When Ward 11 candidates met Monday evening at the Oakridge Community Centre, their differences became apparent regarding issues such as the Southwest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a potential Olympic bid and a new arena for the Calgary Flames.
All candidates — Robert Dickinson, Janet Eremenko, Jeromy Farkas, Linda Johnson and Keith Simmons — took questions from a crowd of more than 150 residents.
While all candidates shared concerns about lack of engagement and consultation about the Southwest BRT between council and the public, they disagreed about the BRT project itself.
Farkas, the only candidate completely opposed to the BRT, said he would halt the project, favouring instead high occupancy vehicle lanes and a direct transit line from Woodbine to Mount Royal University. He also promised to hold monthly town hall meetings where residents would be able to ask him “any question on any issue.”
Eremenko said she has come around to supporting the BRT, but said consultation with residents needs to improve. She proposed using technology to allow people to take part even when they can’t attend events in-person.
Dickinson, a supporter of the BRT since 2010, reminded the crowd that planners did engage citizens, but argued the process could have been better.
Simmons, whose solutions focused more on LRT than buses, echoed concerns about how the public is consulted on big projects. He said residents are stakeholders, adding “it’s not a city project, it’s our project.”
Johnson, who said the BRT engagement process wasn’t “healthy or respectful,” brought up Calgary’s effort to attract Amazon and how good transportation will help that process. Her solution was to to create a dashboard for every community so residents can easily monitor projects.
Residents at the southwest forum also inquired whether Calgary should pursue a bid to host the Olympics, and whether the city should financially contribute to the building of a new arena. Candidates all seemed to share a sentimental attachment to the Games, but most struggled to support the idea.
Simmons, a volunteer at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games held in the city, noted that “it’s different today” and said he could not justify the bid knowing that “we’d be spending more in security than we spent in the whole of the ‘88 Olympic Games.”
Johnson told residents she would propose a plebiscite on the issue, as it is not a part of council’s “ordinary business.”
Dickinson replied saying he would not be in favor of holding such a vote.
“As your councillor, that’s your job, is to make that decision. I would not spend more money to say no to something that doesn’t make sense,” Dickinson said.
Farkas added he was “dead set” against any further exploration of an Olympic bid for 2026, particularly because of the International Olympic Committee, a body which has faced allegations of corruption. ”We just can’t do it and still live within our means,” he said.
Eremenko and her family remember the ‘88 Olympics fondly, but she rejected the idea of Calgary making a bid. Like several other candidates, she vowed to keep an open mind because she lacked information to make an informed decision.
Ward 11 candidates also waded into the thorny issue of a new hockey arena for the Flames.
Simmons said that taxpayers don’t need to pay for the new arena, but if there is discussion of helping the Calgary Flames secure funds, then taxpayers need to be treated as partners in the process. “This isn’t corporate charity,” he said.
Johnson echoed Simmons, adding, “if there’s going to be public money, there better be public benefit.” She said she supports a new arena because it could benefit the community.
Farkas said he would be willing to invest only if the commitment is there to serve multiple tenants that will provide a return to the city.
Eremenko said she supports public dollars going towards a new arena, but stresses that it “can’t be a blank cheque.” She said it’s time to “get back to that negotiating table in good faith and make a deal that’s best for Calgarians.”
Dickinson was a “no” to sinking “public dollars going into private business” but he acknowledged the arena project is more complicated than that, stating any money invested must provide some kind of return including a project that is holistic and provides for the whole area.
Organizers of the event barred media from taking photos or videos at the event.
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