Tonight the Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League co-hosted a candidate forum for Ward 6. Held at Oliver School, the forum was moderated by Beth Sanders. Along with a couple of other volunteers, she did a good job of keeping the eleven candidates in attendance on track (there are 13 on Dave’s list, but Bryan Kapitza and Javed Sommers did not take part). The turnout was pretty good for a Tuesday evening in mid-September, with approximately 125 people in attendance.
From left to right, here are the candidates who participated tonight: Taz Bouchier, Kyle Brown, Candas Jane Dorsey, Derrick Forsythe, Melinda Hollis, Heather MacKenzie, Scott McKeen, Erin Northey, Adil Pirbhai, Alfie White, and Dexx Williams.
After opening statements in that order, Beth asked five questions from the organizers of the forum, then opened the floor to questions from those in attendance. There was time for five of those before candidates gave their closing remarks (in reverse order).
Here are the five questions asked by the organizers:
- If elected to Council, how would you continue the momentum of building Downtown as a centre of commerce and culture and a destination for all citizens of the city?
- Do you feel that the decision on the redevelopment of the Molson Crosstown site was the correct one? What would you do as Councillor to improve the City’s engagement process?
- As Councillor, how would you work to address the spike in violent crimes in recent months in the Oliver/Downtown neighbourhoods?
- Is there an adequate balance of housing options in the Oliver/Downtown core? If not, what deficiencies do you see and how would you work to address them as Councillor?
- If elected to Council, what important issue facing Oliver/Downtown would you give the most attention to and what would you do to ensure that it’s adequately addressed?
Each candidate had one minute to answer the question. The order was random – names were drawn from a hat. For the most part, the candidates kept to the time allotted and stayed on track with their answers. The five questions asked by citizens in attendance included one about the need for public washrooms in the core, one about supporting the arts, one about P3s, and one about regional cooperation. The only question that every candidate had the opportunity to answer was the one that received applause from the crowd: How will you make yourself more accessible?
On the question of improving the City’s engagement process, there were far too many non-answers along the lines of “I believe citizens need to have their voices heard.” This is an important issue that I’m confident will be repeatedly asked throughout the election, so I hope all of the candidates give it due consideration. Adil’s answer was that he’d hold numerous Town Halls, which isn’t a bad idea if you went about it the right way (hello technology!).
I was a little surprised at how many candidates were happy with the Molson Crosstown decision. More than a couple mentioned that they were happy to see the development going forward so that something could be done with the parking lots. Scott probably gave the answer the Oliver Community League members were looking for, saying that “developers too often plan for Edmonton’s past.”
Far too many candidates completely bombed on the housing options question. Some, like Taz, took it to be a question about homelessness. Others offered nothing beyond saying diversity is good. Drawing on her own experience, Heather made a strong case for more diverse housing options in the core.
It was really interesting to hear what candidates felt the most important issue was. Dexx mentioned the issue of parking being unavailable for residents because non-residents use it all. Melinda claimed that the Municipal Development Plan isn’t actually a plan, and said she’d want to do something about that. Candas talked about the need for consultation. Scott mentioned the arena. Some mentioned housing, others mentioned tackling crime.
The vast majority of the answers tonight were “I believe” or “I think” answers, lacking substance or concrete ideas for action. I suppose it’s difficult to go much beyond that with just a minute to answer, but it still would have been nice to hear some specifics. I did not feel a great deal of confidence that the candidates up at the front of the room tonight have a solid understanding of what being a Councillor would entail.
Here are my notes on the closing remarks:
- Dexx highlighted his passion for the ward and reiterated that he’d work hard to ensure residents’ concerns were addressed.
- Alfie admitted that this was all a new experience for him, but that he hoped to be able to represent the ward.
- Adil expressed his distaste for projects like the arena, Indy, and EXPO 2017, and then went on to suggest that Council hadn’t said anything about the post secondary cuts. I guess he missed the State of the City Address.
- Erin also admitted that this was a new experience and suggested that she’d be happy to just learn and make connections.
- Scott praised the strong field of candidates, and said that Ward 6 could become the ward that slows urban sprawl.
- Heather said responsiveness to the community and attracting more people to the core are both priorities.
- Melinda said she’s passionate about the ward, and that city must grow responsibly, taking care to maintain the uniqueness of each neighbourhood.
- Derrick focused his closing remarks on improving public consultation, and said a commitment to work with communities is needed.
- Candas said that cities need to have big dreams, but also need to know how to pay for them.
- Kyle said the ward needs someone who can represent the diversity you’ll find within it.
- Taz highlighted her experience in community development, and said she’s familiar with legislation, bylaws, and the orders of government.
There were an awful lot of repetitive answers tonight, which is no surprise given the large number of candidates running (already there are five more declared than officially ran in the last election). I have no doubt the field will narrow in the weeks ahead (or at the very least some clear frontrunners will emerge).
Instead of picking “a winner” for tonight, let me simply mention the candidates that I thought did well. The two names most often mentioned as frontrunners are Scott and Heather, and I thought both did well. Scott only mentioned his journalism background a couple times, and had strong answers for all the questions. Heather cited her experience as a school board trustee a few times, and though she generally read from her notes, gave strong answers as well. Candas did well and had some of the more thoughtful answers of the evening. I think Dexx impressed me most tonight – he delivered a good amount of passion and was articulate in his answers.
Thanks to the organizers of tonight’s event and to all the candidates who participated!