The first Canmore municipal election candidate forum officially kicked off the race to the Oct. 18 vote.
All 11 council candidates and two of the three mayoral candidates were on hand for the forum hosted by the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association.
The forum was hyper focused on development in the community, specifically asking how best to manage responsible development in town, how to improve the application and permit process and how to work with the building industry to achieve a vision for businesses, developers and residents in Canmore.
“The building and development industry must be part from the outset and not just the recipient of decisions already taken," said council candidate Hans Helder, who has previously served on council. "Positive and productive collaboration amongst all stakeholders will get positive productive results.”
The council candidates were able to introduce themselves to the virtual audience with a two minute presentation, followed by each candidate having a minute to answer each of the three questions and a final chance to speak to residents.
The mayoral candidates had five minutes to provide an introduction, a minute to answer a series of four questions and time for concluding remarks.
All candidates stressed the importance of using public engagement in aiding council decisions, particularly when it comes to those regarding development.
The possibility of significant change on council could be highly likely. Mayor John Borrowman and Councillor Esme Comfort are both not running, leaving at least two seats available. Coun. Vi Sandford is also running for mayor, meaning an additional council spot is open.
With development projects shaping the future of the community for generations to come, a priority towards planning and finding the best outcomes for residents is vital.
“In leadership roles, with issues the community facing, we need to start to choose and select which ones are the priority,” said Vijay Domingo, a longtime Catholic school board representative now running for council. “As we have those more focused conversations, I think you can connect both the community and government into these topics.”
Many in the development community have taken issue with the length it takes to process planning applications and permits – a common complaint across the country.
Council candidate Christoph Braier emphasized a way to expedite matters would be to work in advance with planners and talk with neighbours and community people who may be impacted.
“Get as many concerns resolved before submitting an application and be in line with the laws and regulations and don’t ask for any variances since it will only delay the process,” he said of moving more quickly through the process.
The issue of housing supply when it comes to affordable housing has reached near critical levels. Though recent growth in Canmore has seen affordable housing created in Hawks Bend and more to come in Ravens Ridge next year, the ability to purchase a home in Canmore remains out of the reach for most residents.
Other subdivisions have seen new additions, while the contentious visitor accommodation have popped up in areas of town.
“What we build will determine the vibrancy of our community. Affordable housing is critically underserved, vacant mansions are the last thing we need,” said council candidate Wade Graham. “We need true commercial space to help balance our tax base and not just faux hotels. We need to address the needs of the middle and lower income families to keep our community diverse and strong.”
While not as heavily visited as Banff, Canmore is a tourist town and hosts an economy largely based on tourism.
However, without the province granting the ability to tax tourists to aid in infrastructure costs that are saddled on taxpaying residents, an emphasis on continued advocacy work with the province is equally key for the next council.
“We definitely need infrastructure for visitors as we share so many of our beloved community assets with them daily,” said Vi Sandford, an incumbent councillor running for mayor. “We are perpetually the hosts and to be gracious hosts we need amenities, clean up crews and extra washrooms. I have connected with mayors, reeves and councils through nine years on council experience.”
Mayoral candidate Sean Krausert highlighted that affordability is just one component in aiding in a sustainable community for residents, with other factors such as transit, support services and employment equally an important aspect.
“Affordability is not just about housing, it’s assistance through FCSS (Family and Community Support Services), expansion of transit and working with employers to come up with creative ways to be able to provide the equivalent of a living wage.” SK
As housing costs have soared, some longtime residents have fled the community to less expensive cities such as Cochrane.
It has left the municipality seeking ways to curtail the movement out of Canmore and finding ways to keep the workforce intact.
“If I had to pick one group of citizens of Canmore whose best interest I’m here to serve in terms of supporting through development, it’d be people like me. People who need housing supports and housing programs in order to continue to live here affordably and reasonably,” said Tanya Foubert, a longtime journalist in the community now running for council. “People who work two or three jobs who have a roommate and people who see better options in Cochrane, I want those people to stay here and have an easier time of making a living and having a higher quality of life.”
Development is a polarizing issue in every community, but the proposed Three Sisters Mountain Village area structure plans – which were defeated by council – gained significant attention in the community.
According to the Bow Corridor Organization for Responsible Development (BowCORD), there were 2,169 total submissions and more than 90 per cent in opposition during the hearings. The issues of wildlife, the environment, the scope of the project, undermining, wildfire and population growth were concerns brought forward.
For some, it served as a call for an examination for a new vision for the community and a replacement of the Mining the Future that was approved in 2006.
“We’d hear from all the voices in the community. … We could create a go forward framework that we could understand that we could all work with,” said council candidate Jeff Mah, who pushed for a public engagement process for a new vision. “I’m motivated to look at future developments in the clarity that visioning process should hopefully streamline that ability to build what we need.”
While Mining the Future remains a key guiding document and the subsequent Signposts to Sustainability in 2010 that built upon Mining the Future has also directed councils, the amended 2020 Municipal Development Plan (MDP) is the vision for community values and the direction for community land use decisions.
“Smart development, building affordability, building green are a few of the ways to achieve our community vision,” said Joanna McCallum, an incumbent councillor running for re-election. “Some of the things that have come to the forefront are not including in the MDP, but I think the base and the core vision in the MDP really speaks to what we need the development community to do to meet our vision in Canmore.”