The Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce (GPDCC) held a forum for County of Grande Prairie candidates in divisions 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9.
Larry Gibson, GPDCC chair, moderated the event.
Although initially planned to be streamed, virtually technical difficulties led to the forum being posted on the web as a video.
The candidates at the forum were Kurt Balderston, Darcy Karbashewski and Thomas Tharp. Talbot Reeves Rycroft was unable to attend.
Balderston said his priority would be to answer every call from concerned citizens and to stay in constant communication with groups to ensure everyone was updated.
Karbashewski said that he wants to hold a town hall meeting every six months to ensure that residents can express their needs.
Tharp said that his phone is always on and will deal with issues as they arise.
The candidates also shared their thoughts on how to improve law enforcement in rural areas.
Karbashewski believes most residents think that response time is not quick enough and that more satellite offices of either RCMP or peace officers may be the answer.
“If we can get those response times down, we can lower the crime rates,” he said.
Tharp said council needs to inform the RCMP that they want to see more arrests for rural crime.
Balderston said that the community needs to become closer to help combat rural crime and encourage neighbours to have group texts to keep eyes and ears out in rural areas to help each other out.
“We will never be able to hire enough officers to be there every time something happens,” said Balderston.
Calvin Maple and Steve Zimmerman attended; Maurissa Hietland was absent.
Maple and Zimmerman concur residents need improved internet service. Maple noted it was one of the reasons the online forum couldn’t work as internet speeds were not adequate to accommodate a Zoom session.
Maple said he would like to see more town halls, specifically around budget discussions, as he believes many residents are not using social media.
Zimmerman said he hopes to bring more involvement with residents, but said he was unsure what was the best way to do so.
Paving over gravel roads was a concern of constituents, and Maple noted the gravel roads first need to be built up to ensure they are packed well enough before they are paved, requiring less maintenance.
While Zimmerman agrees there should be more paved roads, he noted that developers of subdivisions should also be contributing to the cost.
Incumbent Robert (Bob) Glen Marshall was the only candidate in attendance; Kevin Gingles and Robert Hill were unavailable.
Marshall said roads continue to be an issue and he said he wants to continue that work with county public works and industry.
He also noted he will continue to advocate for the new Beaverlodge hospital.
Crime is also an issue in west county, said Marshall, and he noted he wants to support the addition of two more RCMP members to the Beaverlodge detachment.
All candidates, Karen Rosvold (incumbent) and Cheryl Diane Van Eerden were in attendance.
Rosvold said intermunicipal cooperation is crucial so that businesses can grow together; she said she hopes that the next council will be open to more collaboration here.
Van Eerden concurred that collaboration is important “as long as honesty and trust are shared among the collaborators” projects can move forward.
Candidates were asked about continued funding to facilities like Evergreen Park and the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum and Van Eerden said the county needs to “make the most of these facilities”, calling for more events to bring in more people.
Rosvold noted that since capital money has been invested in these buildings, we “need to make sure they can become sustainable”. She added that she has seen growth from both organizations and believes they will become sustainable.
Pam Badger, Robert Louis Chrenek and Sheryle Runhart were in attendance. Dwayne Badry was unavailable to attend.
Chrenek said rural crime is pressuring resources and he would like to see more county patrol services and a push for more officers in the area.
Runhart noted also that there is a lack of enforcement services and bylaw officers. “The county needs to change the policing model to ensure better coverage,” she said.
Badger said that the lack of officers is a big issue and that the only way to solve the problem is to spend more money on more officers.
One of the questions presented was how to best improve relationships with indigenous communities.
Runhart said that council needs to listen to indigenous people to learn more from them.
Badger believes that recognizing traditions and keeping an open discussion with indigenous groups is fundamental.
Chrenek said recent events have been “eye-opening” and that there is “so much to learn.”
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News