About 200 people interested in making an informed decision regarding their choices for candidates running for City Council in the municipal election on Oct. 24 attended the Swift Current Chamber of Commerce-sponsored All Candidates Forum on Oct 10 at the Sky Centre, with the facility provided compliments of the Living Sky Casino.
In his address, acclaimed Mayor Jerrod Schafer noted, “We have 11 candidates that from what I read aren’t telling us what’s wrong with Swift Current, but are giving their visions for making it a better place and identifying their goals for serving you.”
Moderator Sean Mullin underscored the evening’s importance by saying, “The right to vote is essential for our democracy. As a student of political science, I can tell you there’s no level of government where individuals you elect have more of an impact in your daily lives than in municipal politics.”
In an order pre-determined by a draw, each candidate was initially given five minutes for a platform presentation. That portion of the evening was followed by an audience question period.
Issues generating the greatest interest, in order of query, included: the relationship between the City of Swift Current and the RM of Swift Current; recycling, particularly cardboard; the integrated facility; and the Highway #4 upgrade to the US border.
Candidates’ presentations have been edited for length, as have their responses to audience questions.
Joe Collinson – Swift Current native Joe Collinson is a computer professional working at Intricate Networks who is integrally involved as a member of the Board of the Swift Current Indians, as well as being a division head and coach for Minor baseball, and was instrumental in bringing new seating to Mitchell Field.
“In talking with people about City Council, many people in Swift Current would like to see a better level of effort in regards to communication between the city and its citizens. People want feedback and answers to their questions, and knowing their city is listening to them. That is something I am confident I can provide. Everybody should have a voice in how our city grows, and I’m dedicated to listening to your ideas and getting the answers you need.
“Swift Current is looking at some great opportunities to move forward and create a future for ourselves and future generations. We need to be intentional: to go out and turn those opportunities into reality for ourselves and the future of our city. We need to make sure we invest our time, energy, money and resources wisely into those efforts that help all of our citizens, young and old, people new to the city or those whose families have been here for generations.
“Our election is not about one person at all. What I’m doing, and what we’re all doing, is investing ourselves, our time, our families, our experiences and our lives into making Swift Current a better place each and every day. Swift Current might be going in the right direction, but we can always do more and we can always be better. We need to challenge the status quo and not be satisfied with where we are today.
Keleah Ostrander – Originally from Saltcoats, Keleah Ostrander has lived in Swift Current for eight years and is currently the Director of Planning at Great Plains College, overseeing business planning and accountability functions. She is Board Chairperson for the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre, formerly led the Labour Attraction and Retention Committee, and served as Media Director for the 2010 Women’s World Curling Championships.
“… The best way to ensure we are providing an environment for the local economy to flourish is through having an active economic development office that listens and regularly touches base with business. … I believe it is prudent that we review our city’s economic development services to ensure they are meeting the needs for today and tomorrow. This of course is not limited to the city, and should ensure inclusion and discussion with our regional partners, as many initiatives require regional input and support.
“… We need to be an active promoter of our city, both in-region and also throughout Canada. My experience as the Chairperson of the Labour Attraction and Retention Committee has given me some great ideas about how we may continue to enhance our promotional efforts.
“I believe in ensuring we are continuing to strive and build an inclusive and healthy community for meeting the needs of all citizens, whether that is ensuring the provision of settlement services, or looking at the needs of seniors. These are all factors in ensuring we have a community that makes sense for everyone.
"It is important for [newcomers] to be supported in what can be an overwhelming journey, thus I continue to work with the [Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre] Board and employees to obtain funding for a settlement worker in schools that would be employed to ease this transition for children and their families … in both the public and Catholic systems, alongside their services to maximize their impact."
Ryan Plewis – A fourth generation Swift Current native, City Council incumbent and Deputy Mayor Ryan Plewis practices with Anderson & Company as a lawyer and bases his contributions to City Council on his degrees in both law and commerce. He serves on the Board for the Swift Current Broncos hockey club and as a member of Saskatchewan’s Automobile Injury Appeal Commission.
