County of Stettler voters got a chance to see and hear what their prospective councilors have to offer as a political forum was held at The Hub Oct. 4.
In total, 13 candidates gathered at the front of the room to offer their platforms and answer questions. There were no representatives from Ward 7, Donalda-Red Willow, as Wayne Nixon was acclaimed. Also, one candidate for ward 6, Erskine-Buffalo Lake, was not present as Doug McKay had a previous commitment and could not attend the forum.
The Stettler Board of Trade and public library co-hosted the event, and noted all candidates would have two minutes to introduce themselves and then field questions from the audience that candidates could answer if they wish. Each candidate would then have a chance to give closing remarks.
Ward 1 Byemoor-Endiang
Incumbent Les Stulberg spoke first. He said he was proud of his accomplishments on council, of his ward and his county. Stulberg said he’s forward thinking, a team player and proud of the county’s relationship with the Town of Stettler.
Candidate Rob Somerville stated that county voters recently said “no” to a new Public Works shop but the council ignored voters and built it anyway. Somerville stated ratepayers have another choice to make and he will represent their wishes.
Editor’s note: Later in the meeting Stulberg disputed Somerville’s account. Stulberg stated county ratepayers were asked if the county should go into debt to pay for a new Public Works shop and ratepayers stated “no,” they didn’t want debt. Stulberg claimed council followed these wishes.
Ward 2 Big Valley
Incumbent Dave Grover stated he works and plays in the county and wants to see improvements too, he was born and raised in the county and is a farmer like most of the ratepayers.
Candidate Terry Schiffner stated he was born and raised in the county and has previous council experience. He said he learned a lot on council and said he saw much smoother operation then.
Ward 3 Botha-Gadsby
Candidate Elaine Hoekstra stated she has experience as an educator for 20 years, has a fresh perspective, a spouse who was a town councilor and will focus on roads and water.
Candidate Larry Clarke said he was born and raised in the county and is now a full-time farmer with 34 years experience in the oil industry. He has budgeting, government relations, energy sector and committee experience.
Ward 4 Stettler
Incumbent Ernie Gendre said his top priority is road maintenance and worked as a county employee which helps him with this goal. He also pointed out the county must learn to adapt to shrinking oilfield revenue.
Candidate Blake Chapman said he is a farmer and has seen ups and downs like everyone, knows the importance of sound financial management and feels the county needs better decision making.
Ward 5 Erskine South-Warden
Incumbent James Nibourg said he’s got seven years experience on council and felt it was a privilege; he wants to see certain projects through to the end, believes the county is in great shape and wants to see that continue.
Candidate Earl Marshall said he’s got nine years of experience on county council and is bothered to see a lack of direction on council; he said the ratepayers are the bosses and the current council doesn‘t recognize that.
Ward 6 Erskine-Buffalo Lake
Incumbent Joe Gendre said he’s seen the county upgrade itself technologically, is happy with the Erskine concept plan including resident consultation; Joe said the county is ready to grow and county roads have never looked better.
Candidate Cheri Neitz belongs to a farm family, raised kids and has been on the school board for 10 years. She said the community’s voice must be heard and few women have been on county council.
Candidate James Marshall stated he’s forward thinking, has new, fresh ideas, is a hard worker, wants to be efficient with taxes and believes in transparency.
As stated above, candidate Doug McKay was not present.
After opening statements, the floor was opened to questions.
Q: What are the biggest concerns for the County of Stettler?
Candidates voiced the following issues as being at the top of their lists: Crime, new roads, money spent on the new Public Works shop, road maintenance, building financial reserves and emergency services.
Q: How will you improve economic diversification?
Chapman said the issue should be a priority in the budget.
Somerville said an economic development board is the answer.
Joe answered that developers must be given more support.
Stulberg said the county must be more “user friendly.”
Earl said less government would be good in all areas.
Schiffner answered that the Erskine lots are a very good start for this issue.
Hoekstra said the county must self-promote more effectively.
Nibourg stated much economic diversification has already been done in the county.
Clarke stated it must be easier for businesses to locate in the county.
Ernie stated the county must learn to live within its means.
Neitz stated responding to community needs will result in growth.
James Marshall stated the county should simply let developers develop, and things will go from there.
Q: Can a business owner in the county also be an effective county councilor (Is there a risk of conflict of interest)?
James Marshall stated that anyone with a pecuniary interest knows what they should do and excuse themselves from any such votes.
Earl stated he saw nothing wrong with successful people running for council.
Ernie referred to his own situation, which he claimed was “after the fact;” he had voted on an issue then found out afterwards his son was involved.
Grover said the rules are plain, and councilors should follow them and it’s as simple as that.
Hoekstra said such things are a question of integrity.
Stulberg noted the Municipal Government Act states councilors are in a conflict if they can vote on something that could potentially benefit themselves or a family member.
Nibourg said regardless of what people should or shouldn’t do, public perception can be very damaging.
Chapman said the councilor code of conduct should always be followed.
Neitz said she is prepared to represent the public with integrity.
Q: Should the County of Stettler’s reeve be elected separately like a mayor (instead of council electing one of themselves to be reeve)?
Joe said no, Chapman said yes, Schiffner said no, Stulberg said no, Cheri said yes, Grover said no, Nibourg said no, James Marshall said yes, Hoekstra said yes, Earl said yes, Clarke said yes, Somerville said yes and Ernie said yes.
It seemed the candidates either saw the reeve being selected by council as an issue of all councilors remaining equal, or the public electing the reeve as the public’s right to have a say in who speaks for the county.
Q: Would you support user fees or cutbacks in financial difficulty to ensure certain programs are protected?
Earl said councilors have to look at all options.
Nibourg said a user pay system allows the public to choose what they want.
James Marshall stated lots of tax money is already collected for programs.
Joe stated he felt sometimes user fee systems are not fair to everyone.
Neitz stated councilors should be wise when they budget to avoid such situations.
Chapman stated such situations face all councils.
Hoekstra said in such situations the public should have a voice.
Somerville said councils should access every grant dollar they can find and avoid leaving money on the table.
Schiffner stated not everyone can afford user fees, even though they want the programs.
Stulberg said tax increases should be the absolute last option for councilors.
Ernie said that taxes are collected by the county to provide services.
Grover answered similarly to Ernie, noting the reason taxes are collected is to provide services.
Q: How will you encourage youth and seniors to stay in the community?
Ernie said the County of Stettler is a great place to live.
Stulberg said people will stay if this is a safe, caring community.
Nibourg said services like healthcare and child services are important.
Earl said have a good supply of jobs and few obstructions to business.
Somerville said supports for farmers and their families are important.
Neitz said partnerships in the community benefit everyone.
Clarke stated that good education, healthcare and employment keep people around.
Chapman stated jobs are important to youth, housing to senior citizens.
Grover said offering acreages is a great way to attract people, especially youth.
Hoekstra said key services are important, but so is making technology like internet available everywhere.
James Marshall said more opportunities for business and fewer hurdles make an attractive community.
Joe said everyone should be encouraged to stay, not just youth and seniors.
After closing statements, candidates visited one on one with the audience.