Does east Calgary need a new recreation centre or a focus on keeping taxes down? That was one question up for debate at a rare in-person candidate forum in Ward 9 Tuesday evening.
12 Community Safety Initiative hosted the event at the Forest Lawn Community Hall with masks on, chairs spaced apart and a volunteer checking for vaccination paperwork at the door. About 70 people filled the hall and it was also live-streamed.
In the audience, several people said they wanted the candidates to focus on fiscal responsibility and keeping a tight hold on spending. Others said they wanted to hear a plan to protect heritage buildings on 9th Avenue in Inglewood, or a plan to invest along International Avenue, building on the new bus lanes, and to tackle the increase in petty crime.
Gian-Carlo Carra is the incumbent taking on nine challengers.
Carra said the new bus lanes on 17th Avenue will drive growth. But looking forward: "The single biggest investment we need to make over the next four years is to plan, fund and begin to build a major recreation centre for the communities of Greater Forest Lawn."
Some of those challengers were quick to contradict.
"Funding world-class recreation is not the option we should do if we're going to lower our spending," said Naomi Withers. "Saving our neighbourhood pools; making sure we have access to no cost/low cost recreation is what we need. We need smart spending."
Reducing crime through prevention activities, encouraging civility at city hall, supporting small business in the area and constraining tax increases were all hot topics of the night.
Daymond Khan said it's important for a candidate to fight polarization by example: "What I'll bring is a calm composure and a commitment to not go down the road of personal attacks."
Candidate John-William Wade suggested the city could prevent crime by getting derelict properties fixed up since, he said: "If you see a broken window, that's definitely an attraction for more crime in the area."
On the question of taxes, Omar M'Keyo said expenses must be lowered to help small business cope. Wade suggested increasing transparency would let residents help the city find places to save. Kimberly Feser suggested a review from a third-party auditor. Lori Masse said the city must simply "stop spending" and find creative ways to spare businesses, while Withers said she's advocating for a two-year tax holiday or deferral for small business.
Carra said the taxes are not high, but some parts of the city are paying more than others.
"We have amongst the lowest property taxes on the residential side and almost the lowest on the non-residential side of any major city in North America and amongst the highest level of service," he said. "We've spent the last six years driving the cost of government downwards."
Volunteer organizer Diane Danielson said organizing a forum during a pandemic was challenging but an important part of making sure people have an informed vote Oct. 18.
"One of the things that's important is body behaviour. You get a feel for them. To me, seeing an in-person forum is very important," said Danielson, a previous city councillor.
Derek Reimer, Syed Hasnain and Abdirizak Hadi are also listed as running on the Elections Calgary website but were not in attendance Tuesday.
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