Municipal Election: A Talk with Mayoral Candidates

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This article was written by Rebecca Martin

Just as the federal election cycle has ended, the municipal elections cycle is kicking into full force. Municipal elections will be held on October 18th across the province. Lethbridge only saw a 27% voter turnout in the 2017 municipal election, down from the average 31% in previous years. 

Although not on the same scale as federal politicians, mayors and councillors still play a vital role in our communities. Municipal leaders deal with the day-to-day issues, addressing programs and services that directly affect people in their municipality. There are many preconceived notions when it comes to what municipal governments do. They are typically involved in infrastructure, drinking water, police services, and economic development. But municipal governments are also responsible for developing social housing, supporting recreation, growing culture, and addressing environmental concerns and impacts. Mayors work with the provincial government to get funding and the necessary resources to improve their communities. 

This year’s ballot will also include four questions:

  • Two referendum questions from the province.
  • Two plebiscite questions from the City of Lethbridge.

The two questions from the province are:

“Should section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 – Parliament and the government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments – be removed from the constitution?”

“Do you want Alberta to adopt year-round Daylight Saving Time, which is summer hours, eliminating the need to change our clocks twice a year?”

And the two from the City of Lethbridge:

“Do you support using a ward system to elect City Councillors (other than the Mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?”

“Do you agree that city council should approve plans to construct a 3rd bridge prior to 2030 as a municipal capital project priority?”

Lethbridge, like many other municipalities in Alberta, doesn’t have an incumbent mayor running. This opens the way for new ideas and a fresh perspective. Lethbridge has six candidates running for mayor: Sheldon Joseph Day Chief, Blaine Hyggen, Gary Klassen, Bridget Mearns, Kolton (“the Maniac”) Menzak, and Stephen Mogdan. We sent all the candidates questions, only Mearns and Mogdan replied before the deadline.

What is the main challenge that you foresee in this role?

MEARNS: Managing the ongoing impact of covid on businesses, the community and residents. This impact includes social and financial. It will require collaboration of a unified council and working with other orders of government to ensure the proper supports are in place.

MOGDAN: I think the primary challenge in this role is leadership. We’ve seen far too fractured a community over the past few years, and in part that comes from our council being divided and unable to work together. Bringing the different voices and viewpoints that will be represented in the next council, and moving them forward in a positive direction, is the critical challenge facing me if I am elected mayor.

Where do you like to spend your free time in Lethbridge? What are some places that you like to go to?

MEARNS: I spend my free time at the curling club in the winter months and in the coulees and parks in the summer months. Our city has a lot to offer for organized sports, organizations, and natural parks and trails, which I love.

MOGDAN: I like a lot of places in Lethbridge. You can often find me at one of the off-leash dog parks (we go to all of them) with my two big dogs. I spend some time at our golf courses (I’m a member at the Country Club but also go to Paradise Canyon and Henderson). I like to work out year-round and will be at the YMCA a few times a week. In the winter, I enjoy curling and will often be at the ATB Centre for that purpose.

Many students at the U of L rely on public transportation to get around the city. Many users are dissatisfied with the new CityLINK system. How do you feel about the public transportation system in Lethbridge? What, if anything, would you change?

MEARNS: Public transit is an important service in our city. I have been hearing about inadequacy concerns with the new CityLINK system. As the system is new, I encourage anyone who has suggestions to contact the city to share them so they can continue to evolve the program. An effective transit system is key to citizens participating equitability in Lethbridge.

MOGDAN: Public transit is a crucial service in any larger city. We need to be able to get around – to go to work or school, to go out and enjoy activities, to go see friends and family. Ensuring that our transit system effectively meets the needs of Lethbridge is one of my top 3 priorities. The new system – in place for about a month now (as I write this) – may require some changes to be more effective; certainly, some of the feedback that people have been giving suggests more dissatisfaction than what you might typically expect would come simply because of the change. We cannot brush that aside or let people struggle with a system that doesn’t meet their needs. 

The city of Lethbridge recently partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association on a subsidy that people can put towards counselling. As mayor, would you continue and expand social service projects like this?

MEARNS: The city is a key partner in many social programs and I would advocate for this to continue. There are many agencies in our city doing incredible work. The Community Well-being and Safety Strategy is evidence of this. Continued collaboration will be important for improved and focused outcomes.

