It was a full house Sept. 4 for the City of Wetaskiwin council by-election forum at the Best Western hotel. All 11 candidates vying for the two vacant council seats were present.
The Leduc/Wetaskiwin Chamber of Commerce hosted the evening event that included the following candidates: Phil Houle-Gregg, Sandra Kim, Byron King, Angela Greenidge, Gabrielle Blatz, Lawrence Semeniuk, Hazen Evenson, Amanda Rule, Mark McFaul, Joe Branco and Stephen Venardos.
Each candidate was given a few minutes to introduce themselves in a randomly determined order.
Rule noted has a family in Wetaskiwin and she has run for city council before and appreciated the support she received. She learned a lot while campaigning, and heard a lot of feedback from city residents while door-knocking.
Rule said she feels she has a lot to offer the taxpayers as a councilor. She said there are a lot of things she’d like to see happen in the city and is also aware that issues like crime and public safety are important to city residents.
Rule also pointed out that all of the resources the city has should be used to the best and fullest benefit.
Stating that he is a former rec manager with the City of Wetaskiwin, King noted he is employed out of town but is a homeowner and taxpayer in Wetaskiwin. He said he’s made many great friends in Wetaskiwin and wants to see the city grow and prosper.
King said he has over 20 years experience in local government and is very familiar with how local government works. He said he has a lot of experience in projects and grants, is fair, and is respectful of the taxpayers’ dollars.
King said he has a vision of seeing the city being led by council and administration.
A 41 year resident of Wetaskiwin, Branco said he is a family man and operates a concrete business in the construction industry. He said he loves Wetaskiwin and is worried about the number of people leaving the city permanently.
Branco said local businesses need a competitive environment and currently the City of Wetaskiwin’s tax rates are not competitive with surrounding municipalities.
Branco said councilors are supposed to represent the taxpayers.
Venardos noted that he has been involved in the restaurant business in Wetaskiwin for over 30 years. He said he can remember times when Wetaskiwin seemed like a growing place.
However, since the oilpatch’s decline the city seems to drop more and more.
The candidate described himself as dedicated and tenacious and sees himself as an excellent candidate because he owns a business in Wetaskiwin that supports his family and he has skin in the game.
Venardos said he feels crime in the City of Wetaskiwin is probably one of the top local issues.
He said he feels the city finances, transparency and accountability are all issues he will focus on and said he’s concerned the city doesn’t seem interested in people’s concerns.
Also a local business owner, Evenson said he was born and raised in Wetaskiwin. Evenson said it doesn’t feel like very long ago it felt, like Wetaskiwin was booming and things have definitely changed, including the feel of the city.
He stated he economy has slumped and it’s obviously having an effect on Wetaskiwin.
Evenson said he’d like to see Wetaskiwin more self-sufficient, the kind of place where everything the city needs is within its own boundaries.
This candidate started by inferring that if someone isn’t happy, then they should get involved themselves.
Semeniuk stated he’s a data-driven person and makes decisions based on facts.
Also, he said everyone in Wetaskiwin is on the same side, and there’s no reason to have residents, businesses and seniors competing with each other.
He noted that he has the skills to make important decisions, as his current employment involves making decisions every day that affect thousands of airline passengers.
The candidate noted she is a 37 year resident of the Wetaskiwin area, married with children, a retired nurse and active volunteer who has experience as a school trustee and much more, which would be an asset to city council.
Greenidge said she understands and respects taxpayers, is a hard worker and she is able to get along with other people and work with them.
McFaul pointed out he’s been a local resident for 55 years and has a wife and two children.
McFaul said some of the city’s expenses need to be examined; for example, he pointed out the city pays $3.5 million every year for policing, with almost half of the calls going out of the city.
He said taxes are not competitive in Wetaskiwin and businesses need to be given a break.
McFaul said local improvement projects are a bad idea, as all taxpayers should pay for improvements, not just one group.
Kim said she’s been a resident of Wetaskiwin for over 40 years, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family when downtown Wetaskiwin was thriving. Kim said she understands the hard work and dedication needed for a business to thrive.
Kim said she is married with five kids, and she’s concerned her kids will move away from Wetaskiwin to find better lives. She said the city needs to do more than ban plastic bags, the city needs a sustainable economy that keeps residents here.
She said the city needs to explore new ideas for attracting businesses and needs to look at issues like policing and infrastructure or the city will keep seeing negative growth.
Houle-Gregg, firefighter and family man, said Wetaskiwin has a great atmosphere. In his career he’s responsible for efficiency and will bring that to the council chambers with him. He said he’ll lobby for Wetaskiwin with other levels of government.
He said he wants to see a clean, safe Wetaskiwin, wants to see improved accountability at city hall and possibly shift some city initiatives to the private sector. Houle-Gregg said some programs, such as recycling, could benefit from improved efficiency.
Blatz said she is a pro-growth candidate, is married and has worked at the local hospital for five years. She said she comes from a pro-business family and has canvassed almost the entire city twice.
The residents have told her city infrastructure needs help, taxes are very high in Wetaskiwin, small businesses are closing and crime is making the public feel unsafe.
Blatz said the city needs to increase its tax base, ideally by attracting new development and residents. She said Wetaskiwin has a great location in Alberta and should be an attractive location for new businesses.
Q and A session
Questions were submitted from the public before the event. Some of the questions included how to spend a $1 million grant, whether to reduce services to reduce taxes, addressing crime, how to engage indigenous groups and a judgment on whether the current council is on the right track.
Election day is Sept. 11.