“We lead among municipalities in our community’s efficient, effective and environmentally responsible treatment of water and waste water. We have literally hosted the world and set an impressive benchmark with the wildly successful World Women’s Curling Championship, and our annual Windscape Kite and Music Festivals … are rated among the top tourist events in all of Canada. The [School] Liaison Officer position … has been a welcome and highly visible symbol of our continuing commitment to our youth. The hiring of our current CAO Susan Motkaluk is also an accomplishment I see as having paid some significant benefits to the city during our first term.
"Looking forward, I want to see the city’s current path continue. We’ve come together with the Council and the RM in some significant ways, but we have some work to do. Despite the outstanding issues, the two councils with Administration are working more collaboratively now than at any point in my lifetime. Now, instead of RM residents worrying about water being cut off, both municipalities enjoy a long-term agreement from which we both benefit, and can provide for regional growth.
"It’s critical to realize that continuing to reach agreements on services is not only just ‘nice’ … but should be expected and demanded by residents of both municipalities, as this is what is necessary for our region to grow.
"One of the ways I have sought this result is through my efforts on seeking an upgrade to the remaining stretch of Hwy. #4 and expanded border hours at Port of Morgan/Monchy, with an aim to put Swift Current at the crossing of two major trade routes: east and west, north and south, from the resource-rich northern Saskatchewan all the way to the massive demands in the refineries of the southern US."
Ron Toles – A Swift Current resident for the past 43 years, retired teacher Ron Toles has taught at various schools for the past 35 years, has served on SADD Provincial Board of Directors, was a delegate to Canadian Youth Against Impaired Driving, and has worked on Minor Hockey, Minor Baseball and Softball committees. He is also a member of Swift Current Little Theatre, Elmwood Golf Club, Swift Current Curling Club and Swift Current Duplicate Bridge Club.
“I want to focus on the four words that I have been putting forth since the outset.
"Honesty. All of my cars, furniture, appliances are all purchased locally. I not only say I support, I do support.
"Sustainability. We are in good times. How can we continue these good times? Going into the future, it’s not enough to say we want to grow Swift Current. Will we have enough rental housing, doctors, dentists, policing, fire services? Relationships with the RM, looking at projected growth, we need partnerships and repairing strained relationships. A cooperative coexistence is required. I have run my campaign on a limited budget. I don’t believe in overspending, but in doing what is necessary to achieve results.
"Accountability. One thing I’d like to see done as your Councillor is to add a Councillor’s Report to the City of Swift Current page in the local paper that informs the public about what’s going on … and … what issues are coming up, to allow you to get advanced knowledge of some of the things in the works and have an opportunity to express an opinion.
"Transparency. I want everything up front, open and honest.
"I am known as a good listener and for making good, sound judgements and decisions. I hope I have earned the respect of the community for my work."
Jayson Sletton – Swift Current native Jayson Sletten served as Vice Chair of Facilities, 2010 World Women’s Curling Championships, has over 20 years experience in sales and management at Standard Motors, and now works for LR Truck Centre, giving him the opportunity to know the Swift Current community and local businesses very well. He volunteers with the Kiwanis Club, co-chairing the parade.
“Swift Current has been a fantastic place for myself and my family and I’d like an opportunity to give back to Swift Current.
“We’ve all seen our taxes rise, and I’m just wondering if there’s not better solutions to making it grow without taxing all you folks. … I believe we need to tap into the ideas of the citizens a little more, and certainly into the business community. I think we need to enhance and grow our businesses … as well as attract new ones.
“My strength, and the reason why I’m asking for your vote, is I’ve spent over 20 years building relationships in and out of Swift Current with private clients, business clients and so on. My strengths are finding common ground and solutions to issues, so I like to think I can get the job done.”
George Bowditch – Longtime resident of Swift Current with deep roots in rural southwest Saskatchewan, incumbent George Bowditch is seeking a second term on City Council.
