Voters in the RM of Ste. Anne got the chance to hear from the four reeve candidates Tuesday night at an elections forum at the Richer Community Centre.
Robert Desautels, Shirley Hiebert, Don Morin and Paul Saindon faced a series of questions which were submitted prior to the forum regarding various issues or interests of ratepayers in the municipality.
One of the questions the candidates were asked was to summarize their position on maintaining a balance between urban development band sustainable agriculture.
"Well for the first part, I don't think you should use prime farmland just to build a house for an aging farmer who decides he's going to retire next door," says Saindon who notes they have gone through that before and it does not work very well. "Farmers don't like stones, residential people love them so that's the place where you need to put them (developments)and let the farmers do their work in the fields that are meant for farming."
Shirley Hiebert suggests urban development should not infringe on agriculture and says an agricultural advisory council should be in place in the municipality to ensure that does not happen.
Don Morin notes both sides need to work together and have an understanding that both are needed for the municipality to be sustainable.
Robert Desautels says there is a lot of property in the RM of Ste Anne that does not border agricultural property that could be rezoned to then be developed. He adds the municipality is running out of residential properties and that needs to be addressed.
Another topic touched on was the building permit process and whether they think it could be sped up or refined.
Candidate Robert Desautels says it could and notes part of the issue is that too many cases have to get passed by council. He says the municipality is involved more than it needs to be which he adds is why the process is so backed up.
Shirley Hiebert also suggests something could be done to speed things up. "I think it needs to be made much more efficient. Perhaps the by-law governing what building permits are a part of needs to have another look to see what kind of restrictions are there and what we can do to make it more efficient."
Don Morin echoed similar thoughts and notes a qualified person should be hired to look after that process in order to make it flow more efficiently.
Paul Saindon explains the reason it takes the time that it does, is because there is a lot of research that goes behind it to ensure proper development. He also suggested, due to the steady growth in the municipality, that a Development Officer should be hired to accommodate the increased demand for building permits.
Candidates were also asked to identify what they feel is the biggest challenge facing the RM of Ste. Anne and what they would do to address it.
Shirley Hiebert says as people become savvier on social media and sharing their opinions, they don’t want to fall behind. She adds council should be keeping up to date with what ratepayers are talking about and taking a look at those issues.
Paul Saindon explains the municipality’s assets have nearly quadrupled in the last 15 years and he says one of the challenges will be to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to developments and infrastructure. He notes lagoon expansions and manure management plans will need to be looked at in the near future.
"The biggest challenge is going to be developments," notes Morin," planning for new lots, planning for the sewage because Ste. Anne Municipality is really going to grow tremendously in the next years and we're going to have a challenge with our infrastructure."
Desautels expressed similar thoughts and also notes as the municipality becomes more diverse, it makes it tougher to plan because different interest groups have different needs. He adds they will have to deal with various situations as they come.
One other hot topic question was: there are some paid positions in the RM of Ste. Anne. In the past, some councillors have actually held these positions and in some cases, leaving the perception of a conflict of interest. Do you see this as an issue?
Desautels says he definitely does see this as an issue. "It's somehow been accepted but it is definitely something that if the people are viewing it as a conflict of interest, we should deal with it and eliminate it."
Meanwhile, Saindon says that's not necessarily the case. "When you do the job, you should get paid for the job." notes Saindon, "We had public works do extra work outside of council work, and they got paid accordingly. Now they've hired a public works foreman, that has changed. I don't see a problem"
Hiebert notes that depending on the case and as long as the councillor abstains from voting on matters that conflict with their position, it may not be a conflict of interest. "I'd like the RM to have conflict of interest guidelines," added Hiebert.
Morin suggests to avoid any issues, it is probably best that elected officials do not hold other paid positions in the municipality. "You have the councillors look after their roads and for the fire departments and fire chiefs, you hire the proper person, hopefully there is a proper person and in some cases maybe that was the problem here," says Morin.
Municipal elections are coming up in two weeks on October 24.
Here are the candidate's closing statements from the forum Tuesday evening