An open council seat in Ward 6 led to heated debate Wednesday at Glendale Community Hall, with a candidate butting heads with a member of the audience over the issue of funding for public art projects.
The art discussion started with a question about how the city has handled contentious public art installations such as the “Giant Blue Ring” and the Bowfort Towers.
“I’m not opposed to art as such,” said candidate Steve Turner. “If a private individual or a wealthy philanthropist wants to put up a piece of art and go to council and apply to do that, that’s fine […] but no public money should go toward these public art projects.”
Moments later, Tom Tittemore, previous chairman of the Calgary Public Art Board, expressed displeasure with Turner’s answer.
“As a strong, ardent supporter of the role of public art in this great city, I must say it is becoming increasingly frustrating to see every single new city council rewrite the policy and I would like to see this new city council write a policy that would have a shelf life of more than four years,” Tittemore said.
Sticking to his guns, Turner said, “I have no problem with art as such but no public money should go toward it, so my new policy would be the reduction or elimination of funding toward the public arts.”
The candidates — Alex Columbos, Esmahan Razavi, Grace Nelson, Sean Yost, Jeff Brownridge, Sanjeev Kad, Jeff Davison and Turner — were pressed on a variety of other topics including community development and attracting business.
“We need to champion this city again. We need to get people back to work, we need to get the economy moving.” – Jeff Davison
As the forum veered toward issues around population density, the discussion shifted toward another hot-button topic: secondary suites.
Razavi said residents need to “strike a balance” between preserving the character of their communities while also acknowledging Calgary’s population growth.
In regard to secondary suites, Razavi described the process as “broken.”
“We need to remove secondary suites from council completely,” she said, adding that individuals should be able to go directly to city administration and file a discretionary application.
Yost said the debate around secondary suites “pits neighbours against neighbours.”
He proposed letting communities and community associations make decisions to give secondary suites the green light in certain neighbourhoods.
When asked about city initiatives that deserve support, Columbos was the only candidate to acknowledge how council raised the Treaty 7 flag at city hall and focused on reconciliation with First Nations people.
“If we want to pretend that we can build pipelines or any projects, we have to be partnering with First Nations and have them on board to do so,” he said.
Both Brownridge and Davison said their top priority is bringing more businesses and jobs to Calgary.
“We really do need to be building an economic climate that supports not just small and medium businesses, but we need to be attracting the fourth industrial revolution, companies involved in the internet of things,” Brownridge said.
“We need to champion this city again,” Davison added. “We need to get people back to work, we need to get the economy moving.”
The candidates were then asked to raise their hands if they supported any future property tax increases. No hands were raised.
The candidates were also asked about publicly releasing their donor lists within 48 hours of the forum. Some, like Nelson, Columbos and Razavi, said they have already released their donor lists while the remaining candidates agreed to follow suit.
Candidates were grilled about their stance on the practice of water fluoridation and Olson was quick to oppose any future plans for it on the grounds of public health concerns.
Kad agreed with Olson, highlighting an individual’s right to drinking water free of fluoride.
At the end of the forum, the candidates were asked to answer which mayoral candidate they would be able to work best with.
“Any candidate,” was the general consensus among all eight individuals.
Richard Pootmans, the incumbent in Ward 6, announced that he would not be running again back in April. Voters have just under three weeks to make a decision before they head to the polls on Oct. 16.
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