The Cochrane civic election was kicked off with a mayoralty debate held by the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce Sept. 18.
In the most Canadian fashion of politeness, two mayoral hopefuls – recent university graduate, 25-year-old Tom Hardy, and business owner and former two-term councillor, 49-year-old Jeff Genung, matched against Incumbent Mayor Ivan Brooker.
Moderated by Stephen Simms, the debate was a mix of questions devised by the chamber, as well as the audience of 150 crammed into a program room at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.
“Gentlemen, let’s keep it clean and hit above the belt,” said Simms – an opening statement that was met by all candidates, who found themselves in agreement much of the time.
Topics of contention included rodeo grounds remaining in town, development done right, town priorities and public engagement.
Both Genung and Hardy are firm that the Cochrane Lions Rodeo – whose 50-year lease is up for renewal in 2019 – should stay “right where it is.”
“I think we already have a cultural hub and we’re not utilizing it properly,” said Genung, with direct reference to the Lions Event Centre (former curling club). “I would like to see more opportunities given to keep the (rodeo) in the centre of town.”
Genung noted that the Calgary Stampede is central to the city’s location – “why can’t we do the same?”
Brooker said that while he has identified the lands north of Heritage Hills (currently being annexed by the town from Rocky View County) as ideal for recreation – including another campground, more ball diamonds and a bigger home for the rodeo grounds – he emphasized that the “Lions have big decisions ahead” and that he is not necessarily advocating the rodeo should move outside of town.
Both Hardy and Genung – who feel that the town needs to do something to take more control over the roads, countered Brooker, who has long advocated that Cochrane should not take on city designation.
Brooker stressed that traffic solutions are “not as easy as people seem to think” and that the current council has made strides in a working with the province to get the intersection at highways 1A and 22 on the books and is hopeful to get the twinning of Highway 1A back on the table.
Hardy stressed that better modelling is out there to alleviate traffic congestion – including better synching of lights. Genung said he would like to take a regional stance at traffic advocacy and “go as a group” to the province to push for more traffic solutions.
Hardy said he would like to see more affordable housing options to keep grads in town – a statement that Genung agreed with, as the father of a university student.
Off-leash dog parks was also topical with Genung countering Brooker’s comments that the outcome of the west end dog park was a “good compromise” by noting that if the town was doing the engagement piece so well, why are so many people left unsettled and frustrated.
Each candidate highlighted their longtime residencies in Cochrane and their passion for the town in their closing speeches.
The first all-candidates debate will be hosted by the Cochrane Eagle at the Lions Event Centre on Sept. 26 from 5:30-9 p.m.