Questions from the Canmore Commons

Question #1. When it comes to economic development in Canmore, some have suggested "if we aren't growing, we're dying." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

This is a commonly heard expression that leaves the reader/listener to guess as to how to interpret the suggestion. Nothing is ever quite as simple as ‘either/or’. As our primary sector the tourism industry generates approximately $350M annually, which filters out to benefit most other sectors and all of the staff that maintain those other businesses. However, we can’t continue to depend on only one industry for our economic health. I have advocated for economic diversification for years, with real promise now on the horizon for this to occur. For example, there is an initiative that I have been involved with – Innovate Canmore - which is actively growing a centre for technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Rocky Mountain Ventures and The Rockies Institute are two other local initiatives working towards this goal.

I am committed to working to diversify our economy, rather than simply building within one sector.

 

Question #2. There has been a lot of discussion in the past year about developments in Three Sisters and Silvertip, and what it could mean for wildlife corridors in Canmore. What are your thoughts about having a cumulative review to address the impacts of the developments in Canmore and throughout the Bow Valley? What would you do to help make that happen?

This is a suggestion that is worth exploring, and I support the concept in principle. The devil is in the details. The Town of Canmore is actively engaged in cumulative studies on a regular and ongoing basis. While these studies relate primarily to development within our own municipality, they inform many long range masterplans that were developed to guide our future sustainability. These plans are generally based on a possible future population for Canmore as defined through approvals that have been in place for ten years or more.

These include such plans as the Municipal Development Plan, Utilities Masterplan for Water and Sanitary, Integrated Transportation Masterplan, Environmental Sustainability Action Plan, Open Spaces and Trails Plan, Recreation Masterplan, and the Fire Strategic Plan.

I agree that we have important work to do that will inform connectivity throughout the region, and will commit to working with our regional and provincial partners to that end.

 

Question #3. With recent research showing overwhelming use of people and their dogs in wildlife corridors, would you support town council spending taxpayer money over the next four years on better signage and education focused on the appropriate use of trails in those areas? If so, how big a budget? If not, why not?

Yes. We have been doing that for some time, through various initiatives as informed through the Human Use Management Review, Open Space and Trails Plan, and other planning reports. The projects that are developed each year in response to such direction will inform the amount of funding that is required, and Council should then balance the funding request with all of the other project funding demands and priorities.As an example, in the 2017 budget Council approved four capital projects that respond to these initiatives - totaling $95,000. We also dedicated a budget for approximately ¾ of a full time equivalent position within the operational costs (staff time) for this work.

 

Question #4. What do you consider the biggest obstacle for wildlife in the Bow Valley and how would you work toward fixing that problem?

The biggest obstacle for wildlife in the Bow Valley is us - we don’t seem to grasp the concept of co-existence in the valley. We have to change the culture, to one that fully endorses the importance of managing human use and co-existence. Town Council initiated a process in the spring of 2014 to address the community-wide issue of human use in wildlife corridors and habitat patches, resulting in the 2015 Human Use Management Review. We have since been implementing recommendations within that report, to create better adherence regarding the use of our trails and open spaces – and encourage better respect for the vision and need to avoid conflict situations.

I have recently taken the leadership to initiate round table discussions on the issues of co-existence, which will involve governmental and locally respected non-governmental organizations with expertise regarding wildlife corridors and co-existence – and provide some opportunity for meaningful public engagement.

 

Question #5. Do you support working with the province to close Canmore's recreational trails at certain times and spots to protect wildlife? Please explain your answer.

I am interested in working with the province in a collaborative way to manage the more complex aspects of coexistence, and manage conflict situations within the Town. The Town doesn’t have the resources that exist at the provincial level and it would be expensive to add those in to our municipal operations. My hope is that the Round Table process that I have initiated with the MLA will lead to a more comprehensive management approach to address these issues within the Town. I want to be clear that I don’t think trails should necessarily be closed whenever there is wildlife in the area – which there always is. Closures should be an approach that is applied on a situational basis, with understanding of the likelihood of a conflict situation happening.

Question #6. Switching gears for our final question, we're asking about one of the biggest issues facing Canmore: Affordable housing. How would you address the challenge of affordable housing in town?

We have been addressing the serious issue of housing availability and affordability as a top priority throughout this term of Council.

