Red Deer's two candidates for mayor squared off Tuesday in what was a mostly friendly Q&A.
The forum, which was hosted by the RDC Students' Association in the college's Margaret Parsons Theatre, was attended by about 40 people, including students and several city council candidates.
Each candidate was given 10 minutes for opening remarks. Burke talked about his time living in Red Deer, but also to attack Veer, asking, "How am I to vote for you if we still have no results from your 2013 platform?"
"Madame Mayor, you are a wonderful person. You have changed what you feel needed to be changed," Burke went on. "In the midst of all that, you seemed to forget what you said -- I apologize -- in 2013. Those were one, a leader sets the tone for their community, you didn't want Red Deer to be known as Alberta's third largest city, but as Alberta's choice for business and people, you wanted to prioritize our community image and what was most important was citizen safety and welfare protection."
To open her first turn at the mic, Veer responded by saying the community must build on the foundation it has established over the last several years.
"Together we have accomplished many things and we have much to be proud of, but there remains more work to be done to address the challenges that we continue to be faced with and to realize our full community potential," she said. "With the citizens of Red Deer, our community partners and our council and City team, my daily purpose has been and will continue to be to make our Red Deer a better place to live for all who call our great city home."
Veer also addressed students directly in talking about the bid for polytechnic university status for RDC.
"In my view, poly-u is one of the most strategic, economic development and community building initatives that we can undertake as a city," Veer said. "We need to not only retain our existing population, we need to become a competitive contender in attracting new population to our city."
Noting the province has promised an answer on polytechnic status by the end of the year, Veer admitted when asked that there is no back-up plan should it not be granted. Veer said if RDC's request is rejected, they will continue to push for it in Edmonton anyway. Burke chose to add nothing more on the topic.
Also during the Q&A portion of the forum, the pair was asked about cleaning up city streets and addressing the opioid crisis.
Burke said as a resident of Riverside Meadows, he faces the issues of homelessness, drug addictions and mental health every day.
"I believe we have all the organzations, tools and resources in our community currently to make the right choices. I believe we have to come together as one, one group, not 15 different groups," he said. "We need to pool all of our resources together so that everything that is core is in one building instead of going all over the city for services. When you walk in, you walk out two months later a changed person."
Veer pointed out that city council recently took an official position on the need for a treatment centre in Red Deer, while also noting the ongoing wait for the province to decide what it will do regarding supervised consumption services.
Jordy Smith was one of a handful of city council candidates to ask Veer and Burke question, asking about businesses moving to Gasoline Alley and what strategy each has to attract business to Red Deer.
Burke said the key is taking care of the crime, homelessness, and drug addiction.
"That's why people are leaving. We need to fix the image of our city. We were that city that was privileged and entitled -- we're not that city anymore. Our citizens still think we are," he said.
Veer said there remains 'systemic inequity' between rural and urban municipalities in which the province pays for policing in rural areas, adding there are often volunteer fire departments. She says this results in a 20 per cent tax differential.
"Development levies are also cheaper in Gasoline Alley because they have a lower development standard," she contended. "The regional partners [also] need to pay their share for the services that they're using and there are also potential incentives through the Municipal Goverment Act review that we could use as a lever to incent both absolute and comparitive advantage in Red Deer."
Among other things, Veer and Burke were also asked about the 2019 Canada Winter Games and how to ensure the most is made of new facilities once the Games are over.
Veer said the momentum from the Games has already exceeded expectations, citing the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre, other recreation facilities being built without City taxpayer dollars - the Red Deer Airport runway extension, the QEII interchange, and the downtown heritage building modernization as examples.
"The point of the Games isn't about the Games themselves, it's about the day after the Games because it better positions us for polytechnic university status," she said. "Volunteer Red Deer is working on solidifying volunteers, we'll have modernized and expanded facilities, and there is actually a consortium underway working on 'Bid Red Deer' to position Red Deer for future major and minor sporting and arts and culture tourism events."
Burke said as a citizen, he is concerned about what will become of the facilities, drawing a comparison to what the world has seen happen with some Olympic sites.
"To make sure they're engaged by our community, we use them for culture, we use them for services, we use them for representation when it is needed," he said. "We have to make sure we upkeep those amenities and keep them at their glory. They are being built with state of the art equipment, but so are the Olympics."
"It's important to get out the vote -- first and foremost, whoever is elected needs a mandate from the citizens," Veer said following the forum. "I was hoping crime would come up."
Burke added citizens have valid concerns many of which they've been waiting for results on for a long time.
"There are many social issues that face our community," he said. "As a resident, it looks like corporate Red Deer has taken the price tag and citizen Red Deer and small business Red Deer has taken a back seat. That's how it looks."
For a full list of 2017 municipal election and school board election forums happening in Red Deer, click here.
Full forum video, courtesy Student's Association at Red Deer College