INNISFAIL – COVID was the trigger for early fireworks at the town’s all-candidates municipal election forum and it set the stage for later when mayoral candidate Jean Barclay dropped a bomb on opponent Glen Carritt to close out the online event.
Barclay began her closing statement, the last one chosen by forum organizers, by reminding the online audience that Innisfail had a “stark choice” to make on Oct. 18 between “a mayor who is here to serve the community or one who only wants to fight.”
She then said that on Sept. 7 Carritt was seen on a live Facebook broadcast from the Red Deer Public School Board office protesting masking requirements for students, and stating, ‘storm the building’ and ‘we’re taking over.”
Barclay then added there was second recent live video where Carritt nodded in agreement to a guest’s comments that, "history has shown us, once you’re there, there is only one way out. That is a rebellion. You’ve got to go hard. You got to shoot them up. You got to take them out, whatever you have to do."
“I don’t believe this is the kind of rhetoric that reflects who Innisfail is,” said Barclay of the videos that have been widely circulated on social media since Sept. 7. “We are a community where neighbours help neighbours and we come together to support each other.”
The online municipal forum, hosted by the Innisfail & District Chamber of Commerce, was held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 6. The event, moderated by Blaine Staples and attracting 271 signed-in viewers, was a surprisingly entertaining, informative and well-organized event, unlike the mayoral forum on Sept. 22 that had numerous technical challenges.
The question-and-answer format was at times dynamic, and featured an early emotional exchange on a question whether a new council would choose to open all town facilities to citizens regardless of vaccination status.
“Yes, absolutely 100 per cent,” said councillor candidate Nathan Harrington, who added to do otherwise would violate citizens’ rights under several federal and provincial legislations, as well as under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Never in a million years would I ever force anybody or restrict businesses or services to anybody based on whether they have a medical procedure or not. That is totally wrong.”
Harrington had the full support of Carritt but not necessarily with the rest of the attending candidates, who were split up in two groups for the forum. The mayoral candidates were invited to address all questions for both groups. Council candidate Marnie Witt was the only one of 16 declared council and mayoral candidates who did not attend the forum.
Council candidate Cindy Messaros passionately countered Harrington by stating that opening up all facilities “freely” is not in the best interest of business, and that health regulations are mandated by the province’s chief medical officer of health.
“I think this discussion has disintegrated into an ideological argument that had led to protest groups inappropriately interrupting the ability of citizens in Innisfail to get the information that they need, as I personally witnessed at the federal leaders’ debate,” said Messaros. “Innisfail is inching up towards 200 cases. I understand some people can’t get vaccinated but if wearing a mask means freeing up space for the medically compromised, I just don’t understand where our responsibility and empathy is as citizens and individuals.”
A second COVID town-related question was brought up as the final one of the evening for the second group of candidates, and all, except Carritt, emphasized the province has the pandemic experts or the town is legally bound to follow provincial guidelines.
“I am totally against the vax pass. I am totally against any kind of restrictions for segregating people,” said Carritt.
The forum also dealt with other pressing local issues, including the retention of physicians for the community, the challenges of funding big budget items like the multiplex and heliport, the town’s role in developing plans to encourage more housing for growth, and whether a provincial police force should replace the RCMP.
“For us to take over and create our own police force, the numbers would be astronomical, probably in the billion-dollar range,” said council candidate Dale Dunham. “You have to consider we have to have new buildings, new training and there’s going to be forensic units, all these different things and how is it going to be paid for? From taxes.”
On the heliport issue, council candidate Janice Wing said the heliport is “absolutely critical” for the community as it is an important component of the “larger value” of the Innisfail Health Centre.
“We hear and loud and clearly from people moving into Innisfail, or looking at Innisfail, the hospital and helipad is important,” said Wing.
Don Harrison, who is seeking re-election to council, said the multiplex, which now has a favoured price tag of just over $41 million, is an “investment for the future.
“All other communities seem to be going down this road I certainly think that Innisfail should be quick to follow here but it needs to be phased in over a period of years,” said Harrison. “We certainly don’t build a $41 million project in one year.”
As for the physician retention issue, Jason Heistad, a former three-term councillor who is attempting to come back after an eight-year hiatus, said the problem of keeping doctors in town stems from their prolonged contract fight with the provincial government.
“Our doctors right now need a health minister who is willing to actually sit down to negotiate and finalize their deal as they are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Heistad. “Our community doctors are stretched thin. They’re burnt out.
“Our MLA is absent in actually addressing this issue,” he said, adding there will be a “brain drain” that will occur in the next year. “Let’s not fool ourselves. The brain drain is happening, and our doctors are going to leave because they are not being negotiated properly.”
Advance voting for the upcoming general municipal election began on Oct. 8 and 9 in the Community Room of the
Innisfail Library Learning Centre (ILLC). It will continue at the ILLC on the following dates and times:
• Friday, Oct. 15 – 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 16 – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.