First all-candidates forum
Thursday, Sep 28, 2017 06:00 am
The premiere all-candidates debate for the Cochrane election shed light on hot-button topics that have become top of mind for townspeople – namely traffic, transit, round-the-clock urgent care, doing development better and the rodeo grounds.
More than 300 people packed the meeting room of the Lions Event Centre on Tuesday evening for the forum hosted and moderated by the Cochrane Eagle.
“Nobody moves to Cochrane to feel like they’re in Calgary,” said candidate Jason Phillips, a Fireside resident who said the crowded community he lives in makes it “feel like you’re in the outskirts of Calgary” and not like a small town.
Patrick Wilson – Taxi4U co-owner and lifelong resident who is in favour of limited government that facilitates a healthy economic environment and then “gets out of the way” – referred to Cochrane’s growth rate as “obnoxious and unsustainable.”
Mayoral candidate Jeff Genung has made keeping the Lions Rodeo “right where it is” central to his campaign platform – calling out Mayor Ivan Brooker for a perceived push to move the Lions Rodeo to a bigger site, possibly on lands north of town currently being annexed by the town, to make way for more seniors housing.
Genung called on council to “raise the bar” and reverse the current approach of demanding growth to pay for infrastructure and to “take care of the people we have here first.”
Brooker maintained that the “big decision” will be up to the Lions Club, emphasizing that the town-owned site where the former pool and curling club (now Lions Event Centre) will remain in the town’s hands and that he is unsure of where the rumour that the lands would be up for sale stemmed from.
He emphasized that Cochrane is a “community of choice” and he is looking forward to the continued business and commercial growth that lies ahead for the town.
Mayoral candidate Tom Hardy asserted that he is a “problem solver” and that the time is now to “take power from the developers and give it back to the citizens of Cochrane.”
When it comes to surveys, candidate Miles Chester, who previously served a term on council, said he has taken matters into his own hands.
Motivated by what he feels is time to rewrite one of the town’s biggest planning documents – the Cochrane Sustainability Plan – Chester’s online survey took in more than 1,200 responses, with results showing that more than 80 per cent of those surveyed would support more programs for seniors, a notion met with positive reception by the rest of the candidates.
Coun. Morgan Nagel, who is seeking re-election and induced the most applause and cheers from the packed forum throughout the evening, maintained that the rodeo grounds is “a critical piece of our heritage.”
Nagel also advocated that it’s time to get the message out that Spray Lake Sawmills – Cochrane’s oldest and largest employer – is here to stay and that he’s tired of hearing talk about the sawmill leaving the very town they helped support and shape.
Three-time Coun. Tara McFadden spoke about her passion for connectivity through the continued development of Cochrane’s trail networks, as well as her passion for enhanced engagement and bringing back town task forces.
Roads were nothing short of top of mind for all candidates. Nagel maintained that he views road safety is best moved forward from the municipal level through sidewalks and speed bumps and that “photo radar and bike lanes are not for me.”
Phillips noted, “All our highways are intimidating” and emphasized the need for “under and over passes” – which he feels the current council is lagging behind in by being “reactive rather than proactive.”
For candidate Dan Cunin, it all comes back to better planning to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.
Hardy, a Heartland resident, refers to the intersection at highways 1A and 22 as a “death trap” and that connecting these residents to the rest of town is key.
Candidate Alex Reed, a previous councillor for nine years in Athabasca and current chair of the Cochrane Planning Commission, referred to bike lanes as a “pipe dream” and emphasized that sidewalks are proven to make people slow down as “connectivity and safety go hand-in-hand.”
He also spoke to the need for task forces – a major issue for candidates like Genung, McFadden, Bella Fallis, Scott-Gibson Craig and Marni Fedeyko was the need for more dog parks, an issue they say requires community input.
“Approximately 42 per cent of Cochrane households have a licensed dog and I am one of them,” said Reed.
Engagement is something candidate Fedeyko wants to do better – including youth groups.
She believes it’s time for council to go to people rather than making the people go to the town – by meeting with people in their own communities and “visiting communities before they are built” in an effort of doing development better.
“Why are we designing community after community to look exactly the same?” posed Fedeyko.
This sentiment was reflected by lifelong photojournalist Patrick Price who added, “If we don’t listen the whole process becomes (moot)” and reiterating the importance and vibrancy of volunteers.
Volunteerism is central to Coun. Watson’s re-election campaign, as well as retired Family and Community Support Services manager Susan Flowers – who is a strong advocate for public transit and feels the town has engaged plenty to demonstrate the need.
Candidate Kent Liang, a two-time councillor in the late 1970s and 1980s, would like to see developer accountability is ensured – reflecting on surveys he conducted with townspeople to get the grassroots’ perspective.
Getting kids walking to school was a motivator for Gibson-Craig to move to Cochrane nearly two years ago with his wife and two kids.
Fallis brought up her past as being part of a “human school bus” pilot where adults facilitated students walking in groups to school – a concept that drew nods of approval from fellow candidates.
Candidates Fallis, Reed and Chester spoke to the women’s shelter fundraising drive and the need for such a facility in town.
Candidate Vivian Cox questioned the viability of existing emergency access roads and agreed with other candidates that “one way in and out of communities” needs to stop.
All candidates were in favour of 24-hour urgent care services and recognized it would take the community and town council working together to advocate the need to the province.
All candidates, with the exception of Phillips, were against a proposed ward system based on the common thread that it would segment the community; Phillips felt it could perhaps be considered in a grouped approach, such as three wards with two councillors each.
The next all-candidates forum will take place at Seniors On The Bow Centre Oct. 3.
To learn more about the individual candidates and their platforms, visit the Cochrane Eagle online.