Things heated up a bit at the M.D. election candidates’ forum in Widewater on Oct. 5. You could tell something was in the air when several candidates, unprompted, dove into the troubled waters of M.D. relations with the Town of Slave Lake.
“Looking back will accomplish nothing,” said reeve candidate Mike Skrynyk, in his opening statement, referring to the current disagreement between the two municipalities on sharing certain costs. “We have far more in common than we do not.”
That was before anybody had asked a question about the state of inter-municipal relations. Those came soon enough. For example:
“How are you going to resolve this?”
“What are your feelings on a single administration?” (Town and M.D. amalgamation, in other words.)
And: “If the town pulls out of the Fire Services Agreement, what do we have and how do we pay for it?”
(A bit of background on the issue: M.D. council recently decided to reduce the amount it contributes to the town as its share of the cost of running the regional fire service and of operating recreational facilities in town. The town has threatened to retaliate if the bills aren’t paid in full and an interim agreement isn’t in place by Dec. 15.)
The incumbents stuck up for their decision, and expressed confidence things would be resolved.
“I believe in paying our fair share,” said councillor Brad Pearson. “But not more. If we need a mediator, we’ll bring a mediator in.”
Murray Kerik, one of the candidates for reeve, also mentioned mediation. He said he’d met recently with Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman and the two CAOs and “came up with a plan to deal with it. Mediation may be the way we have to go.”
In other words, neither side is backing down.
Mike Skrynyk, the other candidate for reeve, said it’s about coming up with an acceptable formula for sharing costs.
“The old formula doesn’t work,” he said. “There’s a happy medium – we just have to find it.”
Skrynyk added – perhaps taking a shot at someone – “I choose to work it out at the table and not air it on social media.”
Incumbent councillor Brian Rosche came armed with statistics and in the mood to defend the M.D.’s good name. He pointed out the dramatic rise in costs in the two major agreements with the town since 2011.
“It’s a 72 per cent increase in six years,” he said. “We can’t raise taxes to match that. This is why we’re disagreeing.”
He also noted the large contributions the M.D. has made to facilities in the town beyond the two agreements, such as to the library, the MRC and the Legacy Centre.
Other questions were asked. One was from an oilfield person, who said industrial taxes are “killing jobs.”
He got no satisfaction from Skrynyk, who said the M.D. mill rate for non-residential property is among the lowest in the province. Ditto, said Pearson.
On the notion of amalgamation, all the candidates who responded said they don’t favour it. What’s more, said Jeff Commins, his impression is that “I didn’t see any real appetite in town (at the candidates’ forum) for it.”
“Where do you stand on owner/operators?” was another question from the audience. “Specifically in Poplar Estates.”
Skrynyk, Rosche and Pearson quickly flashed their ‘pro-business’ credentials in their responses. Kerik promised that resolving it is “high on our list of priorities.” Munir Mughal, the only candidate who lives in that area, said having trucks next door is okay with him, but he understands it isn’t for some residents.
“If it’s too big, it’s disturbing people and we have to listen,” he said.
It’s worth mentioning that the two rookie candidates – Mughal and Charlotte Measor – were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to discussing the above topics. Their remarks had more to do with their backgrounds and their willingness to work hard to make things better. Familiarity with the seething issues of land use conflict and inter-municipal squabbling could not be expected. Commins does have council experience (2010 – 2013) and said “I still have things to offer.”
Wrapping things up, reeve candidate Kerik spoke about his good relations with the mayor of Slave Lake and the chief of the Sawridge First Nation. Referring to his style of leadership (and perhaps taking a shot at his opponent), he said, “an aggressive, controlling personality works in the oilpatch, but not on council. Accomplishments only come through teamwork.”
Following that up, Skrynyk, said in his view, things aren’t getting done quickly enough and that leadership is the issue.
“Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is going to get us nowhere,” he said.
Reeve, councillor and school board candidates in Widewater on Oct. 5.