One project (48 units of rental) opened late last year and was fully occupied almost immediately. As well, a 49 unit equity based affordable housing project is now being built in the Larch area, after four years of discussions and planning. Together these two projects will provide homes to close to 100 families.

We have also been working with the private sector on two projects that will add 240 purpose built long term rentals to the inventory available to residents – both of which projects were given final development permits this past week.

Finally, we have been actively encouraging homeowners in certain neighbourhoods to develop secondary suites in their homes through an incentive program – and now have started a conversation with the community regarding permitting secondary suites within all neighbourhoods.

Questions from the Rocky Mountain Outlook

1. Available public parking for employees, residents and visitors, as well as traffic congestion are issues Canmore residents have been frustrated with, and there are differing opinions on what to do. What should Council be doing to address this issue, in your opinion?

My Answer:

We have been planning and implementing active transportation infrastructure – more welcoming cycling and walking pathways, and roadways that are designed for sharing - in order to encourage residents and visitors to get out of their cars and access the downtown core in more active ways. The goal is to relieve the pressure and congestion on the downtown streets and parking by reducing the number of cars competing for the limited space. This same goal has informed the start of local transit, which will expand as people become more familiar with the service, and ridership increases.

I am not supportive at this time of building a downtown parkade, as these are very expensive structures, and generally create an unattractive dead zone in the core. Intercept parking near to the downtown is a more attractive option that has been discussed, has merit, and which I will continue to advocate for.


2. The terms economic diversification and economic development are often used interchangeably when it comes to planning for Canmore's future. How should council strategically focus on diversification and/or development? How could elected official support a strong local economy?

My Answer-

When the mines closed in 1979 Tourism was identified by the community and Council as the preferred future for economic development. Almost 40 years later a strong tourism sector is our primary industry, generating approximately $350M annually. This is perhaps the primary reason that we have so many wonderful restaurants, cafés, shops & galleries – which benefit residents as well as our visitors. However, as with all industries, there is a downside to Tourism – which manifests primarily through lower wages and issues of affordability for many residents, and a growing congestion within town.

    We have known for many years that there are other sectors of employment here – for example within the health and wellness, knowledge based, and arts sectors. I have been actively working to support diversification within our economy by recognizing the potential within those other sectors - as economic diversification initiatives and to add to our future resiliency as a community.


3. The City of Calgary is considering a 2026 Olympic bid and Council in Canmore could be expected to decide over the next term to consider this community's investment/involvement. Would you support bringing the Olympics to Canmore - why or why not?

My answer:

I am certainly prepared to lead a community discussion regarding the possibility of Canmore being a co-host for the 2026 Winter Olympics. There are many considerations that will inform our decision on such a question – with housing, transportation issues, security, and the general impact to our community being the primary areas of concern.

   There might be very positive long term benefits for Canmore coming out of well-planned Olympic Games. As an example we can look to the significant amount of community housing in Whistler that was a legacy of the 2010 Games. On the other hand the expenses that we may incur are unknown at this time, and could be significant. I have had many conversations with residents of Canmore who are involved nationally and internationally with the winter sports, and I know that there is strong enthusiasm within some sectors to consider co-hosting the Games.


4. Housing availability and affordability are issues many in Canmore have pointed to as being the number one priority for elected officials to address. What, in your opinion, is the issue? And what are actions that should be taken by council to address it?

My answer:

The primary issue is the availability of decent housing that is both dependable for the long term, and affordable for working residents who help to make our community function (teachers, nurses, tradespeople, firefighters, etc.). Canmore has one of the highest residential housing values in the country, but the average household income (@$100,000) is often insufficient to qualify working families for a mortgage.

    This Council has been addressing the issue in many ways:

  • building affordable housing through the housing corporation (97 units)
  • working with the private sector to develop long term rental properties (240 units)
  • offering incentives to build secondary suites
  • beginning to enforce the rules regarding short term rentals (which can remove rentals from long-term availability)
  • beginning  community discussions to change the Land Use Bylaw to increase supply of secondary suites for long term rentals

I believe that Council should continue with these initiatives, while considering and implementing similar opportunities.


5. A common criticism of Council is that taxes are too high and there is too much debt. In preparing to run for public office, what observations have you been able to make regarding the Town of Canmore's fiscal health and what, if anything, do you think should be done to improve the situation?

My answer:

The financial health of a community requires  continual informed oversight. At this time our financial position is quite strong - as reported for several years by the independent auditing firm Avail LLP, who have stated that Canmore has one of the healthiest financial situations of all municipalities which the firm audits.

