So, if you were following me on Twitter, you would have noticed that I was rudely silenced 4/5 of the way through the forum; apparently I was “tweeting too much” and Twitter gave me a time-out for an hour. Now I know why the journalists are so sparing with their verbiage during live events.

After a frustrating bit of DMing, I settled down and managed to catch the rest of the audience’s questions. There was a question about planning – Martensville’s growth was invoked – so I think this dude was invested in growth at any cost. I didn’t catch Eric Olauson’s or Sharon Wingate’s response (too busy flailing with phone) but Karen Rooney said that we should look to plan beyond the election cycle, while Ainsley Robertson preferred to hold the Strategic Plan as inviolate (yet flexible).

Next question was about winter activities – with the climate being what it is, what can we do to encourage year-round physical activity? Sharon said as an active person, she enjoys a lot of winter sports – cross-country skiing, snowshoeing – and that the price of leisure passes should be brought down. Eric and Ainsley stressed the importance of notifying people of already-existing programs.

After that, another resident wanted to know whether candidates would be in favour of committing a percentage of the transportation budget towards cyclists that is equal to the proportion of people who cycle. Heh, heh. According to some estimates, there is over 2% cycling mode share in this city. 2% of the transpo budget would be a MASSIVE increase for cycling (for reference, this year was a one-time infusion of $500,000 which was an increase of $425,000 from last year. Uh huh. For reference, we are still way behind in spending on any mode of transport than most cities, including Regina.) So. Ainsley said it would be a great start, and stressed the need for education of all types of road users; Eric said it was certainly “up for discussion” and that he was open to “studying it further” to see if it was acceptable or possible; Karen, as you may have guessed, was in favour of considering cycling as a serious part of the transpo budget; and Sharon said she would support it but that she couldn’t commit to it.

The next question I thought was a good one. The asker pointed out that several candidates had emphasized the need for building and developing community, while the actual process of city planning is fragmenting communities (due to poor design).  For the record, this wasn’t some young bright-eyed planning student or wonk; this was an older gentleman who has obviously been retired for some time. Although I shouldn’t judge, Jane Jacobs was born in 1916. He noted that you are required to have a vehicle in order to move around. Ainsley answered first; she said that it’s important to learn from the mistakes Calgary and Toronto have made (I wonder if Calgary is getting tired of being thrown under the bus). She had a specific example (I love specifics) of putting the garage in the back. (Although I think this just leads to more people bitching about how their alleys are torn up.) Eric also agreed (this was a very agreeable bunch) and said that infill and transit were key. Karen talked about infill but also linking neighbourhoods and providing a blend of offices and services so people do not have to travel as far. Sharon also agreed with everyone and postulated that new neighbourhoods need schools to form a proper community as they are a hub for activities.

That was the last of the questions, as they were out of time. The woman next to me had one but was unable to ask it, so I got it from her. She was still rather unsure as to priorities of each candidate, since they spent so much time saying they agreed with each other (and sometimes it’s difficult to pick up on undertone or backchannel if you’re not familiar with doublespeak.) Anyways, her question was about priorities: “What would be your first order of business if you were elected councillor?” I thought this was a great question, so I’m repeating it here, and also grilling people on Twitter about it.

***

Some further notes on the evening: I came into the forum with very little knowledge about each candidate, although I developed Strong Opinions early. (I am good at this although not always correct, so caveat emptor.) I can assure you that I have no real stake in this, as a non-ward 8 resident, so if you’re going cui bono the only answer is my constant need for attention.

I have met Eric Olauson once (he will likely not remember it) and also happen to recall his slogan from when he ran in the Ward 3 by-election. “Eric Olauson: Your Only Choice.” He later dropped out of the election leaving, one supposes, no small percentage of the Ward 3 voters in turmoil. Eric had a nice suit and tie on (gray, with a silver shirt, I like gray). However, he’s got to work on his speaking manner – the awkward pause to look down at the material and then up at the crowd is rather eighth-grade; it reminded me of the public speaking we had to do every year for 4-H. Eric, I think, is a good choice if your priority is chopping spending; he was very consistent on this point and I think he would do the most to resist a rise in tax rates. He’s definitely one of the more business-oriented candidates, with a strong emphasis on public-private partnerships.  I am not sure if he will be flexible enough to resolve his positions on some things, since the Strategic Plan requires a lot of spending. I was also informed by someone in his “inner circle” that one of his platform planks is removing the maximum income requirement for the seniors’ tax abatement plan, hoping to thereby streamline the approval process.

I have not met Sharon Wingate ever, or even knew much about her aside from her, er, bold signs; she is rather tall and reminds one visually (and later policy-wise) of Bev Dubois. To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed; I thought she relied a bit too much on her doorstep anecdotes and wasn’t too familiar with municipal policy. She mentioned several times that she thought the City was doing enough already for affordable housing; when one of the audience members got up, asking about how people are going to afford homes when even the most entry-level home starts at $150,000 (and that rents are also rising), her response was unsympathetic. Basically, you have to “deal with reality”, the “market is what it is” and that if you couldn’t afford a house, that you should just rent instead. This I thought was a bit tone-deaf considering the general direction of questions and concerns of the audience, but at least I give her props for saying what she thought outright.

Ainsley I have seen at least once out and about but have never introduced myself. Jeff ratted me out before the meeting started so I couldn’t be too mean to her after shaking her hand. She also looks a bit older than her photos, which works a bit in her favour; it’s less fresh-faced Comm student, more organized professional. Ainsley definitely hit on all the pressure points of public frustration; she’s got experience navigating through bureaucracy and has run before. I hate, hate making comparisons between provincial/federal politics and muni poli since I dislike the blind partisanship, but Ainsley very much reminds me of a Liberal-type mindset; if you vote Liberal, you’ll most definitely prefer Ainsley.

I have also not met Karen before, but have exchanged pleasantries with her on Twitter. I have to be careful here, as I was accused earlier of being a “Karen Rooney booster” but it’s true; her positions are ones I most agree with. Generally, if you agree with what I write, you’ll be pretty happy with Karen. She was the only one to mention increasing First Nations employment; she invoked the food charter; and she was the most focussed on bringing in underprivileged and the less mobile. Unfortunately, I am sure while this plays well in Ward 6 with the esteemed Charlie Clark, Ward 8 residents who are fearful of deficit spending will regard her plans with some suspicion as all these programs require initial funding (ALTHOUGH THEY SAVE MONEY IN THE LONG RUN says my conscience, esp. Housing First. I’ll also note that Ainsley brought up Housing First as well.) Karen also had the best bedside manner which I think helps soothe the more anxious sector of the electorate.

As for who will win, I am not sure. Sharon and Eric will split the conservative vote; Karen and Ainsley will do likewise with the more liberal-minded. I don’t have any other intel about polls, so I can’t even say who the front-runner is; Ainsley has been doing well sign-wise, but Karen is only putting up signs on private lawns, not public property (a fact I think certain city residents would vote for alone.)

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