By Trevor Busch
All seven candidates were in attendance at the Town of Taber by-election forum on Aug. 31 to promote their platforms and seek the favour of local voters.
Hosted at the Taber Legion Hall by the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce, the forum was moderated by Ken Holst. Candidates include Cat Champagne, Ian Croft, Mike Krchnak, Mani Parhar, Daniel Remfert, Dale Tilleman and Naomi Wiebe.
The forum saw a strong turnout of citizens in attendance to hear the views of candidates vying for the single position on town council. Candidates answered questions ranging from support for present council and needs and gaps within the community, to the further expansion of irrigation development in the region and the impact of twinning Highway 3. The Town’s relationship with the Municipal District of Taber was addressed several times, as was a need for focused improvement of many road surfaces in the community.
As the forum commenced, each candidate was provided an opportunity to introduce their respective platforms.
Remfert highlighted his previous experience in serving the community in volunteer and municipal roles.
“I’ve been active in our community with soccer, baseball and minor hockey. I’ve been on the minor hockey board the last nine years, I’m currently the president of Taber Minor Hockey for the last three. The idea of wanting to be a part of town council came about three years ago, I joined the Taber Municipal Police Commission. I sat on that for two years, and then in the third year I became the vice-chair. Growing up in Taber has given me so many opportunities and experiences. I believe these experiences can help Taber small business, help in affordable housing, and help in our youth, because Taber’s today, tomorrow and future are our housing, our small businesses, and our youth.”
Champagne campaigned on making Taber a “town of choice” for Albertans.
“I believe that my work experience has prepared me for this spot on council, and I believe that my senior leadership, management of people and organizations, strategic planning, executive decision making and ability to make sound decisions while respecting and maintaining ethical boundaries has allowed me to have the confidence to do this role, as well as my ability to work roles that are always in the public eye. Why did I want to run? I want to make Taber a town of choice for Albertans. I love it here and I think everyone else should, too. We see so many people migrating to southern Alberta choosing to live in Lethbridge and Coaldale, but why don’t they want to live in Taber? We need to change this.”
Croft emphasized his relative youth, as well as combatting an exodus of young people leaving the town.
“One of the main reasons I’m looking to join council is because of how young I am. I feel like the council does need some new perspective from the youth, especially when I’m looking at issues that are directly affecting the youth, such as affordable housing. One of the things that I’ve noticed is all the people that I grew up with in this town – all of my friends – have moved out of the town into the cities, and I want to bring those youth back into the town to help support the town, help support the businesses, and ensure that this town can survive. And a method of doing that is affordable housing. I hope to bring that as well as many other issues to the town council, and hopefully guide it forwards to ensure this town can grow and prosper.”
While maintaining a theme of aesthetics, Tilleman admitted he was prepared to reverse course on several issues after hearing the priorities of residents.
“What I hope to bring is being a good listener. I know I came out with some ideas as far as why I wanted to run, but when I talk to people, they’re not the top for a lot of people, the roads and the sidewalks are. I also want to try to ensure that we have fairness to all parts of Taber. I do think there is a bit of urban decay going on in parts of the area, and we need to rectify that as best we can. I did bump into some disabled people that have a tough time for access in the downtown area, and we need to fix that. I do want to be open to new ideas, I do expect, if I am fortunate enough to be elected, to research and go ahead and try to find alternatives that might be best for Taber. I am a little concerned that it appears that we’re maybe in camera too much in sessions as far as meetings are concerned.”
Wiebe related her experience in encountering struggling residents in the community that many in Taber may not be aware even exist.
“While my family’s time in Taber has been positive, I realize that our experiences are not the same as everyone in our community. I work every day with residents that are struggling to find a safe, affordable place to live, which is compounded by food insecurity and transportation barriers. I believe that Taber could benefit from new ideas such as an outdoor multi-sport facility that serves all citizens. A youth advocacy group, community gardens, and residents should have budget input. We should also work on creating housing stability, opportunities for our youth, and economic development to help make Taber a vibrant place for many generations. I would like to advocate for the needs of our citizens.”
Taking a strong stance for business, Parhar wants more open communication between the Town and residents.
“I’d like to give back to the Taber community with my business knowledge and my education. I have a Bachelor of Commerce in India, then I passed my Bachelor of Law degree, and I did practice as a lawyer in India for a couple of years, and then I came to Canada because my wife was here. My goal for the Town of Taber, I want to see more communication between council and the public. I think we need better roads, I’ve spoken to a few people, it takes a long time to repair the roads and the sidewalks. I’m a sportsman, I played professional soccer back in India. I love sports, I’d like to organize some kind of tournament in the summertime here with the help of the Town of Taber so we can organize different sports from all over the province.”
Adopting a realistic perspective, Krchnak reminded his fellow candidates that promising the moon doesn’t mean they’ll be able to deliver it.
“I’m not going to make any real pie-in-the-sky promises. You’re only one person on council. But I would like to work and ensure that our tax dollars are treated with respect, to work collaboratively to lessen our red tape so we can get industry and businesses to get going, they’re the ones that create the jobs, they will raise our tax revenues. Those that work for the town have got to remember that they work for the taxpayer, and we need to respect the dollars. I’d like to see a little less government intrusion in our lives, and that’s from all levels from federal all the way down. That’s kind of way to start, is here. We just need to be diligent in our spending, green spaces are a big part for me, our infrastructure.”
