Voters in Moncton are being asked to choose between two candidates for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections.
Dawn Arnold is seeking a second term and Erik Gingles is her challenger.
Arnold was first elected to council in 2012. She's on the provincial advisory committee for local governance reform and the Cities of New Brunswick Association executive committee.
She's a member of the Order of New Brunswick and received two Paul Harris Fellowships. She helped found the Frye Festival and served as chair for 15 years.
She's married and has two children and her favourite activities include the Saturday market, cross-country skiing and dining out.
Gingles runs a video-news site called Buzzlocal. He grew up in Moncton and spent nine years teaching English in Japan before returning to the city with his wife. They have three children.
His community involvement has included co-founding Friends of Centennial Park and the Hairy Tease community theatre troupe. He's been a volunteer at his church and at Bessborough school, was on the organizing committee for Save Our Schools, has coached soccer and has competed in triathlons.
Arnold said she decided to re-offer because she believes in the community and thinks there are "incredible opportunities right now."
She's running on her experience and record of making "wise, long-term sustainable decisions."
Arnold is touting the city's tax base growth of 13.74 per cent, population growth, record building permit numbers, no tax increases, new facilities such as the Avenir Centre, Centennial Pool and North End YMCA and the investment of $6 million in affordable housing.
"This kind of momentum doesn't just happen," said Arnold.
"We are the economic engine of the province and we need strong, experienced leadership to keep this going."
Gingles agreed Moncton is a "fantastic city," but said that "doesn't mean you can't fix the problems." And he doesn't think Arnold should take so much credit for the city's successes.
The tax base has grown because assessments are higher, he said. And the population has grown because COVID-19 case numbers have been low.
"That's not by design," said Gingles.
"I don't see a whole lot of forethought."
Gingles said he "felt compelled to run" because he thinks the city is missing out on opportunities and is sometimes a victim of its own success.
"I'm certainly not afraid to tackle the challenges," he said.
One of his biggest concerns is that "crime is going through the roof."
Moncton is "far outstripping the rest of the province and even Canada in terms of any number of crimes," said Gingles.
"The publicity that we're getting from people and around the country is a place of drugs, cheap drugs and homelessness and violence."
"Almost every single person brings up public safety … They're afraid to go downtown."
Spending on a new RCMP station should be "paused," said Gingles.
The city is making itself "house poor," he said.
Gingles believes police funding would be "far better spent," on more foot patrols, smaller neighbourhood police stations, social service programs and drug abuse resistance education.
Arnold said the need for a new RCMP building has been recognized since 2014.
She suggested Gingles was exaggerating the crime problem to win votes.
"I will not subscribe to the politics of fear," she said.
She admitted, however, that crime is a big issue.
"We've certainly heard from our community about their concerns," said Arnold.
It's been a "huge preoccupation" for the last three years, she said.
"It keeps me up at night thinking about how we can do better in our community."
Events of the past year have shown the need to reexamine policing and consider new approaches to community issues, said Arnold.
"We need to think through our mental health crisis unit a little bit more closely, and we need to get the stats and advocate to the province for more support on that."
Arnold said she thinks getting to "functional zero homelessness" is a big part of the solution. And that's a "very realistic goal" by 2025.
She supports the strategy of providing "housing first" to help individuals experiencing homelessness.
"I'm so proud of Moncton city council for stepping up in such a significant way to put $6 million into affordable housing," Arnold said.
She also noted she had advocated "long and hard" to the provincial and federal governments for the new Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit.
That's a federal and provincial program that was announced earlier this month, which will pay $300 to $475 a month to nearly 6,600 households that have low incomes.
The Department of Social Development is still working out the details, but spokesperson Robert Duguay said they'll start by asking eligible people on the waitlist for subsidized housing to apply.
"We need to get to the core issues surrounding poverty and I am totally dedicated to this," said Arnold.
She's also in favour of incentives such as lowering the required number of parking spaces or allowing an extra level in a building if a developer agrees to include a certain number of affordable units.
Gingles said he doesn't have the answer to solve all the issues connected to poverty, homelessness, affordable housing and crime, but he'd like to facilitate discussions to come up with a plan.
"There's certainly no silver bullet," he said.
"It is an ugly beast that is across the country and North America."
Gingles said he's spoken with developers, though, and some would be willing to construct affordable housing projects, but they aren't interested in managing them.
He thinks it calls for "a collective mix" involving developers, front-line agencies and other stakeholders.
Avenir Centre bailout
Given the challenges that people and the front-line agencies that serve them are facing, Gingles said some of the city's spending has been off base.
"I would not certainly vote for or support $900,000 to go to ASM Global that runs the Avenir Centre when they didn't even ask for it," he said.
In September, Moncton council approved a bailout worth more than $1.5 million for the international company to cover losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That money should have gone to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Atlantic Wellness that provide youth mental health support, said Gingles.
Arnold noted that ASM Global will repay the money and that it serves taxpayers to make sure the Avenir Centre asset is well maintained.
Gingles pointed out that the loan is partially forgivable and he questioned the facility's contribution to local economic development.
He said he's heard from business owners nearby that have seen no overall increase in their revenues and are hiring fewer workers than they used to.
Meanwhile, the cost to attend events at the Avenir centre has risen, said Gingles, since sales started going through Ticketmaster.
"To me, that's saying that the company that's running that is sucking money out of the city."
Transparency and accountability
Arnold said she's gone to great lengths to be transparent and accountable to the citizens of Moncton.
Some things like contract talks and legal matters have to be kept private, she said.
But she's filed monthly public reports about her activities and accomplishments.
She described the new website Let's Chat Moncton as an "awesome portal" for getting community feedback on big issues.
"We're putting all the information there and, you know, engaging people to hear their feedback and understand what their concerns are and capture their ideas. This is really important."
Gingles said, in his experience, Let's Chat Moncton "is a very problematic tool."
Users are forced to choose from limited options as opposed to being given a way to express their own views, he said, and their choice was ignored when it came to picking the location of a new skate park.
And his interpretation of council meetings is often very different from the version in Arnold's monthly reports.
"Keeping a positive attitude is one thing, but the nuance and what happened and who was against what really kind of tells what the feeling is at council and what's really happening in the city."
"What I see in the street talking to people and what I see happening in the council just don't seem to jive."