By Herald on September 27, 2021.
Tim Kalinowski – Lethbridge Herald
Five mayoral candidates took part in a spirited debate hosted by the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce Monday evening at the Yates Memorial Theatre. And while there were no knockout punches, all candidates got their shots in and made strong points in favour of their candidacy.
Candidate Stephen Mogdan metaphorically fired the first shot across his opponents’ bows during his opening statement on the night. He said leadership on council was about being able to bring people along, not divide them against one another.
“That’s what this election really comes down to,” he stated: “which candidate you feel will be able to bring their fellow members of council along with them? It is really about leadership, and about getting stuff done. Over the past term, we have seen a lot of division on council. That’s not good for our community. So you should be asking why that is? And will that truly change if you elect someone who is really more of what we have had before? Or if we elect someone who, historically, hasn’t been able to bring along a majority of council to their view.”
These comments were directed at previously elected city councillors Bridget Mearns and Blaine Hyggen, and Mogdan sharpened his criticisms later in the night after Hyggen was asked by an audience member about the conflicts he was a part of during the current council term.
“All of us are elected on city council with different constituent support,” stated Hyggen, in response to the question; “so I recognize that with all my colleagues. There are times we struggle. There are times we have many conversations that might get a little heated, but that’s democracy. It’s important. I am representing a certain constituency as others do the same.”
“I am certainly no stranger to the idea that having opposing viewpoints gets you to a result,” rebutted Mogdan, citing his legal profession as an example. “That being said, if we are serving as mayor of a city like Lethbridge we really can’t be preferring one constituency over another constituency. As mayor, you have to include everyone.”
Bridget Mearns also jumped in on this discussion about conflict on council and leadership. She said from her past experience on council there is debate necessary to democracy, but also the need for respect and unity after all the debate is done.
“It is important the people around that horseshoe understand that they are equally elected there, and every perspective is respected,” she stated. “If it is not respected amongst each other, in public, then the community itself will also not respect it. So that’s a leadership issue, and it’s important for any council and its leader as mayor to ensure that is understood.”
Hyggen got in a shot of his own later in the debate when asked about the concerning lack of doctors in Lethbridge. Hyggen has promised to convene a physician recruitment task force if elected.
“Understanding the first thing a doctor does that is looking at relocating, or coming to our community, is they Google,” he said. “They Google Lethbridge, and the first thing that unfortunately comes up is the crime hotspot of Canada. As a doctor, I am not quite sure I will want to move to a community that has that.”
Hyggen later doubled down on this theme when asked why the current council had cut the police budget by $1 million. He reminded those in attendance at the forum he had been a vocal opponent of those cuts and had been outvoted.
“I can’t believe we actually cut the budget for the police, and we need to re-allocate some funds from somewhere else to keep that funding there,” he stated.
Sheldon Joseph Day Chief rebutted this point later in his closing comments, saying the reason Lethbridge is in the mess it was socially was because of the failures of past leadership.
“From day one, I have encouraged the citizens of Lethbridge to evaluate your existing leadership,” he stated. “Why is our city the way it is today? Very little have I seen our leadership to be proactive within our communities, all of the communities, especially the downtown core. The vision I have for this city is for us to work together. We cannot be successful in reducing our social situations today without including and reaching out to the surrounding region. It starts with us. It is time to bring humanity back here (to the city).”
Gary Klassen said the biggest problem he could see with the social issues facing the city was how much of it was based on perception rather than fact.
“The police need all the help they can get,” Klassen confirmed. “They need more funding, more guidance, and I think they are doing a good job. They just need help doing a little better job.
“Lethbridge is a really nice place to live,” he added later. “I have lived here all my life, and I really enjoy it. The council we have coming up has to work together. They don’t have to fight with each other; they have to work together to get things done for the people.”
Mearns acknowledged the city is facing its share of challenges, but if elected as mayor she vowed to bring people together under one common vision to face them together.
“The office of Mayor is not an entry-level position,” said Mearns, rebutting Day Chief’s and Mogdan’s earlier points about needing new blood in the mayor’s office. “I can walk into the job and get things started on day one to tackle the serious issues facing our city and start to build a strong council team. The mayor is not just one vote, they are the leader of a team, and they are responsible for bringing forward council’s direction in a very clear and concise way.”
Hyggen concurred, and said his experience on council could only help the City moving forward.
“We will need experienced leadership,” he stated. “Leadership that knows the issues and understands how it effects the families of those that elected them, and listens to those who live in Lethbridge.”
Mayoral candidate Colton, “The Maniac,” Menzak did not take part in Monday’s debates due to an unforeseen personal family situation arising.
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