“In order to keep Swift Current growing and prospering, we must continue to attract new businesses, but not at the expense of existing businesses. A very important aspect of that in my opinion is to work towards improving our north-south access to the United States. We must continue to show the world that Swift Current is a great place to set up shop in.
“Everyone deserves a chance at having affordable accommodation, and while we have been successful in getting more affordable housing in Swift Current, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. Available, affordable seniors’ housing is a priority with me, along with making families that are just getting started also have the opportunity of affordable housing in Swift Current.
“I want to see continued infrastructure improvements and upgrades. Water, sewer, power, streets, etc., must be always kept reliable and safe. I want to see policing, fire and hospitals maintained and improved.
“Our culture is very important, and projects such as the Lyric Theatre revitalization are key to providing a well-rounded community. I’m very proud of Market Square and what it has done for the downtown community. When looking at our leisure and recreation facilities, it is very important that we maintain and improve them … and continue to offer the community a full range of facilities to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“We must also continue to work with our partners in the southwest region and make sure we maximize our chances to see the region grow as a whole … to make our region a preferred place to live and conduct business.”
Pat Freisen – Raised on the family farm in Success, Pat Friesen recently retired from her position as Executive Vice President of Marketing at Innovation Credit Union, and has served on several boards including Swift Current Ag & Ex, Victim Services, Rotary Club, 2005 Provincial Centennial Committee and 2010 World Women’s Curling. She is co-chair of the 2014 City of Swift Current Centennial Committee and Immediate Past Chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, currently a board member of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and was President of the Swift Current Chamber of Commerce for one year.
“While responsible spending has to be uppermost in the minds of Council, a balanced approach between operational spending, capital spending and growth is essential and must continue to be a priority. We will spend nearly one-third of our tax dollars on policing and fire services, and 15 cents of that same tax dollar on infrastructure. Safety and infrastructure bring us stability and impacts on our daily lives. Arts and recreation enrich our daily lives, shape our culture and define who we are as a people.
“Everything tells us that status quo is not an option if we are to maintain and enhance the quality of services that our citizens enjoy, while benefitting from some of the lowest municipal taxation rates in the province. The key priorities as I see them: 1. Moving forward with regional growth and development; 2. Attracting new residents; and 3. Expanding the tax base.
"I, like you, have watched and listened to the ongoing discordant debate between the city council and the local RM. While there’s been some positive progress on certain issues, we have not reached the point where we have a comprehensive strategy for regional growth and development. We live, work and play together. We are urban and we are rural. We are interdependent for economic reasons and social wellbeing. We are in this together and must move forward through proactive leadership.
"With the opportunities and challenges before us, I cannot stress enough the need for further cooperation and partnerships. This is what will take this region into the future. … My goal is to move forward in a way that seizes every opportunity that comes our way and, in the end, to leave a better place."
Denis Perrault – Ten-year resident of Swift Current and City Council incumbent Denis Perrault received his CA designation in 2004, has taught business courses at Great Plains College, started a new consulting business, has volunteered for many local boards and charities, and serves on the Board of SGI.
“As a member of your City Council, I have served diligently alongside my fellow members and together we have created a strategic plan for the city that gives us a blueprint for our future, and I’m very proud of that accomplishment.
“… With this plan, we now have the direction that we need when it comes to planning our infrastructure, growing our city and managing our city services with fiscal responsibility, an area that I pay particularly close attention to as a Chartered Accountant.
“In our surrounding RM, we worked hard to develop a rural water pipeline agreement. We worked together for annexation and had a Complimentary Resolution. We’re working together with our surrounding RM to have a fire agreement in place so that we can move forward. We’ve strengthened our relationships with all levels of government, as well as our ties with the Swift Current Broncos, with Innovation Credit Union, with Great Plains College, the Cypress Health Region, with our two school boards and of course many other organizations, all of which are great things for our city, and I’m very proud to have been part of them.
