Housing affordability, fiscal responsibility at city hall, inflationary challenges and policies to support local businesses were topics on tap for two candidates running for mayor during at a Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday (Sept. 27).
Incumbent mayor Lee Pratt and city councillor Wayne Price, who is challenging for the mayor’s office in the upcoming election, fielded questions from the audience during a lunch at the Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort.
Jason Wheeldon moderated the forum, while a number of local elected officials and candidates were in the room, including former Cranbrook mayors Ross Priest and Scott Manjak, Kimberley mayor Don McCormick and Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka.
Pratt and Price were given time for opening and closing statements, while taking turns on the mic to answer floor questions.
Unsurprisingly, housing was a prominent topic raised by both candidates, through the very first question.
Pratt highlighted the simplification of development approval processes, raising the 292 units at Rockyview Place on Innes Ave. managed by Broadstreet Properties, along with pending developments that are going to add approximately 900 more units to the housing market.
Price pointed to the challenges of market rents, noting that wages and salaries are not keeping up with rental prices, especially given that experts recommend 30 per cent of household income goes towards housing costs. He later noted that high housing costs also pushes job seekers out of town to places like the Elk Valley coal mines or the oil fields up in northern Alberta, which affects local skilled labour workforce availability.
On fiscal challenges at city hall, Price focused on the rise of inflation and the impact that will have on city operations as the future council and staff will have to balance managing operations in ways that don’t have significant property tax implications.
Pratt said costs for municipal services such as water, sewer, sanitary services, along with policing and fire protection are rising every year and that the city must be pro-development in order to expand the tax base to help pay for the increases.
On addressing labour and skill shortages, Pratt suggested there were too many people taking advantage of pandemic funding supports living in basements and “playing video games” instead of working and that the city needs to attract smaller industrial businesses with 10-20 employees.
“Those are the things we have to work on, is those smaller industries,” Pratt said. “We’re not talking about 200-300 jobs; we need to get those small industries here that have 10, 15, 20 employees and get the people out of their basements back in the workforce and quit giving them stuff that they don’t deserve. They need to get out there and work and that’s what we have to work on, is educating new millennial on that, and tell them there’s no free rides, you have to work.”
Asked about top three priorities if elected, Price listed working with council as a team to address the upcoming budget challenges, take action to support those experiencing homelessness and “repair relations with the provincial government and the damage with the rhetoric that’s been going on for the last year.”
“We don’t communciate well from city hall,” Price said, in response to a question about ways to collaborate with businesses and organizations for a more sustainable future. “We’re improving, but we’re still not there.”
Pratt said the city needs to continue addressing the three elements he first campaigned on eight years ago — ensuring fiscal responsibility, fixing roads and infrastructure, and promoting economic development.
Pratt touted the work done to reduce red tape at city hall and navigating bureaucratic processes in order to “get to yes” on development proposals, while adding that the mayor has to be the city’s most effective salesperson in attracting new businesses and economic opportunities.
Both mayoral candidates were asked about long-term approaches to responding to the city’s increases in the city’s unhoused and vulnerable populations.
Both candidates cited the need for more involvement from the provincial government; Price said the city needs more low-cost, low-income housing is needed, with support from local non-profit societies and organizations, while Pratt said the city needs a permanent shelter (not one meant for temporary stays) where people can get the health care and substance use supports they need “to get back on their feet.”
On a question about improving the city’s aesthetic, both candidates raised a downtown revitalization master plan that is currently underway; Pratt singled out the transformation of the old firehall into the Fire Hall Kitchen and Tap, while pushing a desire for downtown residential development.
Price also raised the downtown revitalization plan, noting it’s going to cost in excess of $70 million to replace the entire downtown core infrastructure, which needs to be done over years in phases, while also expressing a need for “community pride” in dealing with unkempt residential lawns and public green spaces.