Some Victoria Park residents are worried about whether their new councillor will be able to understand and address the issues their community is facing now that the boundary lines have been redrawn, making the community part of Ward 11.
However, at a forum organized to address those concerns, candidates reassured residents that their voices would be heard.
The panel was organized by the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area and took place at Memorial Public Library on Thursday.
The panel included candidates Robert Dickinson, Janet Eremenko, Linda Johnson and Keith Simmons.
Candidate Jeromy Farkas did not attend the panel. He also missed a forum held on Monday, Sept. 25 at the Mission Community Centre. Farkas sent his regrets, saying he could not attend due to his “commitment to meetings in the Ward 11 communities of Southwood, Acadia, and Kingsland.”
Candidates were asked how they plan to deal with challenges like transportation and accurately representing both the suburban and inner-city communities included in the diverse ward.
All candidates agreed that choice, convenience and functionality are key to transportation.
Johnson pointed out that Ward 11 is an interesting case study in how difficult it can be to get around the city due to the lack of connectivity to its transit system. She said Calgary residents should be able to travel on their own terms and not be restricted by a lack of options.
For his own part, Simmons said every Calgarian should be able to leave their home and have many equally viable transportation options. In particular, he wants to improve options for the LRT and cyclists.
Dickinson wants to focus on ensuring the Green Line LRT project provides adequate service for residents while also fixing existing problems with transit such as inadequate routes or lack of connectivity throughout the ward. He also wants to expand the cycle track network.
Eremenko stressed that an effective transit system can have a real impact on “livability, on the quality of life, and on attraction of business, and the retention of talent,” in a city. She pointed to a potential bid for Amazon’s headquarters as a project that would need to be supported with adequate transportation options and infrastructure.
Beyond transportation, the panel revolved around how a new councillor would properly represent the Victoria Park community.
Johnson reminded voters that when she served as an MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, she represented 17 communities with a wide range of issues. Her strategy is to find common features in the problems neighborhoods are facing.
“We have more in common than we realize,” she said. “We all care about our city. We all care about living within our means.”
Simmons said “if you keep the community in mind first, that’s generally where the answers are going to come from.” He noted that without party influence, councillors are able to address unique situations with innovative solutions.
In all of his months of campaigning, Dickinson told the audience that he has not seen a “direct conflict in priorities,” when it comes to all the neighborhoods in Ward 11. He also stressed the importance of a close relationship with the Ward 8 councillor when dealing with Victoria Park issues.
Finally, Eremenko acknowledged that there are misconceptions about the Victoria Park area. As someone who lived in the community of Connaught and later moved to Lakeview, Eremenko said she’s seen both sides of the ward and understands that community problems are more similar than people realize.
She adds that Victoria Park needs a councillor who “listens to you and understands the experiences of living downtown.”
Farkas, who was reached via email following the forum, commented on what he believes is the most important issue facing Victoria Park, and how he would ensure residents feel well-represented in their new ward.
“This unique community faces very intense pressures from redevelopment and population growth,” he said. He added that he wants to keep residents and local businesses “in the driver’s seat” by empowering them with the same resources and support that traditional communities receive.
Farkas said he can represent community members well because “Victoria Park’s demographics are shifting and I personally relate to the youthful and forward-looking focus on economic opportunity.”
- By Kyra Bird