On Monday, Allan Grandison, Tony Needham, Allan Vinni, and Don Scott were at Keyano College where they answered questions from members of the public – reaffirming their stance on some of the bigger concerns such as care for seniors and fly-in-fly-out.
Bill 21, for the second straight debate, was in the spotlight as each candidate took the time to speak about ways to deal with the new 5:1 tax ratio.
Grandison says the Bill is a reality and combating it wouldn’t solve anything.
“I think one of the reasons we have Bill 21 is because we weren’t listening and we weren’t working collaboratively with those who were affected by the tax rate so I think moving forward, we have to work with people, if this legislation is not working for us in the future, as mayor, I would challenge the provincial government to go back and have a look.”
Scott sees the need for a better partnership between the region and industry.
“Right now, industry is receiving a 10-year tax reduction over time and that’s the extent of the relationship. The municipality needs to also see the benefits, what I would like to see industry do is start putting more people in this region.”
On the other hand, Needham notes educating the public is the most important step with the incoming ratio.
“I would like to educate the community on Bill 21 because it’s very scary for many people and it has to do with our rural taxation, rural services, and the tax ratio. I believe the general public needs to know that it’s not something that’s life and death, are residential taxes aren’t going to fly up.”
While Vinni believes the key to minimizing the impact of Bill 21 is to rejigger the tax rates.
“We double the rural rate, it’s the lowest rate, so we double it to make it the same as the urban rate, that immediately changes it to basically 9:1, or 18:2, and with modest tax increases over the next 10 years.”
Different members of the public also gave their two-cents on fly-in-fly-out as the region continues to look for ways to encourage industry workers to move to Fort McMurray. Some of the previous ideas mentioned include adding a camp tax for these out of town workers.
However, Vinni says this is something that can’t be done.
“We don’t have the right to levy a tax on visiting workers – we don’t have any basic legal rights to tell and employer where their employees must live. I’m not a big fan of thinking we’re going to convince those people who’ve been commuting, we have to encourage families to move here.”
The approach Grandison wants to take is trying to “motivate” industry to work with the municipality over trying to “bully” them.
“We can’t tell business how to run their business, we’ve been trying to do that for years – the only way industry is going to be motivated to get rid of fly-in-fly-out is if there is a benefit for them and a benefit for their employees and their shareholders, that includes safety and other reasons, so we have to work with industry to motivate them to give them some incentives.”
By encouraging more people to live in the region, Scott thinks this could tackle many issues including fly-in-fly-out.
“We need to build up our population, that’s going to stabilize house prices and eventually we’re going to do better than stabilize, we’re going to increase our house prices. We need more people living in this region, that means tackling fly-in-fly-out primarily, it also means creating a region where people want to live here and move here.”
Needham has both a short-term and long-term plan, involving improving the roads and giving workers more freedom to choose.
“Immediately, we could ask the oil industry if they would allow the workers the choice to come to town and maybe offer some monetary incentive to do so, so that would be a quick solution. The long-term plan would be to twin the highways, make it safe and quick.”
One of the last big issues covered was improving the care for seniors in the region. Each candidate took the time to preach their support of the Willow Square Continuing Care and Aging-in-Place Facilities and talk about future plans to improve the lives of seniors.
If elected, Scott says one of his first priorities would be to make sure the supports and services are in place for seniors.
“I’ve made a commitment that one of the first meetings I’m going to have after the election is with seniors and I’m going to bring the CAO, we’re going to do it within 48 hours after the election – I want to set things right with seniors and make sure they have confidence in the direction of the new government.”
Vinni sees the Continuing Care Facility being a major catalyst for more positive things to come.
“It’s not specifically for seniors, that’s age-friendly for two-year-olds as well as 82-year-olds and I’m very confident that the seniors in this community will keep reminding us that we always have more to do and I think we’re up for that challenge.”
Though in support of Willow Square, Needham wants to start thinking about more plans for more facilities.
“We still need another facility, another aging in place facility downtown, we’re not going to be able to keep up with the amount of retirees and many of the people here want to stay in town, they want to see their children grow and grandchildren grow up so we’re going to need more retirement facilities.”
Grandison wants to see the region become classified as age-friendly.
“It’s really important to ensure we meet the needs of our seniors but all of our citizens including those citizens that have some mobility issues and everything else. In order to be a community and a region first, we have to ensure that people can live their entire lifespan in this community.”
One of the other topics discussed was bringing in big name companies to the region. All the candidates were in favor of trying to bring in a “Costco” and a “bowling alley.”
Some of the other key issues included improving and building new roads, cleaning up neighbourhoods, as well as ways to support the arts.
The next debate, which is being put on by the Rural Coalition, will be held on Tuesday at the Unifor building downtown from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Election Day is October 16.