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Crossfield candidates field questions at byelection forum

Crossfield residents got their first impressions of the three people running in the town’s Oct. 19 byelection at a candidates’ forum Sept. 22.

Crossfield residents had an opportunity to hear directly from the three candidates running in the town’s Oct. 19 byelection at a forum Sept. 22.

Roughly 40 people attended the forum at the Crossfield and District Community Centre, which was also live-streamed online. Crossfield Elementary School Principal Bob Rodgers served as moderator, posing questions submitted by the audience and online viewers. Over the course of two hours, candidates Jo Lambert, Kim Harris and Justin Gustafson introduced themselves and answered 27 questions from the public.

Initially, five candidates filed papers to run for two Town council seats vacated in the summer by Couns. Beth Gabriel and Liz Grace. At the forum, Rodgers announced Mike Perry and Frank Wallace have dropped out of the race, bringing the number of candidates to three.

Questions touched on topics ranging from Crossfield's chief administrative officer (CAO) to business attraction. When asked what they would do as councillors if CAO Ken Bosman wanted to operate in a “grey area,” Lambert – who previously served as CAO for small towns and villages in Alberta for 30 years – replied there “is no grey area” when it comes to working for a municipality.

“The Municipal Government Act (MGA) is very clear on most of the things you can and cannot do,” she said. “If the CAO wanted to work in a grey area, I would, I think, put my foot down. We would have to find another way to do it that follows the protocols and procedures of the MGA and Crossfield’s policies and procedures.”

Gustafson and Harris provided similar answers, each stating they would make sure the CAO abides by the rules set out by provincial legislation. Harris, who works as a community developer for the City of Airdrie, said she would enforce the MGA as well as the CAO's contract and the Town's policies.

“My experience, being [with] municipalities for many years, would also lend itself to having some clear, concise direction for the CAO and having clear, concise reports at council for everyone,” she said.

In response to a question asking how the candidates would resolve a “toxic” work environment in the Crossfield Town Office – echoing Grace's and Gabriel's reasons for resigning – Gustafson said his solution would be to improve the relationship between council and staff by encouraging mutual respect.

“The councillors need to be transparent and…if it is toxic, we need to basically nip it in the bud and move on,” he said. “No matter what we need to do, we need to make sure it’s a healthy, happy environment for everyone involved.”

Crossfield is currently undergoing a $10-million construction project to replace aging utilities under Railway Street. When discussing how the candidates would attract more independent businesses to the town, Lambert said she would not have favoured the project.

“I don’t think I’d tear up Main Street during COVID – I think that’s one thing I wouldn’t do,” she said. “I would want to delve deeper into economic development [and the Town’s] state of finances to see if there are maybe some tax incentives we could use to attract businesses. But I think it’s not an easy job and something I’d have to delve deeper into before I could give firmer ideas.”

Harris, meanwhile, said she agreed with the municipality’s current plans to beautify downtown Crossfield after the Railway Street project is completed, arguing better aesthetics would entice more people to visit or establish a business.

“When people come to Crossfield, the first attraction is how beautiful a place looks,” she said. “We can do some really inexpensive fixes to beautify Crossfield to attract people to come.”

Another question focused on the Town’s Code of Conduct, as members of council have violated the code in the past. Lambert said that it is imperative to uphold the code, as councillors are serving the people who elected them.

“Being a councillor doesn’t give you any extra points in the world or any extra benefits in your town,” she said. “I think it’s very important that anyone who represents your town holds a strong moral standard and lives up to what the people are expecting of them.”

Gustafson noted the respect of his family and neighbours is enough of an incentive for him to uphold the Town’s rules and policies.

“I do have family to go home to and if I don’t do the right thing and be honest, trustworthy and accountable to everyone, then I shouldn’t have my name stand here for council,” he said.

Harris, meanwhile, said following a Code of Conduct is what would be best for the town as a whole.

“We want to represent the town as best we can for the residents who voted us in and for residents who just moved here,” she said. “If we follow that conduct and hold each other accountable on council and call each other out if we’re crossing the line…then I think that’s exactly what we have to do.”

Candidates were also asked how they currently support local businesses and involve themselves in Crossfield-based organizations. While all three live in the town, each works outside Crossfield – Harris in Airdrie, Gustafson in Calgary and Lambert in Beiseker.

Each candidate stressed they try to do all of their shopping in Crossfield. Harris and Gustafson both pointed to their involvement with the Crossfield Minor Hockey Association, while Gustafson added he is the president of the Alberta Elks Club's Crossfield Lodge.

Voting for the byelection will take place Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Crossfield and District Community Centre. Advanced polls will be open Sept. 29 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Crossfield Town Office.

Scott Strasser, AirdrieToday.com
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19