Economic development, transparency top issues at candidate forum
Hundreds of Lacombe residents turned out to hear candidates talk about their playforms and a number of issues facing the city during the All Candidate Forum at the Lacombe Memorial Centre last Thursday, Sept. 28. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)
If there’s one area Lacombe’s mayoral candidates differ, it’s in their focus.
During the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce’s All Candidate Forum which attracted hundreds of residents to the Lacombe Memorial Centre last Thursday evening, the two made it clear what their top priority was.
Peter Bouwsema, who was the first to drop his hat in the race to replace current Mayor Steve Christie, stuck to his early platform pillar of pushing ahead with economic development.
“We need to see some change. We need to absolutely get away from our huge reliance on residential taxes,” he said. “I have a plan I would like to incorporate into council’s choices that will enable that to happen.”
The goal for him is to reduce the residential tax base from 84 per cent down to 75 per cent. That, he said, begins with a thorough evaluation and analysis on where the city is and what it needs based on citizen requests.
His opponent, Grant Creasey, meanwhile, maintained his top focus is helping to create positive change through transparency and accountability measures.
“I truly believe that those fundamental issues of accountability and transparency are the most important thing at all levels of government,” Creasey said.
“They are paramount to elected officials coming up with genuine answers to real questions no matter what the issue. They have to be dealt with openly and honestly.”
Some of his ideas include streaming council meetings online, introducing a blind voting system and recorded votes to ensure council’s accountability for decisions. He also proposed created an open mic period for residents as well.
Bouwsema wasn’t opposed to recorded votes, adding it would simply be an extra administrative step.
Ultimately, however, both candidates believed the race would come down to each as individuals.
“I know in my heart I’m the right person for the job. I’ve spent an awful lot of time this year talking to hundreds of people. I know where they’re coming from and they appreciate my honesty and forthright attitude. I’m confident we’re going to have a positive outcome,” said Creasey.
Bouwsema, meanwhile, described himself as a relational, solution-oriented person.
“That’s absolutely critical to me, that I’m able to create solutions to solve some of the issues there. I look forward to that opportunity and I believe it’s going to be a large difference from the other candidate.”
Attraction of business
Naturally, economic development was top of mind for not only mayoral candidates, but councilor candidates, too.
Incumbent Coun. Reuben Konnik said he’d like the city to do more to attract business.
“The way we need to do that is talk to the box outlets, in particular, in person and tell them why they need to come to Lacombe,” he said, noting he’d rather axe Lacombe’s attendance at federal municipal conferences and send delegations to the headquarters of Walmart and Canadian Tire.
“We need to tell them why Lacombe is a great place to do business.”
Fellow incumbent Wayne Armishaw agreed, saying Lacombe needs to make the ask, while Don Gullekson, a rotarian and former Citizen of the Year, suggested using the start of the West Area development to market the community, in particular to the Gull Lake population, and make people stop in Lacombe and see all it has to offer.
Others, however, had other strategies to make Lacombe a better place for businesses to set up shop.
Jonathan Jacobson suggested the city enter into joint venture agreements with businesses looking to start up, that would allow the business to use land as collateral for financing. Once in business, he said, the company would pay rent to the city for use of the land, and a second payment to go towards the down payment to buy the land.
“This strategy has a lot of benefits. Instead of losing money on interest payments, we’ll be making money on rental income, property taxes and when the buyers close on the land, we’ll get full asking price,” he said. “Instead of a vacant lot, we’ll have a fully operational business that’s creating jobs, driving economic growth we all so desperately want…We start to build a reputation of a community that’s not afraid to think outside the box.”
Some were a little more obscure.
Sandy “Pepper” Douglas, making his second attempt at earning a spot on council, suggested the return of the old, regular-speed dayliner train to bring people into Lacombe. He also proposed making Lacombe into a centre of academy for sports to draw in athletes and sporting events.
Accountability and accessibility
Transparency was an oft-repeated word by several of the candidates, not only as a way to ensure accountability, but as a means of facilitating more citizen engagement.
Thalia Hibbs said transparency needed to be more than just a buzz word, and when it came to engaging citizens, the city needed to be better.
“You need politicians who are willing to engage you in all spheres of communication,” she said. “That’s being involved in social media, being proactive in getting information out to you right away and early and asking for feedback.”
Like Creasey, she suggested open mic sessions, live streams of meetings, but added getting agenda packages out earlier so citizens had time to read through and ask questions.
With crime rates on the rise, the question of how to deal with crime was posed to candidates.
Armishaw was the first to answer, saying he felt the most obvious solution was to increase staffing levels. The move would see an extra cost for the city to deal with – one he said could be offset by photo radar.
“I think photo radar could be reinstated and run by the city, by the Lacombe Police Service and that would allow us to increase our police presence and reduce property crime,” he said.
Gullekson, who touched on rural crime, said he would be in favour of supporting more police officers in the community to “ensure citizens are safe.”
Bylaw enforcement was also talked about as something that needed to improved upon.
Wayne Rempel said it was something that needed to be looked at and suggested the possibility of changing the schedule of bylaw officers to cover evenings and weekends.
Chris Ross said efficiency of bylaw could be improved through creating a better relationship between bylaw and LPS.
The municipal election will be held Monday, Oct. 16.