BONNYVILLE – On Tuesday evening, the Town of Bonnyville’s two mayoral candidates spoke to a virtual audience about their vision for the future and why they think residents should get out and vote for them on Oct. 18.
Live from their homes, both nominees – Town of Bonnyville Coun. Elisa Brosseau and Duane Zaraska, president of Métis Nation Region 2 – took turns introducing themselves, their platform and answered questions posed by the Town’s ratepayers.
Over 40 individuals tuned in to watch candidates speak.
Starting the opening introduction, Zaraska told viewers, “I'm sitting here today because Bonnyville does hold a special place in my heart and I am passionate about moving our town forward in a way that our residents want. My passion is people — seniors, youth, families, everybody, all resident of Bonnyville.”
Zaraska described himself as a father of twins and a grandfather of two. He highlighted that both he and his wife’s families have been in the area since the early 1900s and added that his mother's family has been connected to the area for centuries. His educational background includes studying science, business administration, management and marketing.
Outlining his experience, Zaraska said, “I have several years of proven effective management and leadership skills, of course, along with that comes supreme negotiating skills, which I think are very important for this position.”
He continued, “I want to build a strong community spirit that includes everybody in town and that includes all ethnic groups... I want to build a stronger partnership with the municipalities and strengthen our relationship with the MD.”
Focusing on infrastructure and long-term funding will be a big part of moving the town forward, said Zaraska.
“Building a prosperous community will include the support of local businesses, a firm handle on managing efficiencies, balancing a budget including responsible spending.”
Seeking a vote from the Town of Bonnyville ratepayers, he said, “when elected, my experience, my knowledge and my skills will be a great benefit to the great citizens of the Town of Bonnyville. I'll be responsible, effective and I will work hard at the best interest of our citizens, and I'll put your interests ahead of my own.”
Briefly introducing herself to the virtual audience, Brosseau said, “I have been on council for four years. I am 41 years old, born and raised in Bonnyville, wife with three kids with a background of experience in education and human resources management and labor relations from Grant MacEwan and Athabasca University.”
Focused on her message Brosseau began, “This evening I will frame my thoughts around five priorities. Number one, long-term planning. Number two, community development, number three business attraction. Number four, age-friendly plans. And number five downtown revitalization.”
Brosseau says she will plan for the community’s next two generations and will always keep long-term planning in mind.
“Where do we want Bonnyville to be for the next generations?” she asked the audience. “Our sense of community must be strengthened by better supporting our people, individuals in need, seniors in difficulty, in persons with disabilities.”
One of her goals will be to “crystallize an economic development plan that will strengthen the economic base of the region... Ultimately tax relief.”
Brosseau says she will work as a cooperative leader with community members, colleagues and external partners.
Encouraging Town of Bonnyville residents to cast their vote for her she said “I'm a passionate community member and have been a professional for both private companies and public companies.”
She continued, “to become mayor, requires one to have ability and experience. The ability to have a vision for the future, and to have the ability to work with others to support and implement those visions.”
The mayoral candidates were given three minutes to respond to prepared questions as well as questions submitted by viewers during the forum.
Questions asked by participants ranged from plans to diversify the economy, to improving communication and services between the municipality and businesses and managing the effects of decreasing financial support from the provincial government. Also posed were questions on the lack of medical professionals in the community, mental health supports, and relationships with Indigenous communities.
Diversify the economy
To diversify the economy in the region and to ensure a sustainable transition with the oil and gas sector, Brosseau identified other sectors that she believes can complement the oil and gas industry, including agri-foods, tourism, and working with the military base.
Brosseau also added another industry that she would like to help foster.
“I feel that there is one sector that is underrepresented in Bonnyville and that is tech and innovation, which I believe represents an opportunity area for improvement and growth in the town. My vision for the town is to become a tech and innovation hub. We know Bonnyville has a proportionately high concentration of very skilled labor force in oil and gas extraction. I believe there's opportunity to leverage the talent and expertise of oil and gas workers and entrepreneurs to supply workforce for a diversified industry like tech and innovation,” she said.
Acknowledging the vital role that oil and gas sector has had on the region’s prosperity, Zaraska said, “gas and oil isn't going away anytime soon. So, we need to continue to support that industry.”
