Candidates seeking election into Wheatland County Council were invited to talk about various issues and their priorities during a forum hosted at the Wheatland County Administration Office on Oct. 7.
The forum was hosted by the Strathmore Wheatland Chamber of Commerce and was uploaded to their website for public viewing following the conclusion of the forum.
The forum was split into two parts, with each part hosting half of the county’s candidates. Each candidate was granted time to speak about questions drawn from a hat, although only half the candidates being asked at the time were given time to answer.
The format rotated which candidates would answer which question based on the division they seek election in.
Janet Kanters-Shmorong was not able to be present for the forum.
Questions asked of the candidates had been submitted prior to the forum and included topics such as local infrastructure, environmental and sustainability concerns and broadband services.
“I’d be checking with my constituents to see what their thoughts were on it, but I guess otherwise I’d be looking at either the benefit to our locality or our communities, how many jobs it would create and the lifetime of said infrastructure,” said Erich Hoff, responding to a question about potential new infrastructure development.
“It would come down to population base and best usefulness of said infrastructure to implement. I’d put it across more so to my constituents to see their thoughts on it.”
Shannon Laprise and Allen MacLennan responded to the same question.
“I would have to review the studies to determine the need. For example, if it was a road, you would have to review the traffic studies, environmental studies and the consultations with landowners and stakeholders,” said Laprise.
“Then you’d have to evaluate the cost of the project, considering what other similar projects have costed, whether all facets of the project are included and considered and then you would determine if you were to spend the money, what projects or services would have to be delayed or possibly canceled in order to prioritize this project over others.”
MacLennan had a much different approach to the topic.
“I think it would depend on whether it was a private individual or group, or the government that was offering that infrastructure project. If it was, for example, something to do with roadways or (intersections), it’s unlikely we would be consulting with the community, although it never hurts to do that,” he said.
“If it’s some sort of infrastructure project such as an airport or dam or some other facility … or possibly water systems or power systems, then you would do a normal evaluation.”
Brenda Knight, Scott Klassen, Rex Harwood, Ginette Motta and Glenn Koester were asked to describe some of the environmental and sustainable initiatives they would champion during their time on council if elected.
“For me, it’s working with the oil and gas (industry) and ensuring we’re back on track. The Ag Service Board is one of the champions that I have that works with our farmers and also works regarding our creeks and our rivers and our streams,” said Knight.
“One thing that I was a supporter of when I was previously on council would be the willow project … that’s about changing marginal soil into high quality soil. That’s been a proud project I have supported in the past.”
“In this area, water use and the amount of water that’s available within the border of our basin is critical so I’m looking at water use and re-use as an important issue,” said Klassen.
“The allocation of the Bow River is already well overallocated, so that means any future growth we have to find ways to use what we currently have … You need water for growth; there’s no two-ways around it.”
“We do have an issue with Eagle Lake that was something that I had discussions (about), seeing what we could do to make that lake usable to its residents,” said Harwood.
“It has a blue-green algae problem, so I would like to champion something with a partnership … to try and bring that alive year-round and make it sustainable.”
“I would really be interested in watershed management. Water is our most important resource that we have, we need it in all walks of life. We need it for survival for ourselves, our livestock, our crops and our fields,” said Motta.
“Our whole ecosystem needs it, including our wildlife. Not only do we need this water, but it also needs to be good quality — clean (and) free of contaminants.”
“We’re on the prairies but we really have a lot of ravines and water courses and streams. One of my major concerns is riparian areas along these streams. They are important to keep the water clean, they are important to filter out the nutrients from flowing into bigger bodies of water,” said Koester.
“I’d be willing to support council in providing funds to qualify projects to fence off the riparian areas, to make sure they stay stable.”
Herb McLane, Einar Davison and Rick Laurson, each spoke about the broadband and cellular connectivity issue.
“This is an absolutely critical service needed by all rural residents. I believe that they’re waiting on a report to come through shortly this fall, that maps out next steps with respect to this enhanced service,” said McLane.
“Anyone that’s doing business today has to be wired in by wireless … and so these services are drastically needed for education and for business. (In) the world today, we need to be online and ready for business.”
Davison and Laurson had differing opinions on the subject.
“Having a background in technology, on that, it’s always changing. It’s hard to pick a winner in that because before you know it, something new will come along,” said Davison.
“I’m not against government supporting by cheering them on in that, but I think our money is spent a lot better in other things than trying to decide what’s going to be the next winner … If somebody told me they wanted to invest government money in a fiber-optic cable, I’d laugh them out of the room.”
Laurson added the topic of broadband and cell services has come up frequently for him over the duration of his campaign while interacting with constituents.
“That’s a difficult question to answer, but I think we can agree that broadband is no longer a luxury but it’s a business need for all of the county, so we’ll have to figure out a way to make this work,” he said.
“Cell service also remains spotty for much of Division 7, but both initiatives of these are already in the economic development plan of the county, so I would want to work with that plan and see how it’s going to work.”
The County’s election is scheduled for Oct. 18 in conjunction with the referendum vote and Alberta Senate election. Polling stations for each division are listed on the county’s website.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times