“… As of today, we have the lowest municipal tax rate across the province. It’s incredible. It’s unparalleled, and we’ve done that while still offering a lot of exceptional services to our residents. We’re currently working on a housing plan so that we can see new affordable housing, low-income housing, multi-family and just now are seeing new and renovated units at PPIH.
“… We’ve done better and better every year, and we’ve made Swift Current the city of choice, with companies choosing to work here and to move, and with families choosing to relocate. … Swift Current is the third best place to live in Saskatchewan, and the 24th best place to live in Canada, up from 50th in 2011. The whole of Canada has recognized that Swift Current is a great place to do business, a great place to live, a great place to invest and truly where life makes sense.”
Tim Bugera – Incumbent Tim Bugera has called Swift Current home for the past 17 years. He has worked in sales, started a sign business, and is now property manager at Swift Current Mall. He also owns a security business and is active on many boards and organizations in the city.
“I worked hard, along with the Drug Task Force, to gather information and do the homework to provide a report and information to Council on the [School Liaison Officer] role and how the position has made a difference in other communities. In March of this year, my fellow colleagues and I moved forward on placing that position to start this fall. This position is not there just for drug issues or discipline, but for a resource for students, teachers and parents, and it is used as an educational tool.
“I have a passion for youth and working with our youth. These are the future leaders of our community. I find youth have a different perspective on our community. … We have many discussions on how to do we keep youth in our community. I feel we need them to have a vested interest in our community. Youth need to have input on what is important to them, and have a say in how to move forward as a community. They need to be part of building our community, so as they may travel off for education and work, they will come home to raise their families, back to the community they have a vested interest in.
“… With a growing population, I feel we have to work on maintaining our level of emergency services. … We have to ensure that we are adequately policed, and that we can continue to provide and maintain a fire service second to none. Our emergency services help sell our city to outsiders. … This comes at a cost, but is a necessity to ensure progressive growth.
“… Our recycling program for our residents has been updated in the last year by the centre being paved and the bins being replaced. We still have work to do. We also have to look at our program for commercial recycling. Our commercial businesses are filling our landfill with recyclable cardboard, as there is no program in place or services available to handle the large quantities of cardboard. … I believe that recycling is a big part of building a community."
Gord Budd – Born and raised in Swift Current, incumbent Gord Budd has invested 40 years in auto sales, served three terms on City Council, held countless volunteer positions, currently serves on several boards including the Personal Care Home Initiative and Police Advisory Board, and brings a unique perspective to his work on Council.
“Not only have we seen significant growth both in terms of population but in terms of building infrastructure that’s going to serve us well into the future. When I look around the city and see the projects like the wastewater treatment plant, the new hospital, the water treatment plant, the hundreds of new homes built over the last decade, and the new and the dozens of new and expanded businesses we’ve enjoyed, well folks, it makes me really proud.
“Swift Current’s gone from a sleepy little prairie town to a vibrant, strong community. The whole face of Swift Current has changed remarkably since I was a kid growing up here … but … I still don’t know of a place that I would feel unsafe or my wife would feel unsafe in walking around here at night.
“… But are we done yet? No, far from it. That’s why I’m asking for your support for one more term. There’s a number of committees that I work on that I feel I need to see to completion. … Relations with the RM, that’s a big one; transportation issues – the city completed transportation studies, now we have to come up with a sustainable long-range plan to address the issues of moving people around the city as well as safety issues related to #1 Highway; … and a couple of large projects for the region - the promotion of the #4 highway being a logical north/south corridor, and SaskPower thinking of a cogeneration plant in this area. These issues require a lot of commitment in terms of time from both council and administration but would be a major economic benefit.
“One thing that’s really near and dear to me is affordable housing for our seniors and low-income earners. Some argue this is not a municipal mandate, but I suggest to you that to achieve these lofty goals is going to mean partnerships between all levels of government in some way, as well as community groups and private enterprise. It does bother me that Swift Current is the only city in Saskatchewan that does not have a personal care home for low-income Level 1 and 2 seniors."
