With the municipal election less than a week away the four men vying to become the next mayor of the RMWB met for a final debate.
Local lawyer Don Scott, Councillor Al Vinni, helicopter pilot and steamfitter Anthony Needham and realtor Allan Grandison all participated in the debate on Tuesday Oct. 10 at Holy Trinity High School.
For the first time throughout the campaign many new topics were discussed such as the legalization of marijuana, addressing the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and childcare services.
Legalization of marijuana
The federal government has plans to legalize marijuana by July 2018. In accordance with the new laws the provincial government has set the legal age to purchase cannabis in Alberta at 18-years-old.
At a council meeting on July 11, 2017 the municipal government approved councillor Sheldon Germain’s motion to review the ways the RMWB would be legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis.
Don Scott wants to protect young people and won’t allow use of cannabis at public places or any dispensaries around schools, parks or where young people may congregate.
“We are going to need to make sure our young people are protected, that is very important to me and I think that it’s going to be a consultative process going forward to make sure we are addressing the issues that are coming forward with this,” said Scott.
Allan Vinni agrees with Scott that there needs to be significant buffer zones between dispensaries and where the general public congregates and adds that dispensaries need to look respectable.
“I think that we have to start with the premise that our regulations municipally will be a combination of all the strictest that we’ve applied to liquor and tobaccos sales and use,” said Vinni.
Allan Grandison stated that cannabis should be sold in a controlled fashion and displays in stores should be hidden like tobacco is. He also said that illegal cannabis and other drugs should have stricter penalties to prevent usage.
“I think that the dispensaries, whether private or government run has to be isolated, away from kids,” said Grandison. “If our government is going to regulate to make sure the marijuana that people are using is safe and fentanyl free and free of all these things then we also need to address the illegal drugs cause those are the ones kids are going to get a hold of.”
Anthony Needham opened his response to the topic stating that he was “a big proponent of legalization of marijuana” and “never had a problem with friends on marijuana.” He strongly believes people should be able to use whenever they want and that swab testing should be done so workers could still use marijuana on their off days.
“I think it’s going to do fantastic things for Wood Buffalo. I found there is a huge difference between Ontario and here. In Ontario a lot of people are free to smoke marijuana however they wanted, but here people couldn’t smoke marijuana because they are afraid of losing their jobs or being pee tested at work so they went to harder drugs that were out of their system quicker, and that puts all of us at harm,” said Needham.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to action
The candidates were asked, “If elected how would you move forward with the 14 calls to action that the municipality has the jurisdiction and the ability to implement within our community.”
Vinni says that council is currently working on a diversity plan.
“It’s not like were not doing a good job now, it’s going to take a lot of work up front getting together and getting a plan everyone could agree that would be effective in addressing these 14 directives,” said Vinni.
Grandison was particularly passionate about this topic as he is Métis.
“First and foremost reconciliation requires an apology, so that’s the beginning on how we address this, said Grandison. “The second point is we don’t talk to people, we talk with people. We sit down with our Indigenous population.”
Needham says that the province, municipality and industry have to take responsibility for the crimes committed to Indigenous peoples.
“We’re going to have to give back to the Indigenous communities. We have to see if we can come up with a plan for them that would allow them to forgive us and work with us and allow the oil sands to prosper,” said Needham.
Scott would like to see more than just an apology issued but action taken place.
“We can start displaying more Indigenous art in a predominate way, we also can start displaying Indigenous flags on municipal sites, there is many steps we could take as a municipality to embrace our Indigenous neighbours,” said Scott.
The mayoral candidates were asked how the municipality could support quality childcare services in our region and get more child care providers.
Vinni noted that some child care services are not operating under the current standards set out by the provincial government and said that parents need to ensure they are educated on this subject to ensure their child’s safety.
“The municipality has to look at ways to get people trained,” said Vinni.
Over his seven years as a municipal councillor, Vinni said he learned that although some topics are under the provincial government level, it is under the municipal governments job to ensure the needs are being met in the community.
Grandison says licensing on childcare centers comes from the province and that day homes and childcare services need to be properly licensed and monitored by the province.
“Day homes need to be properly licensed, properly monitored by the province and we as a municipality need to support the province in ensuring that, that happens so that all of our kids in this community are safe and always safe.”
To get more child care workers in the region Grandison says the municipality should work with Keyano College to create a program so more people can become qualified workers.
Needham said the municipality gives “licenses and permits to about two day homes a week.”
He then went on to differentiate day care centers and day homes, saying that the day care centers have higher trained staff.
“I think we should be handing out permits for day homes, especially with the fact that it’s just an exorbitant cost for childcare in the city and it’s hard to find,” said Needham. “Although we should be working with the province and making sure the people applying for day homes going forward get some more formal training in early childhood education to ensure our kids don’t end up as robots.”
Needham said that the municipality should look into subsidizing schooling for people pursing careers in childcare. By attracting more people into a childcare program to create those workers, Needham believes more people would become attracted to the region knowing there are adequate services.
Scott emphasized the safety for children, and should review the provinces rules on childcare.
“What we should be doing is addressing those rules and making sure that our children are consistently safe and that is the most important thing that I can suggest we do as a municipal body, whether it’s working with another level of government or changing it ourselves,” said Scott.
Scott would look at utilizing Wood Buffalo Housing and Keyano College to make becoming a childcare worker easier.
In closing Scott encouraged people to review all of their platforms and get out and make an educated vote to exercise the democratic right.
“I believe our best days are still ahead and that’s why I want to be your mayor,” said Scott.
Vinni outlined some of the ways to build a better community through the East Clearwater Highway, abolishing fly-in-fly-out, creating a rapid transit system, addressing homelessness, supporting arts and culture and clearing snow effectively.
“When we all pull together, then other’s will want to come,” said Vinni, “This town will get better, this region will get better, and we will succeed.”
Grandison brought up fly-in-fly-out and bill 21 in closing.
“I don’t want to play Russian roulette with your tax dollars,” said Grandison. “We don’t have the ability to tell industry how to do their jobs. We’re in this together, the oil sands are here, the region is here and we’re not going anywhere, I believe we can work together to come up with solutions to all our benefits.”
Needham reiterated that his experience working on site as a pipe fitter make him a good fit for mayor, as he knows what a large portion of the workforce is going through.
“We need to ensure our children and youth have a place to play and that our seniors have a nice warm place to stay,” said Needham.
Residents will vote in their next mayor and council on Monday, October 16.