The three Crossfield residents vying for two vacant positions on Town council in a May 10 byelection had the opportunity to introduce themselves and tell residents more about their platforms on April 27, during an all-candidates forum.
The forum, which was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, lasted just over one hour and was live-streamed via the Town of Crossfield’s YouTube channel. The three candidates – Mike Knight, Joanne Cornelssen and Jean Gauthier – each answered roughly 15 questions that were submitted by residents ahead of time. Crossfield Elementary School Principal Bob Rodgers served as the forum’s moderator.
Questions pertained to each candidates’ qualifications and local volunteer experience, how they would help put the Town on firmer financial footing, how they would improve local recreational amenities, and more.
Speaking about his prior experience that would make him a good fit for council, Gauthier said he previously worked for the Town of Bassano for 10 years, as a member of the municipality’s public works team and volunteer firefighting department. He said he would bring his knowledge of municipal infrastructure, such as roads and utility construction, to the table.
“I have lived in small towns similar to Crossfield for basically my whole life,” he said during his opening statement. “I believe council needs to be accountable to our citizens, and the needs and wants of our citizens and businesses need to be put first in decisions that council makes.”
Early into the forum, when asked how council could help attract new business to Crossfield, Knight said new businesses could be offered tax incentives to set up their operations in town. However, he noted that would be tough, as existing businesses should also receive benefits.
“Maybe we would tie those rebates into longer-term contracts with the Town,” he suggested. “I’d [also] like to look at incentives for people who own land in town to possibly get that developed or even sold.”
He added filling Crossfield’s vacant spaces in its industrial parks with businesses would be one of his priorities if elected, as doing so would help strengthen the Town’s non-residential tax base.
Responding to the same question about business attraction and retention, Cornelssen said she would like to see the Town keep taxes low to draw business to Crossfield, and work with commercial property owners to maintain affordable leases.
“I find a big issue here for a lot of small businesses that do want to start is they can’t afford the rental space,” she said. “If we can find a way to keep that down, that would also help draw businesses to town.”
A few questions pertained to the position of Crossfield’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Knight said he would like to review the position’s $193,000 salary to see if that could be reduced.
“I do know it seems from the outside that the CAO was driving council, versus the reverse, where the CAO is working for the council,” he said. “I do think the salary for the CAO is quite overpaid and I would like to see that change or be amended.”
The other two councillors agreed the CAO’s salary and role should be compared to other municipalities to see if Crossfield is on the right path.
“I believe CAOs should be working with council, making the same decisions in the meetings,” Gauthier said, adding he'd like to compare the Crossfield CAO's salary to towns of a similar population.
Asked about Crossfield’s strengths and weaknesses, Cornelssen said a strength of the town is the community’s “neighbourly” qualities. She said if a Crossfieldian needs help, there is always someone willing to assist.
A business owner in Crossfield’s downtown for more than a decade, Cornelssen cited a lack of local support for businesses as one of the town’s weaknesses. She said Crossfield’s proximity to Airdrie is likely one reason for this issue, as many residents commute to Airdrie for work and do their shopping there.
“We lose a lot of businesses and it’s hard for [business owners] to make a living here,” she said. “We need to find a way to keep them shopping locally. We can’t fill our retail spaces with businesses if people aren’t going to support them.”
Adversely, Knight responded to the same question that Crossfield’s proximity to Airdrie, Calgary and the Queen Elizabeth II Highway is one of Crossfield’s advantages. He said he anticipates Crossfield’s population to “take off” in the coming years.
“I think our location is fantastic and I think we’re going to see our town grow significantly,” he said. “People are already starting to move out of Airdrie, just based on the fact houses in our town are worth $40,000 less than they are in Airdrie right now.”
Questions asked at the tail end of the forum were related to the topics of family and recreation. When asked which recreational amenities should be approved in town, Gauthier cited the local skate park and walking pathways.
“It looks like someone just brought a bunch of metal boxes together just to get something going,” he said of the skate park. “The running path could probably be changed [in terms of] location.”
Voting for the byelection will be held May 10 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Crossfield and District Community Centre. For more information, visit bit.ly/2QKshPr