Dan Martens – Raised in the community, Dan Martens entered funeral service in 1983, working in several communities in Saskatchewan, and has owned and operated Swift Current Funeral Home for 14 years. The business is known for giving extra effort and care and received the SCBEX Customer Service Award in 2007. Martens feels he brings this same attitude and approach to his service on City Council.
“While I believe the present council has accomplished much, there still is a lot of work to do and a lot of opportunities to discover.
“Last year we saw our second best year of all time, with $52 million worth of building permits. I feel this is a trend long overdue and it’s wonderful to see the growth and the excitement in this community.
“[The Prairie Pioneers Housing] Board in particular has been a very active and involved board and … is a strong success story. It’s ownership comes from 19 municipal groups including our city. For the past three years they’ve built 24 units for low-income seniors and have embarked on a major, overdue renovation of 70 units that were build in the 1950s. In total these projects are worth $4 million.
“One of the projects that I’ve especially enjoyed being a part of has been the #4 highway/US border commercial port trade corridor. This port will be a tremendous boost to our city as well as the entire region. … I recently represented our city at the 15th Annual Ports to Plains Conference, which was held for the first time in Canada in Medicine Hat. … I will be leaving for Regina for a regional Ports to Plains conference there as well. … This organization has worked hard at developing trade between Canada and the US, our largest trading partner.
“… I have made a strong effort to learn and represent our city while attending conferences such as SUMA, FCM and Ports to Plains. Three years ago when I campaigned for office, one of my platforms was the importance of being a strong team player. I believe that more today than I did three years ago. One councillor on his own, with his own agenda, can do very little. It is only by a strong effort between fellow councilors and city administration that good, effective progress can be made.”
Relationship with RM of Swift Current
Bowditch – One of those things is communication. We must get together … talk … and discuss various issues and look towards finding common ground … that you can build on. … It has to be a give-take situation.
Budd – I find that there’s too much history that we’ve got to let go of. Forget about what happened 20 years ago. We’ve got to look at what’s happening today, what can we do for tomorrow. There is so much opportunity in this region. We need both councils working together.
Bugera – It’s great to sit down with the council and see which way we can move forward. … They are elected officials just like we are and they are doing things that they feel are in the best interests of their ratepayers, as we do.
Martens –We have to think very regionally. ... We have to work together in coalitions and partnerships.
Plewis – If we want this region to move forward, it’s not going to be me or you, it’s going to be me and you, together, doing it. I don’t really care what happened 30 years ago. We need to get over those things that maybe don’t matter so much anymore and focus on what’s best for the region.
Perrault – We have to be thinking as a region to be successful. It’s important … to respect the process that’s in front of us and utilize it to get better.
Budd – Recycling’s a very expensive thing. There are going to be costs involved so that means it’s going to tax every taxpayer in the room. Are people willing to pay that? I would like to hear of a solution because so far nothing has come our way.
Bugera – We have a 40-yard cardboard bin that we fill every couple of weeks and Waste Management has … offered service to truck it to Outlook. Some of the things when you’re making a decision is the cost recovery of the baling of the cardboard and trucking it … for processing.
Martens – It’s a North American issue. We need to find a consistent end user to use it or else we have no place to put it. We can bale this stuff, we can recycle this stuff, put it on a truck, send it down the road using manpower and fuel. In the end, is it really environmentally friendly?
Perrault – Recycling is tough. It’s expensive and the current solution is really not perfect. We actually sent out a survey to all our residents not that long ago … to try and get feedback from our residents as to what they wanted. We’re working on it … we’re not there yet.
Plewis – Recycling isn’t just something that we should do … it could potentially save some money. At the end of 2011 … we had $800,000 invested in a new cell for our waste system and that’s not cheap. … We’re always looking at what best practices are in other communities.
