To comply with COVID-19 public health restrictions, the Town of Irricana has had to be creative with its pre-election forum this fall.
Instead of offering an in-person or virtual all-candidates forum, the Town has created a question-and-answer page on its website – townofirricana.ca – where voters and candidates can engage with each other.
In the lead-up to voting day on Oct. 18, Irricana residents can submit questions for any of the candidates vying for seats on Town council to answer.
“We obviously couldn’t have an open, in-person forum,” said Barrie Hutchinson, the Town of Irricana’s chief administrative officer and chief returning officer for the 2021 election. “We’re getting some very good questions from residents in how to best move forward.”
While holding its forum in an online manner is not ideal, Hutchinson said voters and candidates have responded well to the virtual format so far. Questions have included how candidates would attempt to maintain consistency for the CAO position, how they would increase Town transparency, what changes candidates would like to see in the town, how they would increase local opportunities for Irricana’s youth, and more.
“I think everyone is pleased but I think they’d more like to have a live forum,” Hutchinson admitted. “It’s always nice to stand and know who is asking them the question, and to give an honest answer.”
There are 10 candidates running for five seats on Irricana Town council this fall. The candidates include incumbents Frank Friesen, Kim Schmaltz, Debbie Day, and Jim Bryson, as well as Anton Van Arendonk, Lisa McAree, Dominic Kirchner, Madison Glass, and Nathaniel Fleming.
“I think in these challenging times, we have no choice but to be creative,” said Friesen, who is Irricana’s current mayor. “I thought this was a brilliant idea. So far, it’s working quite well.”
Friesen acknowledged preparing for the election this fall has been very different than when he first campaigned for a seat on Town council six years ago, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of people don’t want you coming door-to-door anymore, so you have to be creative,” he said. “Social media is good, but it can also be bad. You still have to [embrace] the old pen and paper and flyers.”
North of Irricana, the nearby Village of Beiseker has also taken its pre-election engagement online. The Village included the platforms for each of the seven candidates on its monthly newsletter – the Mainline Express – for October. The newsletter can be found at bit.ly/3awEgqp
With COVID-19 still impacting how society operates, Hutchinson said municipalities have had to be creative for this year's election, but that he is excited to see the outcome of the vote on Oct. 18.
“I’m looking forward to a great election,” he said. “We have some great candidates and there’s plenty of [interest], so we should see a good turnout.”