SUNDRE — Despite complications that prevented the municipal election forum from being broadcast live, organizers were nevertheless able to post online a recording of the event.
Voters will have an opportunity to choose their municipal representatives next Monday, Oct. 18 during a provincewide general election that will also include ballots for candidates running for the senate as well as whether to remain on daylight savings time and the federal equalization formula.
Originally scheduled to occur in-person on Monday, Sept. 27 at the Sundre Community Centre, the election forum had to be adapted to a virtual format after the provincial government reintroduced restrictions to stem the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed Alberta’s health-care system to its limits.
Hosted on Tuesday, Oct. 5 by the Sundre & District Chamber of Commerce, the recording was posted online to the organization’s YouTube channel later that night after being unable to proceed with the live broadcast.
All three mayoral candidates — former councillors Cheri Funke and Richard Warnock as well as newcomer Patty LaPointe — and all 10 council contenders — incumbents Todd Dalke, Rob Wolfe and Paul Isaac as well as a mix of newcomers and past councillors comprised of Chris Vardas, Connie Anderson, Carolyn Sykes, Owen Petersen, Jaime Marr, Doug Laveck and William Davies — participated.
Every candidate was offered the chance to introduce themselves for three minutes, and later were granted a maximum of two minutes to respond to questions that had been submitted in advance.
Prior to opening the floor for introductions, moderator Monica St.Dennis, chamber president, expressed gratitude for the assistance of Kim Free, owner of Small Town Girl Productions, who helped facilitate the forum by running the event on her host platform.
Although the two-plus hour recording largely flowed, there were intermittent issues with some candidates occasionally breaking or freezing up, perhaps underscoring the importance of finally having high speed broadband internet coming.
Included among the questions covered were:
• How to enhance the downtown corridor and improve traffic flow;
• How the municipality will cover the cost of developing the proposed four-season campground and passive outdoor use recreation area;
• How to develop creative solutions to open doors for more affordable housing to attract and retain young families;
• How to grow the commercial tax base to reduce dependency on residential taxes;
• How to improve both indoor and outdoor recreational amenities for residents; and
• Whether the revised Municipal Government Act bestows more authority to the hands of administrative staff than council.
While there seemed to largely be widespread consensus on the need to promote tourism, entice commercial and residential developers, grow the business tax base, improve recreational opportunities as well as to enhance and beautify the Highway 27 high load corridor, differences of opinion stemmed largely from what order of priority those issues should be considered.
The first portion of the forum featured questions that catered specifically to either the mayoral candidates, incumbent council candidates, or the newcomers.
But the final five questions were open for all candidates.
One of them was a comment about how downtown resembles a “cement graveyard” and proceeded to ask what solutions could make Sundre’s core more attractive.
“That’s not exactly up to the municipality,” said Petersen, who was first up to offer his thoughts.
“A lot of it comes down to supporting the businesses to be creative and pour some beauty into their buildings, because the town doesn’t own those buildings,” he said.
Vardas said the municipality already makes grants available to business owners who want to improve their storefronts. As Main Avenue is also the Highway 27 corridor, there isn’t much the municipality can do other than provide incentives to ease the cost of beautification efforts, he said.
Wolfe agreed enhancing the core largely hinges on what individual business owners do to invest in upgrading their own storefronts. He also said the road’s planned overlay is in the hands of engineers with a goal to enhance the aesthetic and safety of the corridor.
“Highway 27 obviously is (provincial) government-owned property,” he added.
As for filling business vacancies, that is no easy task, said Dalke. There have over the years been numerous attempts to invite businesses to come into vacant properties, he said.
“We can’t force those to be filled, but we are trying,” he said.
Funke elaborated on Wolfe’s comment.
“The road is owned by the province. But I have expectations that through the engineering process, our staff will be involved, and we will try and push as much of the beautification aspect as we possibly can,” she said, reminding residents that the highway must be functionally capable of handling several oversized loads a week.
LaPointe spoke bluntly about her thoughts on the roundabouts.
“Those circles aren’t helping us and I don’t like ’em, and I’m not going to be quiet on it — I hate those circles. They got to go. That’s all I’m going to say on that one,” she said.
Warnock said that by its intended use as a high load corridor, Main Avenue cannot feature a large boulevard with for example trees and planters, but anticipates the opportunity to engage with engineers to develop plans.
The final question was about the modernized Municipal Government Act and whether the provincial government’s document gives administration staff disproportionately more authority than elected officials.
Warnock said the 500-plus page act was revised in part to place a greater onus on municipalities to work with their regional neighbours to collaboratively develop plans with the objective of reducing costs to individual municipalities by sharing expenses.
While that might give the impression administration has more powers, he said any decisions must still come through council. Administration’s role largely pertains to developing budgets and providing recommendations, but the final decision comes down to council.
Funke drove that point further home.
“The CAO can only do what she is directed by council to do,” said Funke.
The chief administrative officer, she continued, “is given the direction of council through the budget and all of the processes, and then it’s her job to carry out the direction of council.”
Additionally, she said the MGA changes are not specific only to administrators, but also provides protection for council members in terms of their legal obligations and liabilities if they get involved in aspects of the municipality that they are not allowed to.
Visit the Sundre & District Chamber of commerce’s Facebook page to find the link to the video that was posted on the organization’s YouTube channel.