ST. PAUL - All nine candidates who have put their names forward for one of the six council seats available with the Town of St. Paul took part in an online forum on Sept. 29.
Ahead of questions being posed, candidates were given the opportunity to introduce themselves. Incumbent Norm Noel said he's hoping to continue to move the community forward through another four-year term on council.
Former councillor, and St. Paul Education trustee Dwight Wiebe said he's hoping to come back to help serve the community. He noted that St. Paul has changed a lot in the past four years and spoke to the belief that "Everyone matters in St. Paul."
Incumbent Nathan Taylor said he aims to come to council meetings with new ideas, and noted that he believes the community is changing and "we can't stand still." He spoke specifically to the belief that the Town has to be part of a movement to create more recreational opportunities to help draw new people to the area.
One of the new names on the ballot will be Jyotiranjan (Joe) Khandual, he noted that since coming to Canada he has felt that St. Paul is home. He also added that he believes it's a benefit to be a newcomer to the community, and would like to be a voice of the community.
Incumbent Ron Boisvert spoke to his long-time involvement with the municipality, and said he is "committed to the community" and continues to be involved in a number of boards with various organizations.
Incumbent Gary Ward said he felt the past four years on council have been very rewarding, and he would like to continue to be a strong leader in the community.
Another new name on this year's ballot is Daniel Gadowski. He noted that he is involved in the community in a number of ways, and wants to give back and lead by example.
Incumbent Brad Eamon also introduced himself, saying he wants to continue building on the momentum that has been built over the past term. He admitted it took some time to decide if he did want to put his name forward again, but believes he has made a positive impact on council and therefore is seeking re-election. "I can hold my head high."
Yet another new name on the ballot will be Siddharth (Sid) Sood. He has been in the community for 14 years, working various jobs, and currently manages the movie theatre in town. "I truly and honestly love St. Paul," said Sood.
One of the first questions asked candidates what they thought could be done to attract people to the area.
Ward said he felt promoting existing amenities and letting people know what the area has to offer, is a good approach.
Gadowski said this was one of his personal concerns, specifically around attracting new professionals to town. He agreed with Ward, stating promoting the amenities in the area would be a good start.
Eamon said the process of attracting people to the area is already starting to happen. He spoke highly of Mayor Maureen Miller's efforts to work toward attracting new doctors and other professionals to the area.
Noel said he felt reaching out to universities would be a good approach, and promoting the community as being a friendly place.
Sood said he felt it simply required some effort, and he has personally experienced success in attracting people to events he's helped organized.
Wiebe also agreed to increased awareness about the services and amenities in the area, and stated a need to think outside the box when it came to economic development and marketing.
Taylor stated that he felt it was more than just advertising. But the area needs to provide something new, and think about the future. He also spoke to a need to promote the community as a region, rather than just the town.
Boisvert spoke to an update of a video that is taking place to help attract doctors to the area.
Inclusion and accessibility was also brought up during the question period, with all councillors agreeing that it is an important topic. Incumbent councillors acknowledged that the topic was being looked at but there is still lots of work to do.
Then, a question specific to the pandemic was posed, asking about their stance on mandatory vaccines or vaccine passports amid high rates of COVID-19 in the area.
Gadowski was the first to answer, saying it's important to follow provincial mandates and the topic is one for health care professionals.
Eamon said while he believed in personal choice and freedoms, "vaccines do work." He acknowledged it's been tough to navigate through the pandemic, and stated "I just want to get us back to normal."
Sood also noted that he decided to get vaccinated and simply wants everyone to stay safe.
Noel acknowledged that it's a tough topic, and the municipality is mandated by the province, although council sometimes looks like "the bad guy." But, council members are required to make the best decisions possible.
Wiebe said he too supports personal choice, but fully supports the safety of the community.
Taylor stated that he felt the number one approach was to remember to speak kindly. He noted that he and his wife chose to get vaccinated and will do the same for their young children when they are able to. He noted that regardless of what decision people make, we cannot demean or harass people. He also spoke to the need for provincial leadership on the topic.
Boisvert too noted that it's unfortunate the province is trying to download decisions onto the municipalities and businesses, and noted that the Town also doesn't know what is going to be announced by the province ahead of time.
Ward said it's key the province gives direction on the topic.
A question around the "cat problem" in St. Paul was also posed to candidates, although most acknowledged they were not fully aware of a cat problem, and weren't sure if it alluded to pets or feral cats.
Working with Town of St. Paul Municipal Enforcement and working alongside the St. Paul Animal Shelter were points brought up repeatedly as candidates responded to the question.
One question was also posed directly to Wiebe, asking if he felt it would be feasible to hold two public office positions. He stated it has been done before, and "I welcome the challenge of participating in this fully."
The handling of waste, garbage and recycling was also brought up. Noel spoke to the roll-out bin program that has recently been introduced in town, and acknowledged work needs to be done to make recycling easier.
Wiebe said he felt the Town was on the right path, but the work isn't done yet.
Taylor, who has been involved in the topic through various committee roles, said his number one priority was working to get Evergreen Regional Waste Management Services Commission on the right path financially, and he believes that has been done.
"This is my passion area," said Taylor, speaking to the topic of waste as a whole. He spoke to new technologies to take waste and process them into energy, and an overall priority to make the community greener.
Boisvert noted that while talks have taken place around converting waste to energy, there is an issue with the amount of volume that would be required to do so.
Ward said he felt the Town has a good start with the new roll-out bins but recycling efforts are something that needs to be looked at.
Gadowski also spoke to the need for more work on the topic of waste.
"At the end of the day, I want to leave this place better," said Eamon. He stated that he wants to continue to improve the community in this way, and stay open-minded.
Candidates were asked if they supported continued live streaming of council meetings, post-pandemic, to which they all agreed to supporting.
Noel stated he felt it was important give credit where it was due, and acknowledged Taylor for his forward thinking in pushing for the live streaming of meetings.
Candidates were also asked about the community's homeless population.
Eamon stated that it's a tough topic to summarize, but spoke to the need to put a community group together, and putting a plan in place. Making progress on the issue will involve a lot of work and will include a lot of wrap around services.
Sood said he felt it was important to first answer the question of why people are homeless and spoke to the importance of affordable housing.
Noel noted that "we have to engage the community" and work toward a solution, to which Ward echoed very similar sentiments.
Bringing groups together was a key piece to address the topic, according to Wiebe.
Taylor spoke to the importance of addressing mental health, and noted that we need to think of ourselves as a larger region. While he once thought an overnight shelter would be helpful, he now thinks transition housing would be a better approach.
Gadowski agreed with the need to consider mental health and focus on permanent long-term solutions.
Boisvert said the topic has been brought up in the past, and is still something that needs to be addressed.
Candidate Khandual was unfortunately dropped from the virtual forum due to an unstable Internet connection.
Topics around Truth and Reconciliation, Daylight Saving Time, and crime prevention also came up throughout the forum. A recording of the forum is available online through the St. Paul & District Chamber of Commerce.