A recurrent theme among every candidate that fielded questions from the electorate was an emphasis on affordable housing and the strong need that exists in Taber to address this issue.
“I do work with clientele every day who do need affordable housing,” said Wiebe. “I hear stories of houseless people, I hear stories about people that are couch surfing. There’s a lot of people in our community that may not be aware of those who are struggling. I am willing to learn whatever I need to, to help those in our community.”
Parhar criticised the Town for lack of progress on The Meadows attainable housing initiative.
“I think we need to have more housing from the Town of Taber developed. The Meadows project over by the cemetery, there’s nothing going on there. There’s only four or five houses developed there since when it started. That’s a big chunk of money spent over there, Town of Taber money. I feel like the Town should do something more about that.”
Krchnak argued government needs to get out of the way of developers and private business.
“One of the things I did as a youngster is build. I really have no experience in affordable housing, but making them easy to build, getting the red tape out of the way – those that contract to build need to be able to do them in a timely manner, and a cost-efficient manner, which will equate to affordable housing. If they cost a lot of money to build, it’s hard to give up and not make any money as a developer. There is money out there that can help the process.”
Remfert cautioned that however the development of affordable housing is pursued in Taber, it will come with a substantial price tag.
“Owning the Royal Hotel here, I have 10 units. I deal with lots of people, and it’s pretty much affordable housing. In Lethbridge, me, my father and Tod Pickerell have a building and we work with Canadian Morgage and Housing Credit turning that building into affordable low-cost housing. They gave us a grant, and then we worked with them, and we worked with Venture Holdings here, and built the building. We did it privately, the City of Lethbridge wasn’t involved. Some of the downsides of that, it’s only 15 years, we have to be affordable. Doing that here in Taber, and having private business do it, it’s not long term. The upside of it is, it’s not town money. I know the expense of it, and that was already a building that had been converted. So to build something here, and to do it private, I know it will be expensive. It’ll be tough. If we do it municipally through the council and town, it’ll be expensive.”
Champagne reiterated some of her extensive experience in moving inside and outside of the world of affordable housing.
“I was the executive director of Safe Haven here in Taber, which is the women’s emergency shelter. It’s a 21-bed shelter, but very in line with affordable housing, and we collaborated with the lot of local agencies to do with housing as far as placing people, moving them out of our outreach program, getting them into sustainable housing here in Taber. I’ve also been involved with the Rural Development Network, which involves us having a program where we developed a grant program to provide rent, to provide deposits, to provide money for damage repairs, as well as to pay utilities to help support affordable housing. I was also the municipal housing specialist for the City of Lethbridge, a position I held for over a year as a term position. In that role, I created the Affordable and Social Housing Capital Grant which allowed small agencies that were looking to build affordable housing the capital dollars to start, as well as the start up costs that they could apply for.”
Croft pointed out it might be time to start considering some form of public transportation for the community.
“I do know affordable housing is a necessary first step, and some of the other things that we do need to take into mind with that is introducing some form of public transportation. With The Meadows project being so far away, it’s the case that a lot of people either have the money to purchase a house, or money to purchase a vehicle. If you purchase a house, you need a method to get into the town and to move around the town. So I feel like we have the first step, affordable housing, done we can move on to other stuff such as public transportation to ensure that people can still be financially stable enough to own that house.”
Tilleman, on the other hand, was concerned that segregating affordable housing into certain areas of the community or creating “projects” can result in socio-economic stigmas for people who reside there.
“I would like to see some of the homes we have in town renovated into probably a duplex of some type. I’m referring a little bit – my daughter lives in the Hillhurst area in Calgary, and some of that area was flooded – they’ve taken some of those single lots and made them into what I would call somewhat attractive duplexes there. They’re four level and they look fine. My concern – and some of you are talking about doing this for housing, and doing that for housing, and building this – I’m U.S. college educated, and I played with a couple of black kids. And they lived in areas called ‘The Projects’. And they didn’t like that. There’s a stigma attached to that. That’s why I think we’re much better off to try to go get some single homes that need – or I refer to as a ‘worried’ look that nobody’s lived in, and try to renovate them into something. I really don’t want them all stacked in one area, because I think for the kids and the parents, it’s often a bad reference.”
Candidates also took questions on town staffing, drugs and enforcement in the community, and cat control issues before making their closing statements.
The Town of Taber by-election was called in July following the June 26 resignation of Coun. Alf Rudd who took over as victim services manager for the Taber Police Service.
The Municipal Government Act (MGA) Section 174 states “a councillor is disqualified from council if the councillor becomes an employee of the municipality.” A by-election had to be called to fill the vacancy left on Council as per Section 165 of the MGA. The by-election must take place within 120 days of the date of resignation.
Candidates fielded many questions, but only a selection of responses on key topics could be included here. The event can also be viewed through the archived online livestream available as a link on the chamber’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
For voters interested in learning more, election profile stories on five candidates are included in the Aug. 31 edition of The Taber Times, with two published previously in the Aug. 23 edition.
The Town of Taber by-election is on Sept. 7.