CANMORE – The polarizing topic of employee housing – as well as housing as a whole in Canmore – spilled over in council chambers.
In an at times spirited back and forth between council members, the issue, which saw council go 4-3 in favour of discouraging employee housing in industrial areas at its meeting Tuesday (Sept. 5), had council members' passion for the issue on full display.
In opening remarks during debate, Mayor Sean Krausert said that voting against getting additional information for the potential of employee housing “goes directly to our integrity as a council."
"The argument against this motion is primarily based against planning principles, but principles have exceptions depending on the circumstances," he said.
Long-time Coun. Joanna McCallum – in her fourth term and one of the four votes to look at discouraging employee housing in light industrial areas – was the first to voice displeasure at Krausert’s remarks.
“I’ve sat at this dias for 13 years and I don’t think I’ve ever had my integrity taken into question, so I’m quite offended by your opening statement,” she told Krausert. “I think everybody is here to do the right thing based on what they hear on the street and constituents, and for you to actually put into question our integrity as individual councillors is deeply offensive.”
With all seven council members quick to give their opinions and what they had heard from the community, Krausert said he was looking at the overall housing situation in the community and when he said council, he included himself and not just those against employee housing in light industrial areas.
He said council’s reputation would “take a hit based on this decision” and that he felt it was his role as mayor to point out the potential perception in the community if they were to not look at all options before making a decision.
“I don’t say this often, but I will personally be embarrassed if we prohibit employee housing in industrial areas. … I don’t apologize for stating that. ... It doesn’t say we will (allow employee housing) with greater ease, but exploring what criteria could be put in place in order to have employee housing. We will go through a whole process.”
Coun. Jeff Mah, who was not in attendance for the July meeting and whose return led to the discussion taking place Sept. 5, said he was happy Krausert clarified his comments but felt “a little queasy when integrity is being called into question when we’re all trying our best to navigate this decision.”
Krausert echoed his previous opinion that he both valued and respected all council members and what they bring to a debate, but also that council respect his viewpoints in what has become one of the most polarizing issues as council nears the halfway mark of its term.
“I believe we’re taking a step backwards if we don’t explore this,” he said. “That’s why, to me, that’s a question of integrity. That’s my opinion and you may not share it, but I’m not questioning your integrity or Coun. McCallum.”
Coun. Jeff Hilstad said he took no personal offence to the integrity comments and that it shows how much council cares about the topics, though it may have “ruffled feathers” and he ultimately respected the choice of words.
In what he called a fulsome council discussion, Coun. Wade Graham said “up until very recently I was very proud of that discussion” but that he would “sleep well with my integrity intact when we make this vote today” in making a decision in what he felt was for the best of the community.
Krausert emphasized he “would be remiss” if he didn’t point out if there was a concern that council’s integrity may be called into question and he would expect others to do the same.
However, he said regardless of the vote and his position on it, he would support council’s decision moving forward but that he felt they would be missing an opportunity to explore the potential of employee housing in Canmore’s light industrial areas.
“Do I think we’re missing an opportunity here? I really, really do,” the mayor said. “I have had so many business owners come to me frustrated because they’re trying to get staff and they’re trying to bring a solution forward that they’re willing to pay for, meet whatever building code is required and this will work well so they can be part of the solution and it infuriates me they can’t provide that housing on their property, part of their business that they would like to do and others have done and are doing. That’s where I’m coming from.
“I do think if we defeat this, we take a step back and because of that it’s open to somebody to say ‘I thought [housing] was one of the more important things’. That’s a question of integrity. It’s a difficult job and none of these are easy decisions and I’m proud of everyone here for all they’ve stated, but that doesn’t mean I have some misgivings of decisions just as we all do. And I’ve never before made that statement and I don’t expect I’ll be making it again. I would be remiss not to bring it up. No one’s personal integrity, but all of us as a whole and I’m painted with that brush as well.”