Candidates in the municipal election had a chance to share their platform and address issues from residents at the Morden & District Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum on October 2.
Brandon Burley, Karla Warkentin and Ron McClain are running for mayor, and Doug Frost, Hank Hildebrand, Nancy Penner, Rich Harries, Jim Hunt, Gordon Maddock, Garry Hiebert and Ray Reidle are running for council.
The first question of the night asked mayoral candidates what information they would rely on for making decisions on large projects, including the proposed roundabout at Highway 3 and La Verendrye Boulevard, just east of the city.
McClain said other intersections in the city, like Thornhill and Mountain, have bigger issues that should be looked at. “I think that million dollars could be spent elsewhere,” he said.
Burley agreed, saying without seeing the assessment that was done or why a roundabout was chosen, he felt that’s a decision being made for 20 years down the road. “As mayor I would rely on an evidence based approach, cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “I also believe in financial responsibility to the current ratepayer, which means I would not load the current citizen with taxes that are intended for the future citizen.”
Warkentin said the intersection is unsustainable, and some form of traffic control will be necessary. “Ultimately I always will stand up for evidence-based decision making every time,” she said. “We need to review this again, we need to consult citizens and we need to make sure we’re all on the same page with this.”
Another topic that came up was the recent restructuring of departments within the city.
Maddock said he wants to review the changes to see what has been working and what hasn’t. “I don’t think the structure that is set up right now is working for all employees,” he said. “I think it’s time to stop, have a look, figure out what’s going to work for us. Let’s have a committee look into it.”
Hiebert agreed, saying he has heard many negative comments. “It should definitely be looked at,” he said. “The morale is not what it should be, and I’m saying that good morale translates to good morale at the office.”
Reidle echoed what Maddock and Hiebert said. “I think there are issues and I think we need to get to the root of the problem,” he said.
Penner said it is hard to ‘set the pace’ until a new city manager is chosen. “Council’s boss is the city manager, and I think until we have a permanent city manager in place, who will then be managing the different departments within the city structure, we as council are only accountable to the city manager and I think that’s his or her role to set the pace,” she said.
Harries agreed with the need to find a new city manager, but said he disagreed with Penner on who council is accountable to. “I think they’re accountable to the people in this room,” he said. “We need to have an organizational structure that supports the needs of the city today but also supports it in the future.”
As incumbents, Hildebrand and Frost were party to the changes that took place. Hildebrand agreed with Harries that citizens come first. “The changes were made due to the city manager having eight direct reports, and it was cumbersome,” he said. “What happened is it made it an awful lot more streamlined than what it was prior.”
Frost said the blame put on the city manager is misplaced, as the restructuring had been discussed five or six years ago. “Council at the time did not want to go ahead with it,” he said. “It was brought up again by the current city manager, we thought the time was right, and that is why it has been done.”
Candidates were asked how exactly they would implement transparency and accountability in their work, as those words have been thrown around by many candidates.
Burley said transparency to him means people being open about what they think and what problems are present. “We need to take steps to ensure the community knows once those problems are solved,” he said. “It means that everybody is party to all decisions… and that we don’t shy away from accountability to the community.”
McClain said he aims to be a mayor that will be present in the community. “I will go into the coffee shops and talk to the ratepayers,” he said. “And yes, sometimes I might have to take my knocks, but I will do that. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an answer.”
Warkentin said many of the questions about transparency boil down to communication. “Communication goes two ways,” she said. “I hear this concern over again when I’m talking to people. They don’t feel like they know what’s going on. We need to look at the process. Meetings need to be public and accessible, and public information should be public.”