Ponoka mayoral candidates Rick Bonnett and Larry Henkelman check their notes Oct. 5 before the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce candidates forum. The evening started with a 30 minute mayoral discussion then went to councillor forum. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Ponoka mayoral candidates face off at chamber forum

Ponoka’s incumbent Rick Bonnett and former mayor Larry Henkelman speak to their strengths

Ponoka’s mayoral candidates squared off in an effort to bring voters to their side.

Incumbent Rick Bonnett, and former mayor, Larry Henkelman, were given 30 minutes Oct. 5 during the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce candidates forum to speak on their platform and to answer questions.

Bonnett was up first with his platform stating that there needs to be progress and that does cost money to make happen. “But in speaking with people in the last four years, Ponoka does need to move forward.”

He offered that there has been an increase in transparency; all budget deliberations and committee meetings are now open to the public because of this past council.

Bonnett added that the new learning centre was a main focus and it is bringing further development to town with the Lacombe Action Group just putting together a development permit for a facility at the same site. He said there is also movement in other industrial parks in town.

He wants to see further collaboration with municipalities, including with Ponoka County, as well as with businesses.

“The vision I have is growth through assessment by expanding our commercial and residential taxes,” said Bonnett.

Henkelman, who had several terms on council and as mayor and then took a four-year hiatus, is running because we has several concerns for Ponoka.

The first issue involves rebuilding relations with Ponoka County and its citizens. “With our new Municipal Government Act coming out, if our communities, and our neighbouring communities don’t work together, there will be a lot of funds that won’t be coming to our community.”

He wants to see this issue addressed within the first year of council.

His second issue is over what he calls accountability and transparency of all facilities and infrastructure. Thirdly, Henkelman wants to see more housing for seniors in Ponoka. With Legacy Place having a waiting list of people, Henkelman said he wants seniors to remain in Ponoka.

A big platform for Henkelman is to see the town develop land. “So if we had a company like John Deere come to the community, there’s not even land for them.”

One written question to candidates asked what each person felt their biggest accomplishment and failure was as mayor.

Bonnett was up first speaking directly to seeing growth in Ponoka. He is pleased to see what he calls engaged businesses and developers within the Town of Ponoka, which expands the tax base.

“My greatest disappointment as mayor is actually having our council split. What I’ve learned in the last four years is through communication, knowledge and giving these councillors some good information, we can make better decisions as we go forward,” he explained.

For Henkelman’s part, it was the industrial park development the town paid for that he is proud of, saying it increased the town’s tax base.

A disappointment for him came after he retired from politics. That disappointment was in the form of the repeal of the business hours bylaw — by this current council — which restricted the hours of the sale of liquor.

“We definitely got shot down on that because the new council changed the bylaw and went back to our liquor hours,” said Henkelman.

When asked whether they support one or two fire departments in the town, Bonnett stated that the issue has to come together but needs support from internal departments and council as a whole. “I definitely want to go with regional services and that’s where we’ll look at.”

Henkelman said there wasn’t enough information to make a proper decision. He blamed Ponoka News for not covering the unfolding situation enough. “And it shouldn’t have been as one-sided as it was.”

He added that the fix could have been done with Municipal Affairs through mediation.

Council did vote on mediation some years ago but one of the past councillors refused to take part.

With regard to the question of dealing with split councils, Henkelman stated he had great councils that worked together. A split council or vote is a problem, said Henkelman. He says someone has to be there to provide good leadership. “You have to back your council.”

Bonnett, who did have a split council, said that despite that split, there were accomplishments in other areas. “We did actually get the job of moving the town forward done.”

He reiterated that there needs to be more education for councillors.

In closing, Henkelman said he intends to be a full time mayor and suggests his previous experience is ideal for the position in the top seat again. “Please support me with your vote so Ponoka can continue to be a safe and viable and caring community.”

For his part, Bonnett focussed on growth, pointing out that most communities in the Highway 2 corridor have seen seven to 12 per cent growth, which Ponoka hasn’t seen until recently. “This last five years is the first time we’ve hit seven per cent (growth) in over 20 years.”

Election Day is set for Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kinsmen Community Centre.