Red Deer in four years
Three years ago, I was assigned to do a series of columns on that year’s civic election. Agreeing to do it was probably my first mistake but others soon followed.
I kicked off by listing the candidates and listed the occupation of one of them as “housewife.”
Time and our misjudgments do catch up to us, and an apology for that was only one of several I’ve needed to do over my career. Besides, I now happen to be a housewife myself (part-time, which is the best arrangement possible).
But one thing I believe I had right back then is still right today. The issues of the day are not the issues that ought to decide your vote in the civic elections on Oct. 21.
If you think holding a strong position on bike lanes or potholes qualifies anyone to be a city councillor, let me be the first to disabuse you. It doesn’t.
Being “someone who listens” is an excellent personal trait, but I have news for you — city councillors have to listen whether they like it or not.
Business experience is valuable in many spheres, including being a city councillor, but many a business person on council has quickly learned that working in a service environment requires a much more nuanced skill set.
You can’t do anything by management decree.
You can’t simply raise prices to meet costs and you’re not allowed to close the shop.
If creating a sound business plan and a workable budget for business is an art, doing the same for the city is more like the Sistine Chapel, with the vision of Judgment Day right over the exit door to council chambers.
These admirable qualities, on their own, do not a good councillor make.
What I wrote three years ago holds true today, and is even more important in this election, because of our high number of candidates.
I suggest you screen candidates against your own view of what kind of city you want to live in. Select the ones that best reflect back to you a representation of what you would like Red Deer to be like four years from now.
And then, give up one whole hour of your next four years and vote.
This is much more difficult than it sounds and gets more complicated the more deeply you think about it. Especially when you think about how our city is growing.
For instance, if you want to avoid increasing traffic congestion in a city that has about 3,000 more people a year using the roads, how can we achieve that?
If you think Red Deer’s capital debt is already too high, how can we build infrastructure that matches our growth without having to borrow, and without falling too far behind?
If you want to live in a city where people can feel safe on our streets, do you really think putting more cops on the streets will achieve that?
I’m writing here as someone who has lived through a horrendous, violent robbery against a family member: what do you mean when you want to feel “safe?” Safe from crime or safe from the fear of it?
Here’s what is most important: what do you like about Red Deer and what do you want to see more of four years from now?
From the outset, this campaign has been pretty negative. If there’s anything you don’t like about Red Deer, you will certainly find a full slate of candidates who will reflect that back to you.
But I suggest “voting against” won’t get you the kind of city you would want to live in, four years from now.
For my vote, I want to hear something positive about what Red Deer could be like with a population of 110,000 in four years.
I will also want to hear good familiarity with the planning charters we’ve built as our roadmap to a city with 100,000-plus people in it. Failure to do so disqualifies you from being a city councillor on my ballot.
Candidates can say what they please, but I want voters to concentrate on what’s good about their lives now and what city council can do to make them better over the next four years.
There are voters in Red Deer today who were not here three years ago, who if they all voted as a bloc, could elect a complete council slate.
More than 10 per cent of the people who could vote in civic elections four years from now don’t even live here now. What brings them here? What makes them want to stay?
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email email@example.com.