Twelve County of St. Paul council candidates faced the crowd at the St. Paul Recreation Centre during the Oct. 6 election forum, but the three reeve at large candidates, incumbent Robert Bouchard, Ben Dyck and Steve Upham, ended up taking centre stage, with a majority of the night’s questions directed at them.
All the candidates were given a chance to make opening statements, including Division 2 candidates Dwight Dach and Kevin Wirsta, Division 3 candidates Cliff Martin, Vi Wozniak and Wayne Tymofichuk, Division 5 candidates Donna Dubrule, Donna Hanson and Frank Sloan, and Division 6 candidate Alphonse Corbiere (with Corbiere’s challenger Louis Dechaine unable to attend the night’s forum). Road work and equitable distribution of projects was a major topic of discussion by most candidates in this session and through the night.
The forum then gave way to a question and answer period, in which reeve candidates were promptly put on the spot. Challengers Ben Dyck and Steve Upham were asked what experience they each had in leadership and uniting people of various interests and backgrounds.
Dyck explained as a contractor for the past 10 years, he had dealings with various people and given that projects had to get finished and on budget, “we have to make things work.”
Upham pointed to his experience as director for the Canadian Hereford Association, working with people with a diverse set of wishes. “I was a consensus builder at the CHA,” he said, adding he bridged the gap between people with smaller farms and those with larger farms.
Present members of council were then grilled about why the county was in the business of developing lots, in the case of the Mallaig subdivision.
As far as development went, Bouchard said, “It’s not a preferred place we’d like to be.” However, the County of St. Paul had a parcel of land in Mallaig that lent itself well to be subdivided, yet no developer wanted to develop the land. The County couldn’t continue to let people move out of the hamlet without doing something about it. He said the project cost $1.9 million including paving, and that $600,000 worth of lots had been sold with $750,000 left to be sold. Paving cost $300,000 and is covered by a federal grant, but Bouchard noted that still leaves the project with a shortfall. His view, however, was that County had a responsibility to support its communities.
Reeve candidates later responded to a question from Coun. Glen Ockerman about supporting a subdivision, such as the one in Mallaig, in another community such as Ashmont or Heinsburg. Dyck said he didn’t support developing lots that didn’t make money and pointed out that communities had to have businesses and services for people to use as well.
County couldn’t just open its chequebook when it came to development, Upham said, but noted county does have to promote and support its towns. At the same time, he said he wouldn’t be in favour of subsidizing development at a 40 per cent loss.
Reeve candidates were asked if they would support regionalization of the Towns of Elk Point and St. Paul and the County of St. Paul. Bouchard came to the stage and gave a succinct “No,” to applause from the crowd.
Dyck said each municipality had its own interests. “You mix the two together and neither one gets sufficiently addressed.”
Upham was more cautious in his reply, saying there was no need to regionalize right now, but there needed to be better cooperation between the Town of St. Paul and the county in this regard, as well as in other respects. “To just stand here and say no is to draw a line between two groups that need to get along better.”
Bouchard was asked about his “proven leadership” tagline, and asked how he showed proven leadership in pursuing a $100,000 court case during the last term, in which the County of St. Paul sought to have the Division 4 election declared invalid due to seasonal residents voting.
Bouchard acknowledged that the court case cost money to pursue but said it was important to know just who was eligible to vote, a clarification that was sought by all of council. “We did succeed in getting the act changed,” he said, noting the County of St. Paul’s application to the court, along with other municipalities, led to Municipal Affairs clarifying the rules of residency for the purpose of voting. “I think we were successful,” he said, adding that the province of Alberta also saw the county’s legal costs as money well spent.
The reeve candidates weighed in on how they felt the new Reeve at Large position would change county’s functioning. Upham and Dyck both felt the position would benefit the county, since the reeve elected at large would not represent one division or one set of interests but would be accountable to the county as a whole.
Bouchard felt whether the reeve is chosen by council or is elected at large, he or she is still accountable to the whole county. However, he noted that the change meant that the reeve no longer would have to worry about looking after a division, adding that “may give more time to mediate.”
Dyck had gone on record saying that as reeve, he would support an independent auditor coming in to review the county’s finances and its $30 million budget, said county resident Amil Shapka. He asked the other two reeve candidates if they would also support such a move.
Bouchard wasn’t prepared to give a yes or no answer, but noted there is an auditor who goes through county finances every year. He questioned the need to hire another independent auditor to do the same. Upham agreed the audit was probably sufficient.
Dyck felt that an independent auditor would provide more, in identifying how actual costs differed from cost projections and identifying how money is being spent on specific projects. However, Bouchard said county does already track every project’s expenditures and questioned the need to duplicate those numbers. Upham added, “I think that’s where leadership comes in.” As a former school board trustee, he said he knew that when auditors’ annual reports raised red lights, council must do its due diligence and examine the discrepancies.
Although many of the questions during the night were targeted to the reeve at large candidates, county council candidates also fielded some queries.
When Division 5 candidates were asked how they would redevelop the Ashmont townsite, it brought up a flurry of responses. Hanson said dilapidated or vacant buildings needed to be destroyed, and suggested that some of the land could be used for community gardens, or something similar. Dubrule suggested forming a committee of Ashmont residents to talk about “making it a place where people want to live.”
Frank Sloan, the incumbent, took the chance to highlight the work that’s going on in Ashmont, with vacant houses getting knocked down and the county issuing warnings to people with unsightly premises to clean up their residences. “These all take time,” he noted.
Dubrule and Hanson each took the stage again, with Dubrule stating county just can’t send letters out to negligent landowners but has to have repercussions in place, and Hanson saying, “There’s no bylaw enforcement in Ashmont, period,” as she invited people to take a drive to the community and see for themselves.
People also questioned the reeve candidates about budgeting for bylaw enforcement officers. Bouchard said the county only has a part-time bylaw officer during the summer, at a cost of about $5,000, who raises awareness about bylaws, rather than enforcing them. To hire someone to write tickets and prosecute cases would involve a substantial increase in county costs, he said, adding, “Would we consider hiring more? Yes – council does have an interest in doing more enforcement.” Upham and Dyck also wanted to see more enforcement, ensuring that residents know rules and bylaws must be followed.
Candidates then made closing statements, in which they thanked the St. Paul and District Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event and asked for people’s support when it came time to mark an x on their ballots come Oct. 18 municipal elections.