    With a mill rate of 2.4, Canmore has one of the lowest property tax rates in Southern Alberta (as per provincial reporting), strong cash-backed reserve balances (savings) of $31.4 M, and outstanding debt as at 12/31/2016 of $22.4M. (We have recently approved new debenture borrowing bylaws - approved by ALL members of council in August of this year - which IF drawn down would result in a total debt at 67.5% of the provincial debt limits.)

    The current Council has approved several new financial policies and a comprehensive Long Term Financial Strategy to inform future decisions affecting our financial situation. We’ve instituted a very transparent budgeting process, with all discussion, debate, and decisions happening at public meetings. This wasn’t the case when I was first elected in 2004 – and shows commitment to our public accountability.

Why I am running for a 2nd term as the Mayor of Canmore

I think that you will agree that we are fortunate to live in this spectacular place … and in a community that has so much going for it. But the downside is that it IS such a spectacular place, and HAS so much going for it - and for these reasons many others want to join us here. Our community is changing, and has been for the 40 years that my wife and I have lived in Canmore.

Much of this change is a result of the continuing influx of interesting and active people -
people who add so much to the vibrancy of our community. By and large, our
neighbours are people who are active in every facet of life, and often leaders in their
fields - athletes, adventurers, artists, musicians, innovators, climbers, researchers,
professionals, and entrepreneurs of every stripe. The fabric of our town continues to
become both more interesting and stronger.

At times though, this can lead to a feeling that the community is changing too much, or too quickly, and we may feel that we are ‘losing’ our community. I have certainly felt that way over the years.  However, when I think about community in this context I reflect on all that has happened in Canmore since I first moved here.  I reflect on what Canmore has become - with countless opportunities for involvement, so many interesting and involved people living here, and such great facilities that add immeasurably to our community. Through this reflection, I know with absolute certainty that this continues to be the community in which I want to live my life. I haven’t lost my community - it’s changed and become stronger, and to some extent I’ve changed along with it.

However, growth and change in Canmore is challenging, as the valley is divided by a river, a railway, and the Trans-Canada Highway - and we are pretty much in the middle of a continental wildlife movement corridor. As well, our growth boundary is constrained in that we are surrounded by federal and provincial parks, and wildland conservation areas.

While I understand that, for some, no growth is the preferred future for Canmore; if history is our guide it’s clear that some development and growth is inevitable – and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Change at times can be poorly managed or not responsive to a better good; however, if growth and change is well planned, sensitive to community input – and  reflects what we could be in the future rather than what we have been in the past - growth can bring opportunities that benefit our community. This is clearly evident when one considers the changes that we have seen over the past decades. Many Canmore residents are able to live here and enjoy our vibrant community only because of the changes that have occurred over the past 40 years.

Of course the effect of change has to be monitored, and managed through experience.The challenge has been, and continues to be, to find and maintain a balance between

  • a healthy environment for ourselves and the wildlife that share the valley – with functional wildlife corridors and great recreational opportunities; and
  • social inclusivity - with housing, services, and facilities that we can afford; and
  • a strong and diverse economy that is not entirely dependent on our tourism based economy, but offers opportunity across other sectors.

Of course, it is equally important that the Town maintains the currently healthy financial situation that we have - as is reflected within the annual independent Auditors Reports and as directed within our Long Term Financial Strategy.

As the key element in my previous campaigns for Town Council, I have spoken directly to this vision of achieving a healthy balance within our community. As the Mayor I have provided strong leadership towards achieving this balance – working with my fellow members of Council, with Town Administration, with other stakeholders in the valley, and with many individuals who have offered their expertise and perspective on the issues in a constructive and selfless manner.

This same overarching principle has informed my decision to run for another term of office as the Mayor. This decision reflects my commitment to being involved in a meaningful and positive way in helping to manage change within our community.

Over the coming weeks I will post regular pieces to my campaign Facebook page and this website that will:

  • review what has been accomplished through this past term of Council;
  • address various community issues that are top of mind for many; and
  • speak to what are the immediate challenges and initiatives that I will place as my highest priorities leading into the next term of Council.

If you have questions about certain issues, or would like more detail about various aspects of Council planning, please email me at johnborrowman@gmail.com.

I encourage you to be engaged in this election, become informed, and vote on October 16th.