Council candidates talk economy, city vision
Nine candidates were on hand for the city councillors forum hosted by the Camrose Chamber of Commerce at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre in Camrose on Oct.4.
Economic development, fiscal restraint and infrastructure projects were the biggest topics debated by City of Camrose council candidates at the Camrose Chamber of Commerce forum at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre last week.
Nine of the 12 candidates were present for the forum for the Oct. 16 Municipal Election with Wayne Throndson, Greg Wood and David Ofrim unable to attend.
Tim Doering, Jullie Girard, Anthony Holler, Agnes Hoveland, Kevin Hycha, Cathie Johnson, Max Lindstrand, Niel Parker and P.J. Stasko all took part in the evening.
The first question — their strategy for creating jobs and growin the economy brought the widest variance in answers for the evening.
Most emphasized the need to be progressive and when it came to the type of businesses Camrose should pursue. Doering touched on potential marijuana and hemp processing plants and other agribusinesses while also ensuring that the city remained a destination for surrounding communities for shopping and other businesses. Girard added shopping in Camrose must be about the experience to attract consumers while also thinking outside the box when it came to bringing in tech industries.
The idea of innovation and research was echoed by most candidates to varying degrees, some like Hoveland, Parker, Stasko, and Lindstrand stressing the importance of the University of Alberta-Augustana and its role in clean industries, while Johnson talked about the strides the city is already taking in different agricultural sciences.
Holler, meanwhile, said the city should focus on attracting people to town through events, which would in turn encourage more of a tourism based economy.
Hycha said Camrose should look at its infrastructure as hub, with two rail lines and the airport to develop the city further as a distribution centre.
On the question of transportation and infrastructure, two major themes emerged, the need for a proper north ring road to divert dangerous goods and oversized trucks off of 48th Avenue, and the need for the expansion of public transportation.
“(Public transportation) goes to the theme about attracting young families here as something they look for,” said Parker. “We also have a large population of seniors and a large population of students, and those are the two big populations that want public transit.”
Lindstrand said public transportation has been a priority for the current council, setting aside $250,000 a year for public transportation initiatives like the taxi token program, the community bus and the handivan.
“The last time I looked at the statistics, 11 per cent of people in Camrose live in poverty, and 15 per cent of those are kids, the greatest needs the have are for housing, transportation and childcare,” he said.
The forum closed with a question about their approach to the municipal budget and fiscal responsibility.
All, predictably, talked about the need for fiscal prudence and the need to listen to the public about needs and wants and responsible stewardship of a $53 million budget.
“You often hear in politics ‘I’m going to be a good politician because I’m a good business person,’” said Girard. “It’s beyond ridiculous, because our design as a business is to make money and that should never be our design as a government, our design is to serve the people.”
Hoveland, Doering and Johnson said councillors need to rely on experts and administration when it comes to budgets.
Lindstrand did point out the city’s biggest expense is salaries, but that also goes to keeping service levels high. He also noted the city has never had a deficit budget and over the last 10 years they have reduced the city’s long-term debt from $30 million to $19 million.
Perhaps the line of the night belonged to Parker on strategies regarding the resilience, retention and services for youth and young families in Camrose. Most candidates talked about the need for jobs for families or activities and facilities for young people to enjoy and building off of its strong reputation in the region as a good place to raise a family. Parker took a different angle, relying on his own recent experience as one of the youngest candidates in the election, and the importance of getting the younger generation involved on the boards of organizations.
“You let them build community around themselves,” said Parker. “The second (step) in encouraging young people to come here, is you should put a young professional, who keeps moving back to Camrose on City Council.”
The Mayoral Forum went on Wednesday night while tonight at 6 p.m. the Camrose Public Library is hosting Speed Dating with the Candidates, giving the public the opportunity to sit down with the different nominees for a couple of minutes each.