They may be competing for the same council seat, but when candidates running in Ward 11 met on Wednesday night to debate the issues, they seemed to agree more than disagree about two key topics: the need for less secrecy and apathy in city politics.

The forum, held at the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association, was attended by members of the Mission community who are voting in their first city election as members of Ward 11. Their neighbourhood was previously part of Ward 8.

Attendees met four of the five Ward 11 candidates, including Robert Dickinson, Janet Eremenko, Linda Johnson, and Keith Simmons. According to CBMCA President Bob Lang, candidate Jeromy Farkas had accepted the original invitation to the forum, but took his name off the list of participants on Sept. 18, citing attendance at another community event.

Among the topics that were debated was the lack of openness surrounding campaign donations. Johnson said she believes candidates need to “take the consequences as to who your friends are.” She has yet to publish her own donor list but says she will before the election campaign ends.

Similarly, Eremenko says, “Calgarians deserve to know who is supporting campaigns from a fiscal perspective,” and therefore she will release her own list of donors before the end of the election. MG 1861EDIT bodyWard 11 city council candidates speak in front of a crowd of constituents that they hope to represent. The forum was largely centered around broad beliefs and political ideologies that the candidates held, as opposed to a typical issue-based forum. Photo by Kyra Bird.

Simmons stressed that voters need to know where support is coming from “not only financially, but ideologically as well.”

Voters already know where that support is coming from in the case of Dickinson. He’s already published a list of donors “for better or for worse,” and will make  sure it is updated every Friday until the election.

Moderator Greg Hart also posed a question from the audience about political apathy and how the candidates would deal with the problem.

For his part, Simmons said curbing  apathy is simply a matter of including citizens in the process of making and executing decisions. He feels that many people would like to be involved in their community, but get exhausted by the process and lack of results.

Similarly, Eremenko said, “There’s no such thing as voter apathy. It’s just politicians who don’t do a particularly good job about speaking to the things that matter to folks.” She believes  the best thing about municipal politics is the idea that candidates don’t have to walk party lines, and can instead truly engage citizens in a dialogue about their needs and desires.

Dickinson believes in a youth-centric approach to political engagement. He noted that the increased push by Calgary universities and their student unions to get younger people involved in the election have been great steps towards eliminating apathy. He also believes the earlier we can teach kids about politics, the more invested they become in the process.

Nevertheless, Johnson said  “we have to be realistic about the complexity and the challenge of communicating with everybody in today’s society.” She believes that so long as council representatives show respect for everyone in their ward who comes to them with a problem, a healthier relationship between the public and council will take shape.

Editor: Jolene Rudisuela | 

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