I read with great interest in the October 1 edition of the Brandon Sun a challenge by columnist Deveryn Ross to ask five questions of your council candidate. Given my acclimation, I’m not campaigning in a traditional sense, but still wanted to take a moment to answer those questions, and let residents know where I stand on the issues raised. In order of their ask, please find my answers to the ‘5 Questions for Candidates to Answer‘.
1. In-camera meetings: As someone who works in board governance professionally, I have a somewhat different stance than others on this. If decisions were being made during the aforementioned sessions, then yes, I feel we should be holding those sessions with a notice to the public they were taking place. The sessions often referred to though did not have a decision point as their end goal. They were, by design, education only. I will say, anecdotally, members of council did not vote at these sessions, but it did allow members of council ample time to familiarize themselves with the plethora of information on any given subject. The presentations would be the same as they would be at a public session, only at the public session debate was allowed to occur. In future, I would like to see us move to a system of public notification of these meetings, and a reporting out of what was discussed (as information for residents), but still feel, much like other levels of government, officials should be allowed the opportunity to be briefed on a topic so as to familiarize themselves with the content.
2. Downtown safety: This is, and should be, one item of high profile this election period. Our downtown is in a time of peril. It is, unfortunately, not unique to our community alone though. Cities throughout this nation are gripped right now with the cancer that is the opioid crisis. It eats away at a city, much like a tumour, and takes what once was a healthy and vibrant community and leaves an altered facsimile in its place, it is a battle of survival. Much like people though, we seek advanced treatments, never lose hope and do our utmost to treat the disease. I feel very similar with our downtown, hope exists and we are seeking treatment. Through actions such as those recommended by our Downtown Wellness and Safety Task-Force, continued engagement with all levels of government, private sector, and service groups as well as exploring unique policing strategies and mental health supports, we will make progress.
On the development side of things, I often compartmentalize downtown revitalization to small victories towards a larger goal. If we can find success, one corner at a time, then we can, much like treatment, isolate the problem areas, and attack the ills that are present. One such corner that presents opportunity is the library arts building. I’m supportive of the work that has been undertaken on that project, and furthermore am supportive of the collaborative effort of the groups involved (full disclosure, I’m on the board of two of the agencies who would call this site home, the BGMA and the AGSM). I hope the future council sees this project through.
I think, as well, that any potential site for a Sobering Centre should be constructed outside of downtown, but with intake ability where the need exists. Throughout the past number of decades the city has focused the establishment of social services in a small concentrated area and as a result the challenges faced in that same area are magnified ten-fold. If we are to explore a Sobering Centre (with provincial government financing of the space), it should, in my opinion, be somewhat removed from areas whereby the greatest chance for relapse can take place.
3. Property Taxes: We need to keep the tax burden as low as possible while still growing our community and making wise investments. Taxes, along with many other factors, often challenge residents to make ends meet on a monthly basis. They can also hinder our region in remaining competitive with other regions and provinces.
My approach to taxation is built on being smart about our investments, it always has been. Does an investment build community or support the growth we have identified in our strategic plan? Then it is worth investment. I feel we should always measure taxation decisions through the lens of return on investment in our community — both in dollar amounts and in improvements to our quality of life.
Finally, we must achieve a level of taxation that provides a satisfactory return on investment, without threatening to limit the success of our residents. We need to keep the cost of living in our city within reach of everyone and keep any potential tax increases based on tangible and measurable items that residents of the city can track and see value in.
Lastly, as a city, we have increased our borrowing over this term, but at the same time made smart investments with that borrowing including expansion of our water treatment facility, addressing drainage needs throughout our community, adding recreational amenities, and finally seeking opportunities to add serviceable land for business and housing growth in our community.
4. Photo Radar: I don’t, at this time, support the establishment of photo-radar in Brandon. The costs to maintain as well as establish photo-radar in our community, as well as the regulatory hurdles outstrip the return that photo-radar would provide. I believe as well, in this instance, we should also be mindful of consulting the professionals employed by our community on the issue. They are in place for that reason, and council should utilize their expertise in this instance to guide us on decisions such as this.
5. Aquatics Facility: This item is a challenge right now. I feel the city should be committed to the creation of an outdoor recreation complex, and we should continue to explore ways to do so while keeping the financial burden in check for ratepayers (accomplished hopefully by exploring alternate revenue streams). Any site, if we are going to pursue it, should include a pool amenity as well as opportunities to connect with recreation year-round to maximize the benefit. I have long felt this is one of the pieces of the puzzle that keeps youth in the community. If they can see value in the amenities provided to them by the city and private industry, they are more likely to choose to make Brandon home, raise a family and retire here. We have a long way to go, but I feel we are on our way to seeing this through.
These are just a few thoughts, and has been a fun exercise. I hope it has provided residents some insight into my thoughts heading into the next term (2022-26). As always, I welcome your feedback on this or any other item.