He says, “The recent recession during the downturn, definitely has had a significant impact on our local community. However, they call that a recession... this isn't going to continue forever so let's move forward.”
Zaraska agrees that increased attention will need to be focused on diversifying the region's economy, but he suggests the Town could invest in local refineries.
“We should focus on looking after our own energy needs here by refining our products here, then marketing our finished products after. There are so many secondary processes that we can be focused on here in our area,” he told residents.
Going forward, Zaraska says what he sees as the biggest concern is the economy.
He continued, “we have a problem here with our doctors, we need to find a way to attract more doctors and we need to work on things like our crime that is happening in town.”
Zaraska acknowledged that there are many areas in the Town needing improvement, “but, of course, the key issue is to do these things without a big tax burden on our ratepayers.”
For Brosseau, “The biggest concern is when we do have so many ebbs and flows in our oil and gas sector (we are) losing people. We see so many homes for sale and people leaving our community. So, for me that's a concern, how do we keep those people here, how do we build a community where people want to stay here, they want to live here, they want more than just a job, they want to come here and move here and live here and have a job follow them. That is an issue.”
To address the ongoing issue of keeping business operating and people moving into the region, Brosseau said the town needs to get on the same page with its community partners to work strategically on attracting investment and keeping current residents in Bonnyville.
Addressing shortages in the medical field Brosseau said, this was a “bigger picture question.”
She added that similar to being short doctors and nurses, the region is short of trained professionals and workers in numerous sectors.
"Yes, for doctors and nurses, absolutely, it's critical, but we also hear it with Imperial Oil with Cenovus... They all tell us, ‘Help us attract people to move to your community. What is it that we have here that we can sell to workers to want to move from those big urban centers to our little community?’”
Brosseau says there are many things the Town can foster in order to help these different industries attract the workers they need to do their job.
Zaraska says although he intends to advocate and lobby on the municipal level for more trained medical professionals, he attributes some of the ongoing issues to Alberta Health Services.
“AHS is a big part of the issue, for sure. They set wages in the region and now we're in competition for the doctors,” he said. “We need to stimulate our economies, make more professional services here, of course, most doctors, their spouses are employed too so we have to look after those needs as well. Quality of life in a vibrant economy again is a key issue to attract our doctors here. “
Furthermore, Zaraska attributed a lack of doctors to limited services and facilities in the region. “We do have beds, but we do lack the specialized services. Let’s bring other specialized equipment here, so we don't lose those people to Edmonton.”
He says creating new dynamic services and facilities would attract doctors and having equipment like an MRI machine would reduce outgoing patients.
“We lose approximately 140 transfers a month to Edmonton... We are losing our ambulance services, which does greatly affect the service of our ambulance preparedness and availability for our own community.”
Both candidates agreed that additional attention needs to be paid towards residents' mental health, especially in the midst of the current pandemic. They say, that if elected they would continue to support a wide variety of initiatives that support mental health for seniors, youth, parents and members of the wider population.
Fostering relationships with Indigenous communities
On the topic of building strong relationships with Indigenous communities and community members, Brosseau said, “collaborating with our Indigenous partners and neighbours is as vital as collaborating with our local businesses and residents.”
She added, attending events like the vigil for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women hosted by the Bonnyville Friendship Centre, is an important piece for building relationships.
“That is really important and it shows the willingness to learn other cultures, and to learn some of the systemic things that have happened,” said Brosseau.
In his current role with the Métis Nation, Zaraska says he has been fortunate to do exactly that – foster and build relationships between both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
“I brought the Nation so much forward in that regard,” he said. “I've been involved with so many things in the community in regards to building relationships and acting on the Truth and Reconciliation.”
Although many of the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report are geared toward the federal government, Zaraska knows there are actions on the local level that can be implemented.
On election day, Oct. 18, polling will take place at the Bonnyville Seniors Drop-in Center (4813 – 47 Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For residents wanting to skip the line on election day, there will be five opportunities to take part in advance polling. All five advanced polls will take place at the Town Administration Office in the Council Chambers.
Advanced polling for the Town of Bonnyville will take place on:
Wednesday, Oct. 13 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 14 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.