Vision with commitment
Two years into its three-year mandate, the current version of Red Deer city council has begun to firmly establish its legacy — for better or worse.
From the perspective of the electorate, that’s exactly the way it should be, as we head to the next municipal election a year from now. And if the province’s intention to establish four-year terms for municipal councils becomes reality, it is even more critical that voters understand who they elected, and why.
While voters need to evaluate members of council on all facets of their job, including how they deal with complaints about potholes, we most fundamentally need to understand their vision of the big picture. And we need to know that they have the necessary skill to both explain that vision and shepherd it through the political process.
What do councillors see in Red Deer’s future, and how will they manage the growth so that plan is both shared and transparent?
We need to understand that while the nuts and bolts of city operation rests with administration and staff, the direction is — or should be — set by council. Certainly, staff are on the front lines, establishing the framework for operations, but the endorsement of that structure, and the vision behind those plans, must come from city council.
So decisions like Monday’s refusal of the native friendship centre and low-cost housing in Clearview Ridge is crucial to understanding not just what council envisions for Red Deer, but also how this group gets the job done.
In this case, and a few others lately, the vision showed far more clarity and promise than the execution. The stumbling blocks, it turned out, were in the details: although the city had the land, and a vision, for Clearview Ridge, it was never shared through the area structure plan with people who bought or built houses in the new subdivision.
The Clearview North Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan does not identify a four-acre site for multi-family or affordable housing development.
Hundreds of families made huge financial decisions on new homes based on that plan. Whether you agree with or are appalled by the neighbours’ opposition to an affordable housing project and a native friendship centre, we all need to understand that forcing the project down their throats was unacceptable.
The city has been working with the Native Friendship Centre Society since 2008 on a plan for affordable housing. And the land in question was given to the city by the province in July 2011, with the stipulation that it must be used for affordable housing for at least 15 years.
But it was not until this fall that the proposal for rezoning was brought to the public.
The inevitable decision — to abandon the project — was the only reasonable response to public outcry, given the circumstances.
It is not, however, in anyone’s best interests to believe that every time a vocal group wants to push council, council will back down.
Too often, a vocal minority will try to hijack the process. The bike lane pilot project is the most recent, and most obvious, example: despite solid planning, an inclusive process, and plenty of advance warning of what was just a experiment, council didn’t see the project through.
Certainly, questions lingered in the wake of the decision to refuse the francophone school project in Anders. The site was zoned for a school, but not a high school (the modest-sized francophone school would have included all grade levels, including high school). That caveat was enough to send the project elsewhere.
And we should all be more than a little curious about what decision-making process council chooses (on Oct. 29) to sort out the fluoride issue.
Certainly, this council has made great strides in establishing a framework for inclusive city planning going forward. The Strategic Direction project that lays out distinct charters (including such subjects as Economy, People, Design, Movement, Identity, Safety and Dialogue) shows the desire to embrace a careful governance model.
But we have seen flaws in the planning process recently.
And we have also seen instances where, despite careful planning, council didn’t have the will to follow through.
In the next year, as we watch this council, we should also be evaluating the players who intend to stay on for another four years. And we should be examining their ability to express and pursue their goals.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.