Red Deer County mayoral and Division 3 candidates speak at forum

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
October 12, 2017 - 10:00pm Updated: October 17, 2017 - 10:44am

Voters in Red Deer County had one final opportunity to hear from their candidates for mayor in person on Thursday.
The forum held in the Penhold and District Library also served as a Q&A for candidates in Division 3, which surrounds Penhold.
Incumbent mayoral candidate Jim Wood said his background in farming is what makes him the right voice for Red Deer County.
"As a farmer, I understand challenges of the rural voice. Farming is deep in my roots and so is my dedication to my community," he said. "I have also been a businessman, so I also understand how tough it is to start a business and what's important is for our municipality to be able to work with our businesses and have something that fosters good development."
His challenger Debra Hanna, who also ran for the mayor's chair in 2007 and 2010 unsuccessfully, touched on various things in her opener, including where money could be better spent.
"We need to take a serious look at where we can maybe pare down some money so we can put it towards policing and more security in Red Deer County," she said, adding too much has been wasted on increased staffing and administrative salaries, singling out the County Manager. 
Incumbent Division 3 councillor Don Church utilized his opening remarks to run down a long list of accomplishments in his time on council including the County's healthy financial situation.
Challenger Dana Depalme, a 45-year-old mother of two, said she would take resident concerns more seriously and ensure there are more town hall meetings for those who can't attend or aren't heard properly at public hearings.
Asked about the reason behind an increase in crime and if the county could use a municipal police force, Depalme pointed to the economic downturn.
"As for private policing, I think it would be a good idea to look into," she said. "I don't think the RCMP surrounding Red Deer County have enough staff and from what I'm hearing from people, they call them and they don't even show up."
Church responded by saying a poor justice system is primarily to blame for the increase in criminal activity.
"Police are probably as frustrated as anybody else. When they catch these people, they can't retain them or keep them in," he said. "Justice is supposed to be picking more judges, but it doesn't seem to be getting there. Do we need more policemen? Yes we do, probably."
Mayoral candidate Hanna also chimed in on private policing stating the County should work with the City of Red Deer if it ever opts to transition to a municipal police force.
"We can help them out with some of their costs if they can help out with some of our policing," she opined.
Wood pointed out there will be two additional members added next June which will be shared between Lacombe and Red Deer counties. He said the effectiveness of that addition remains to be seen. 
Wood was also asked about if he would run in the next provincial election after challenging Kerry Towle for the PC nomination in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake in 2015.
"I felt we were totally unrepresented in Edmonton, the rural areas. I thought it was extremely important and at that time, I was willing to do that," he said. "Should the opportunity arise, I don't know. It hasn't arisen, I have not thought about that, but I will tell you right now I've been totally dedicated to Red Deer County for the last 13 years. Red Deer County is my passion."
In contrast, Hanna was asked why she's chosen to run for mayor, instead of taking a stab at a council seat first.
"Back in 2007 when I first chose to run for mayor, I felt that the County office was in chaos and what it really needed was someone sitting in the mayor's office, watching the workings and letting council know what was happening," she answered. "People were complaining it took a tremendously long time to get anything through the planning department, it was hard to get public works out to fix something. As the years have gone by and I've watched the staff and County office grow, I'm hearing the same horror stories."
To close, Hanna admitted there would be a learning curve for her if elected, but confidently ensured she's ready for the job. She added that if there's no choice for mayor, there's no democracy. Wood retorted saying that being mayor of Red Deer County is not an entry-level job and also championed council's award-winning budget.
"If elected, I will make sure residents have a voice in all decisions that are made," closed Depalme. "Resident safety is the number one priority in every decision and there's no reason it shouldn't ever be the number one priority."
Church finished by stating, "I certainly believe we have to broaden our tax base. Agriculture and residential doesn't alway pay enough for that. We need to increase roads -- agricultural equipment is getting bigger and bigger. We have to use our five and 10-year plan to improve the roads."
A change has been made to voting location for Division 3 residents. Voting is still available on October 16 at Ridgewood Community Centre, Springbrook Fire Hall, Penhold Regional Multiplex and Aberdeen Community Centre. However, instead of the Edwell Community Hall, residents can go to the Willowdale Community Centre.
Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday. Full voter information is available on the County's website.