MOGDAN: This type of initiative is so important in our society. When I was a kid, mental health was scarcely talked about. Counselling was something you felt you had to keep secret. Fortunately, we are doing away with that type of antiquated thinking, and initiatives like this help a great deal. We work best when we all work together; and we can’t work together when people are struggling with their mental health.

What environmental initiatives, if any, do you see the City of Lethbridge implementing in the future?

MEARNS: The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) has a Municipal Climate Change Action Centre (MCCAC) and the City of Lethbridge has been working with them. The City’s Environmental Sustainability Analyst, Evan Comeau spoke earlier this year about the Greenhouse Emissions Inventory for the City of Lethbridge

What seems to be clear in all these conversations is that GHG emission reductions will also bring cost reductions for our city. I see this as a way to build more consensus with residents for the necessary changes. For instance, when we utilize electrical transit buses, we reduce emissions, but we also reduce the maintenance costs of the busses. We can talk about it as both an emissions and cost reduction. Electric buses and charging stations are part of the Capital Improvement plan and will play a part in creating more sustainable infrastructure.

I would encourage council to continue to advocate for provincial and federal grant funding and programs to assist homeowners in renovating their homes for energy efficiency. Older homes are significantly less energy efficient than newer homes and can play a role in reducing GHSs.

I would also encourage the city to engage with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Green Municipal Fund which is designed to assist municipalities create a sustainable, prosperous future. 

MOGDAN: I believe Lethbridge will be a leader in solar and wind energy development. We are an innovative region, and taking advantage of those resources is a natural fit for that.

Do you have any plans to keep university students in Lethbridge after they graduate?

MEARNS: There are a number of reasons a grad would stay in Lethbridge. It ranges from the quality of life it affords them, housing ownership affordability and employment opportunities. Key to increasing employment opportunities is attracting businesses and start-ups to Lethbridge. We will have to be competitive with other centres and must focus on the areas that make Lethbridge the city of choice. Affordability, amenities, vibrancy and opportunities. This involves having a city that works with businesses to remove barriers to growth, investing in capital projects that generate economic impact and ensuring we are accessing federal and provincial grants and funding. This also includes a focus of investing operating dollars in areas that contribute to overall quality of life.

MOGDAN: Yes! Growing our city and enhancing its livability – ensuring opportunities for work and business and for family recreation – are critical to making Lethbridge a place where people want to stay and plant their roots.

If you received a $1 million grant to use any way you wanted, what would you do, and why?

MEARNS: I would use it to address some of the social issues we are experiencing in our city. It would be used with the goal of creating collaboration with community organizations with the outcome of bringing the necessary support and dignity to our most vulnerable populations. I would use it to plan for long-term solutions using evidence-based practices. This could start as a symposium of experts and other municipalities and those with lived experiences.

MOGDAN: I would put this toward economic development initiatives. My background is as a professional and a business owner, and I have a lengthy history of being involved with business groups. I believe that a community works better when business is thriving, providing opportunities for people and allowing us to be resilient and self-reliant. The city can assist with that by supporting economic development.

Do you have any other comments on your current platform?

MEARNS: I encourage readers to visit my website to learn more about me and my platform at www.bridgetmearns.ca, and please contact me with any questions at bridget@bridgetmearns.ca

MOGDAN: We have a unique opportunity in this election to put in place a council that acknowledges our past accomplishments but looks toward our future opportunities. It needs calm, competent, collaborative leadership in order to do so. That is what I represent as a mayoral candidate. I appreciate the support that I have received from the residents of Lethbridge and hope to have the honour of serving them over the next four years.

In addition to the mayoral candidates, 16 people are running for the eight council positions, 13 Public School Trustee Candidates for seven positions, and 10 Separate School (Holy Spirit Catholic School) Trustee Candidates for five positions in Ward 2. The City of Lethbridge offered all candidates the opportunity to make a two-minute introduction video; these can be found on the city’s website. The Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce held a mayoral forum, which can be viewed on their YouTube channel.The City of Lethbridge is also implementing new initiatives to get more people out to vote. This year people can vote at any voting station in the city. The city also offers drive-through voting, accessible voting for the blind, and an online tool that allows people to monitor lineups and wait times at voting stations. For more information, you can check out the city’s website. (www.lethbridge.ca/City-Government/Elections). To be eligible to vote, you must be at least 18 years old, a Canadian Citizen, a resident of the City of Lethbridge on Election Day, and provide authorized identification. The election will be held on October 18th.

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