Crime and drug issues dominated the discussion at Wednesday night’s municipal election forum hosted by the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce.
Other topics such as attracting and retaining businesses, the hospital, homelessness, taxes and even bike lanes came up throughout the evening. But the discussion constantly circled back how to make Red Deer a safer city.
Given only 90 seconds for opening remarks, 30 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds for closing remarks, candidates had to work quickly to get their message across.
Not only was crime the hot button topic for the approximately 250 people in the audience at the Westerner Park Harvest Centre, candidates were quick to address it as well.
As each of the 28 city council and two mayoral candidates delivered their opening remarks, the majority of them cited community safety as one of their top priorities.
Rick More said crime in the city he grew up in has become “almost uncontrollable.”
Jonathan Wieler pushed for the City to advocate for using GPS ankle bracelets to monitor offenders.
“With my law enforcement background, it is my intention to make our police more proactive in an effort to reduce crime,” said Cory Kingsfield.
Several candidates said Red Deer needs to bring in some form of municipal police force, whether it is standalone or hybrid with RCMP, to tackle the crime problem.
“Red Deer cannot afford to go another four years without electing a council that plans on fully addressing crime, cleaning up the downtown and putting the safety of our citizens first. That means a municipal police force,” candidate Ted Johnson stated.
Incumbent Buck Buchanan, himself a former Mountie, said a big reason he is seeking another term in office is so he can continue advocating for better policing practices in Red Deer, including crime mapping. He also favours a hybrid policing model, which he reminded the audience was defeated in a 4-4 split council vote earlier this year.
Vesna Higham, Jason Habuza, Jim Kristinson and Matt Slubik all said they’d also like to see a municipal or hybrid police force in Red Deer. Jeremy Moore, whose brother is a Mountie, said he would be all for allocating more resources to RCMP.
“We’re hearing about crime, we’re hearing about poverty, we’re hearing about drug addiction and over-crowding at the hospital. All these issues have a root in our drug problem that we’re facing in Red Deer,” Kristinson said, addressing the forum’s other dominating topic. “That needs to be the main focus that we look at.”
Audience members were eager to hear how candidates felt about the idea of a safe injection (consumption) site in Red Deer.
Johnson was steadfast in his opposition to the idea, stating, “I do not believe in feeding any addiction. Period.”
Ian Miller, this year’s youngest election candidate at age 18, favours the idea.
“It’s not a place where people go to do drugs. They go to get treated for drug addiction. I believe it is a great way to get drug users out of the streets and give them the help they need,” he said.
Other candidates noted the complexities of the issue, with Higham saying, “My instinct regarding the supervised drug injection site is that it is counter-intuitive to trying to combat addiction. But given the problem with the needles, it may be shown that it can address the needles throughout the parks and on the streets in our community.”
Of the 29 candidates for Red Deer city council, 28 attended Wednesday’s forum.
Candidates will gather again Thursday night for a forum focusing on diversity and inclusion. Hosted by the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) Network, the forum at Festival Hall gets underway at 7 p.m.
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