come.
In this final Q & A, The Gazette asked Morinville mayoral candidates Simon Boersma, Barry Turner, and Shane Ladouceur what steps they would take in the next four years to address some of the most pressing issues of the next 10.
Whenever the COVID-19 pandemic ends, Morinville will have to take steps to get its community and economy back on its feet.
Boersma said council needs to improve its communications with residents post-COVID through a ward-like system that would see councillors serve as central points of contact for specific neighbourhoods on a rotating basis.
Instead of planning for tax hikes, Boersma said Morinville should support new businesses post-COVID through a graduated business tax, one that would see new companies pay 33, 67, and 100 per cent of their taxes over their first three years in town.
“We will kill this community if we keep on taxing and taxing and taxing and hoping people are going to come,” he said.
Boersma said the town also has to address the lack of affordable Internet in its business parks. Council should work with businesses and Internet providers on a solution — possibly a cost-share option — and consider direct investment similar to that done under Sturgeon County’s broadband pilot.
Turner said council’s top issue coming out of the pandemic is to get its tax-supported deficit under control, much of which is the result of opening the Morinville Leisure Centre. Council is doing this in part by slowly shifting away from its equalized residential/non-residential mill rate, adding some $260,000 to town revenues a year in the process.
Turner disagrees with the idea that putting more of the tax burden onto businesses could repel investment, noting that the town is seeing significant development in the Westwinds region despite investors knowing about the town’s tax plans.
“Our developers are signaling to us very clearly that Morinville is set to grow.”
Turner noted that council had used $20,000 of its provincial Municipal Operating Support Transfer funds to fund the Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce’s COVID business recovery plan. More residents have started to shop local during the pandemic, and council should work with businesses to lock in those new habits.
Ladouceur said Morinville has done a great job of weathering the pandemic and should focus on attracting barber shops and grocery stores that appeal to its young population. He did not support tax breaks for businesses, saying that they would likely add to profits rather than jobs.
He also raised the idea of building a town-run greenhouse that would supply free fruits and vegetables to residents.
“When there’s a healthy, happy, fed community, it prospers better,” he said.
The climate challenge
Global heating hasn’t taken a holiday during the pandemic. Last summer saw Morinville bake under an unprecedented heat dome, choke on wildfire smoke, and weep as a bountiful harvest withered in the blazing sun. With more droughts, floods, and heat waves projected in days ahead, leaders at all levels of government are now grappling with how to help residents prepare for a hotter tomorrow.
Ladouceur said he would address climate change by building a regional natural gas plant, which he argued is one of the cleanest fuels available.
“The climate is always changing,” he said, adding that he considers climate change to be “a fad, a trend, a business.”
(Thousands of researchers around the world have determined that recent climate change is real, human-caused, and unprecedented in hundreds of thousands of years. A December 2020 report from Natural Resources Canada found this warming would result in more floods, fires, and droughts in the Prairies.)
While he said Morinville should look at all forms of energy, Ladouceur said he finds the fields of solar panels and wind turbines by Drumheller to be an “eyesore” and a waste of agricultural land.
Turner said Morinville has fallen behind on addressing climate change, and that the town could best catch up through regional action. That could mean joint investment in money-making green energy projects, for example, or developing greener building codes. He also wants to start a Property Assessed Clean Energy program in town next term to help homeowners pay for energy efficiency retrofits through their taxes.
Global heating means more frequent water shortages, Boersma said. Morinville should work with Legal and Sturgeon County to create a regional utilities service for water to ensure it manages its water supply with its neighbours. Administration should also ensure new neighbourhoods have the electrical grids needed to support electric cars.
Also in Morinville’s future is the question of when, or if, it should become a city.
Boersma said he would hold a plebiscite on the town’s future status within four years after an extensive public education campaign on the consequences of staying a town, becoming a city, or merging with Sturgeon County.
“We need to ensure our citizens know what those three statuses look like.”
Ladouceur said city status is the top issue facing Morinville’s future, and that he would ask the community if it wants to become a city, if elected. He said the benefits of city status, particularly the ability to control Highway 642, far outweigh the costs.
Turner said he would hold a comprehensive community consultation on what kind of city Morinville should become, and when, next term.
“I think Morinville is going to grow like gangbusters in the next four years,” he said, and that would set the stage for when the town should seek city status.
“One thing I absolutely support is remaining an individual and autonomous community,” he added, saying his research suggests that amalgamation produces more costs than savings.
The pool question
And then there’s the pool. A pool has been on Morinville’s wish-list for what seems like decades. The town’s capital plan slates it for some time after 2026.
Turner said the town is not likely to see a pool built by 2027 without massive change to the town’s finances.
“We’re looking at a 25-per-cent hit to our future capital funding from the province” next year, he said, and the pool is a major pressure point in the town’s budget.
“We’ve got to be realistic.”
Turner said the town’s new recreation collaboration framework with St. Albert could give town residents more access to that city’s pools in the meantime. Council would also put about $250,000 a year for several into developing the lands around the leisure centre, which could mean soccer pitches and horseshoe pits there within two years.
Ladouceur said Morinville should have built its pool 10 years ago, and could afford it if it better managed its finances.
“I believe the swimming pool is a public-health necessity,” he said, and that its benefits outweigh its costs.
Boersma said he would love to look at building a pool, and said the town could afford to do so within four years if it attracts enough new business. He also said the town should consider an outdoor pool as an interim measure.
“There are a lot of people in the community that want this,” he said, and it is unfair to keep moving the goalposts on its construction.
Morinville residents head to the polls Oct. 18. Visit morinville.ca/en/town-hall/election.aspx for details.