All three candidates for mayor in Summerside agree on one thing — the successful candidate has to figure out how to attract and keep people living in the city.
Key to that — make it an affordable place to settle down and provide the services that people expect.
The three candidates faced off at a roundtable discussion on Island Morning Thursday. Longtime Summerside mayor Basil Stewart is back again in the 2022 municipal election, running against lawyer and business owner Dan Kutcher and James Ford, who is in the carpentry business.
The race for this position is part of the Island-wide elections on Nov. 7.
"Our community is growing," Kutcher said. "We are dealing with some of the pressures with that growth."
That growth is needed, he said, with 8.5 per cent of the workforce due to retire in the next decade and no single strategy to fill the jobs.
"We need to make sure we have an active growth plan for the City of Summerside that targets young working families to make sure that they can continue to replace the jobs that we are certainly going to lose with our demographic bubble moving itself out of our labour force," Kutcher said.
Better reputation, less affordability
Ford said Summerside has had a poor reputation in the past, but thinks that's changing. But with that success, comes affordability problems.
"Once, we only got called derogatory names but you were able to live in Summerside," Ford said. "Now, people may like us more, but the people who actually live in Summerside, can't afford to live in Summerside."
That perspective shift comes due to a construction boom and increased economic activity, he said, which lead to increased property values and decreased vacancy rates.
"With the better reputation, we have less affordability."
Stewart recalled the work it took to lift Summerside back up after the announcement that CFB Summerside would close at Slemon Park in 1989. He said his connections were instrumental in Summerside's recovery — with openings of the GST Centre and Credit Union Place.
"You have to work with the other orders of government to get things for the community," he said. "You can do a lot of things with 33-cent dollars."
More housing key
Ford proposes lowering property taxes for developers looking to build housing in the city, to increase options for renters. He'd also like to give current landlords who provide affordable housing a tax break, so Summerside can retain the affordable housing that exists right now.
"If we continue to lose what little affordable housing we have, the situation in Summerside will only continue to get worse," Ford said.
Stewart called for a different approach to housing in Summerside.
"I think we should go back to public housing," he said. "That way, the provincial government can subsidize the tenants."
Stewart said he has had meetings with the provincial government, and is continuing to work to get better housing at a lower cost. He also said he has offered land in the city for the province to build housing.
"People are moving into Summerside left, right and centre," Stewart said. "We could presently use 500 apartments in Summerside."
Kutcher said he is concerned about people in perilous housing situations, including people living in tents and families having to couch surf.
"I knock on doors every single day and look seniors in the eye and they are scared," he said. "They are scared because they are worried they are not going to be able to keep up with rent increases, and if they can't, they simply have nowhere to go."
He suggests creating a mayor's task force that would include not-for-profit, government and others to come up with new ideas on a Summerside-specific housing strategy.
Ford said he wants the city to do more and do better for its residents.
"If you want to retain young people, you need to give them a sense that there's going to be a future in the town they are living in," Ford said. "If you don't think you are going to be able to own a home, to own land, to start your own family, why would you ever want to be in Summerside."