It was likely an informative evening for the current Councillors who were in attendance as well. As I mentioned to one Councillor, it must be gratifying to hear how many things the residents support the current Council in doing, even if they didn’t realize Council was working on them.
For example, some residents didn’t know Council had already approved the removal of the 12th Avenue sandbags. Some residents didn’t know how taxes were calculated. Some residents didn’t know that user fees for the recreation centre are established by a committee of residents. Candidates were able to not only inform residents about how these things happen, but the questions showed that they approve of the current Council’s direction, even if they didn’t know they approved of it.
So how did the candidates perform? The good news is that they all performed very genuinely. Not a single individual at that head table came across as canned, plastic or curated. Voters can count on the “what you see is what you get” feel of their choice. Each of them are also very well-qualified in their own way.
I am excited to say that I could easily see any one of them in that vacant seat on Council, and feel confident with their work. But alas, only one gets to win, so …
One place where every candidate shone was on the highest contentious issue of secondary suites. A number of audience members spoke to the issue, and were joined by choruses of agreement from those who came to listen. Each candidate stated something unique about the issue, which shouldn’t be surprising considering its complexity, but in doing so each showed they had done some research into the topic. Wiebe first mentioned the Town Plan which seeks to increase density, but argued that secondary suites was not the way to do it. Coleman rightly pointed out that the “policing” of illegal secondary suites seemed to be largely inadequate. Kinghorn offered that it is a province- and country-wide problem that requires collaborative effort with other municipalities, and even suggested that a secondary suite should be classified as such if someone other than the family is living in a unit. Nychyk pointed out that it cannot be as simple as that, especially with a large immigrant population whose norm it is to have multigenerational family units in the same dwelling. The unfortunate news for voters is that there are no simple answers, and no single candidate will provide the silver thread that ties everything together into a nice tidy package. The great news is that they can be guaranteed that no matter who gets in, they’ve all considered it, and are ready to dive into those discussions head-first.
There were a variety of questions that ended up having similar answers throughout the night. How do you encourage businesses back in, boarded up houses to recover, young families to move in, additional facilities for Seniors, and the Arts? In each of these questions the answer was common; support the Economic Development department because through economic development all of these other issues will be addressed. That also means that each candidate is acutely aware of the necessary support Economic Development requires, and are ready to give that support.
In byelections, the best strategy for a candidate is to set yourself up as the one every other candidate is trying to beat, and forums help to solidify that stance. No candidate did that yet with a significant amount of certainty. If there was a candidate or two who had the opportunity to do that last night, they did not capitalize, and instead the other candidates closed the gap. This election is still anyone’s game, and anything can happen in the last week.
See all the installments of the Byelection series by WindyJMusic:
Stirring the Pot in High River
The 365-Day Councillor
Dance a Little Sidestep
Post-Forum Mashup: Keeping It Classy
Bonus Round: Taking Your Questions
What's a Voter in High River to do?
As a post-script, the byelection night was not without shenanigans. An audience member chose to grandstand in support of a candidate with obvious intent to shame the other candidates, and in doing embarrassed another audience member, devalued every community-minded citizen’s contribution to High River, and stunned the candidate’s panel and moderator. I’m not even sure the candidate receiving the support was even aware of what was going on because it was so out-of-place. Grandstands like that have no place in Canada.
I’m sure the vast majority of High Riverites do not need the reminder to stay classy. The respect each candidate showed one another was incredible and illuminated High River’s true nature. With leaders like these on our Council, we will have no problems remaining High River Strong. Let’s make sure we follow their lead.