Bill 21, fly-in-fly-out, health care and the East Clearwater highway were just a few topics discussed during the first mayoral debate.
On Monday on Fort McMurray Matters, Allan Grandison, Tony Needham, Allan Vinni, and Don Scott talked about various issues affecting the region.
The first topic of discussion was Bill-21 and the 10-year transition plan that was endorsed by the current council at their final meeting.
Lawyer Don Scott feels citizens might not fully understand the financial ramifications of the Bill – and believes it should be scrapped entirely.
“The new council has to have a discussion with industry,” Scott said. “As part of any package of a tax reduction for industry, there needs to be a commitment by industries to put more people in our region. That’s fundamental to what I think will impact housing prices and the viability of businesses in our community. We need to make sure that industry is successful but not at the expense of the community.”
Realtor Allan Grandison, on the other hand, wants to fulfill the transition while considering outside alternatives and continuing discussions with industry.
“We have a perfect opportunity to sit down and I think those opportunities will be there in the future. Whether this stays true for ten years, I can’t speak to that. I think the agreement is in place right now, I think we have an obligation to honour it and to move forward, but I am certainly willing to look at any other options as we move forward.”
Current councillor and lawyer Allan Vinni says the new council will be in a precarious position – with the RMWB losing around $20 million a year on their budget over the next decade.
“So in ten years, our budget will be $200 million less than it is today,” Vinni said. “To get there we’re proposing essentially zero-percent wage hikes, no new capital projects for the next ten years – none at all. Inflation to 2.5 percent, like normal. We’re talking about cutting a budget in half.
Steamfitter and Helicopter Pilot Tony Needham feels the region may be forced to cooperate with a potentially reduced budget.
“We will have to work with industry to make sure that we can successfully run the region on that new operating budget. Of course, our capital budget is going to be cut but most of our infrastructure is already in place right now. I just feel we will have to work with our industry partners.”
Candidates also had an opportunity to voice their opinions on the Willow Square Continuing and Aging in Place facilities which are slated to begin construction in Spring of next year.
Needham says the next council needs to make sure the projects move forward – while getting seniors in Alberta on board with the Aging in Place Centre.
“When the centre is being built, I feel the most important thing I can do is be out there. Talk to the guys, touch the concrete and ensure the province that we are going to get it built this time. Also, want to push the Alberta Seniors organization to help us come up with an Aging In Place facility. But yeah, I will be out there, boots to the ground and bring coffee to the workers and making sure that project is completed.”
Willow Square will be operated by Alberta Health Services, while the Aging in Place is being managed by Alberta seniors.
Scott sees it as imperative that the Aging in Place facility gets built and promises to see the project completed in the next term.
“No matter who is elected, I think it’s fundamental to get that completed. It’s something that I will fight tooth and nail for to make sure it’s completed and making sure seniors have a voice all the way through it. If money needs to be committed by the government, then we are going to commit that money and make sure it’s done.”
Grandison says the region needs to continue to work with the provincial government, and stakeholders to see these projects through.
He also notes that senior in our community can help ensure these facilities are built in a timely manner.
“We need to make sure those needs are identified and clearly put forward and the seniors cannot be forgotten. They bring a tremendous amount of knowledge and history to our community and we need to embrace them and make sure their voice are heard and their needs are met.”
Vinni echoes Grandison’s statement, saying that he sees seniors presenting a plan to the provincial government as a viable option to push the project forward.
“Aging is for everybody, for pre-school kids, for seniors. This is a big step with continuing care and I’m sure these seniors will get together to create a plan they will present to the province as to what the facility will look like as it develops in the future.”
A big talking point during the live debate was the revitalization and economic redevelopment of the downtown core.
Grandison feels it’s a task the future council will have to do a better job of.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is create a disadvantage for our existing businesses. For those people that have hung through the downturn of the economy, I don’t want to create a competition with lands that are of lesser value for those businesses that already exist. So, i think it’s and issue that will take time.”
Vinni feels putting a multi-sporting complex would be the most appropriate way to use the vacant lot downtown.
“It still makes more sense than anything, we have lots of parks and we’re going to develop the Clearwater River. I also think people are starting to realize that Shell Place and MacDonald Island is not the best place to catch a Fleetwood Mac concert or a junior hockey game.”
Needham, however, sees the lot as an opportunity to bring back small businesses and to pay tribute to the community’s rebuild.
“My vision is to build a hall in that expropriated area next to Jubilee Plaza. That would incorporate a multi-story parking complex, a 24/7 Childcare facility and a retirement complex. Bring back the businesses that were thriving before they were expropriated back in 2013.”
Scott meanwhile, feels its best to get the vacant lot into the hands of private owners who can turn the area into a recreational hub.
“We need a downtown we can be proud of. I believe in a combination of an urban park and permanent market. Putting the lands that are currently large parking lots into private hands makes sense. We can have restaurants, we can have an entertainment district, we can even improve our waterfront but I want to make the downtown a draw, a place where people want to go and enjoy themselves.”
Here is a video of the debate, which was hosted in partnership with the Fort McMurray Today.
Another debate featuring all four candidates will take place on October 10 at the Suncor Centre for Performing Arts.
Election Day is on October 16.