Bowditch – It’s based largely on the math. I do know within Swift Current we have … a very good working relationship with the Abilities Council and they have been taking care of a lot of our recycling program. … I’d like to see it being a good cost recovery … but even if we have to subsidize somewhat, perhaps we have to do that.
Ostrander – As far as the concept goes I am supportive, but I think we need to recognize that it is a phased concept with many elements to the overall project. I think consultations are in their infancy … as we move throughout this project we need to look at each element individually to determine if that element is one for the city residents to support.
Perrault – There’s a lot of moving pieces to that puzzle. We’re still in preliminary stages. … We’re going to continue to ask the questions of the community.
Plewis – We’re doing a transportation study to look at some of the issues that people would have concerns with … ensuring that people could get out there, safety of #1 highway, busing.
Sletten – The facility in my opinion is definitely a necessity. … We really need to get to our stakeholders. I just don’t know if the city is doing a good enough job of getting that word out there so more people can participate and I think that needs to happen.
Toles – If we’re going to build these kinds of facilities we need to get funding from other sources and the partnerships with the city, the health board, education and provincial government. One of the things I am extremely concerned about is the library. I am strongly in favour of maintaining a library in the core.
Bowditch – The integrated facility, we’re hoping to put it out there, but it’s a conceptual yet, it’s a dream. Then you flesh it out from there. We haven’t said yes to anything with the facility. We’re looking at all our options. We have to be prepared for the future. Things wear out, things change, things have to be replaced.
Budd – I think back to 2003, the plebiscite we had … about whether or not to allow the Casino to come here. It was 55 per cent in favour, 45 against, so we went with the majority. I dare say if we ask people again, are they glad it’s here, I think we’d have a huge percentage saying they are glad. It’s just a conceptual plan. There’s going to be lots and lots of things to talk about before we get there.
Bugera – Residents who have lived here a long time said they remembered when Comprehensive High School was built where it is and there was an uproar. … I am looking forward to the discussions as we decide how we’re going to move forward.
Collinson – Whether it is reality that the city is or isn’t listening, that perception is out there as we’ve heard from people tonight. That needs to be corrected. Perception does become reality. The city does need to be more proactive and listen to the people and make sure that their feedback – whether they agree with it or disagree with it – people need answers.
Friesen – This integrated facility and the vision we have for it is a great example … of partnerships and cooperation and the efficiencies that can be gained by working together for a common cause. … I think the public consultation piece still is a critical part of the building of this vision and bringing it to reality. … There’s going to be a lot of money spent there, so it’s important that we get it right and that it does meet the needs of the majority of citizens.
Martens – When we sit down in planning sessions of the council and we envision where our city is going to be we’re looking at 20 years ahead, so when something seems out in the middle of nowhere right now, in 20 years it won’t be … so we have to keep that in mind.
Hwy #4 upgrade
Martens – It is an embarrassment. We have to understand, though, that we are part of the puzzle. We continue to encourage. We understand that it is about a $70 million project to upgrade from Cadillac to Monchy/Morgan. … We also have to think about Canadian Border Services as well. They make the decision on that.
Plewis – Seventy kilometres of that entire road from Meadow Lake to Mexico are not upgraded … and it’s a difficult thing for the federal and provincial governments … it’s a matter of costs and priorities. It’s all about partnerships. We’ve been talking to the Premier, we’ve been talking to David [Anderson] our MP, we’ve been meeting with Ports to Plains. We continue to lobby for it and it will continue to be a priority for this council so long as I am around.
Bowditch – I’ve driven that highway many times. ... The more people that come together, it becomes a regional project and something we’ve been working on very much. We’ve got to work with Grasslands National Park … with Meadow Lake … with Rosetown. There’s so many places that benefit from this and we’re working together … to strengthen our voice and … get this going sooner than later.
Budd – Hwy #37 that runs south of Gull Lake from Shaunavon to Climax, they’re going to be coming forward too, so within the region there’s kind of two separate ideas as to which that corridor should be. I think we should be encouraged by the fact that down at Monchy they’ve upgraded the border services on this side.