As candidates the one consistent problem they heard Red Deerians face is crime, now as councillors, it will be a front-burner issue.
A day after Michael Dawe, Tanya Handley, Dianne Wyntjes, Lawrence Lee, Buck Buchanan, Ken Johnston, Frank Wong and Vesna Higham were elected to council and Tara Veer was reelected mayor, the 2017-2021 Red Deer council will start working on a number of issues.
But crime and public safety was a common concern among voters throughout the campaign.
Depending on who you ask, the approach to combatting crime in Red Deer could take varying approaches. Wyntjes and Handley talked about addressing a root cause of crime through an addictions or mental health treatment facility.
“There are many different moving parts to it, it’s not just who holds the police contract,” said Handley, adding she hoped justice timeliness will be helped by the new justice centre, which is still in the planning phase.
“A treatment centre for Central Alberta would be a big help, to see the root causes of crime reduced in our community. It’s one thing we really lack here.”
When Wyntjes first won in 2010, the issue of an addictions or mental health facility was on her agenda. However, she noted the city is limited in how it can address the issue as the centre fall under provincial jurisdiction and the city would have to advocate for the facility.
“It doesn’t even necessarily have to be in the City of Red Deer, but in the Central Alberta community,” said Wyntjes. “It’s long overdue for families and for me it’s about quality of life for those families facing those challenges.”
Higham, who previously served a term on Red Deer city council from 2001 to 2004, said the crime issue was closely connected to the opioid crisis and the numerous fentanyl-related overdose deaths. She felt it was clear from the campaign there is a desire for a municipal police force.
“That needs to be talked about very quickly on this new council,” said Higham. “What sort of appetite is there for transitioning quickly to our own municipal force.”
Buchanan said the crime issue isn’t a “made in Red Deer problem,” but said they had to get a handle on the issue.
“It’s beyond ridiculous,” he said. “The members (RCMP Officers) are getting frustrated, the justice system is getting frustrated and people are getting frustrated.”
Dawe said he’d be interested in revisiting the hybrid policing model proposed by Wyntjes and strongly supported by Buchanan. It was defeated by a 3-3 tie vote.
“The status quo simply isn’t an option. We’ll have to look at new innovative ways of approaching it,” said Dawe. “I’d like to bring hybrid idea forward again and see what would it cost, what are the practicalities and go from there.
“When I was door knocking crime was the single most mentioned issue. It wasn’t a matter of people saying ‘I heard that or I read that,’ they were telling me stories about things they had experienced personally. You have a right to feel safe in your community and have your property protected.”
Johnston said council will have to focus on the annual policing plan, but he will push hard for property crime to be a major part of the plan.
“We’re going to need to partner with the private sector a bit more,” he said. “When I say that I mean property crime around apartment buildings. There has to be a better way for us.”
Lee favoured a more collaborative to how to proceed, saying he wants to hear from the community about what they want council to do about crime and public safety.
Other immediate issues include what to do with marijuana dispensaries and supervised consumption site. With recreational marijuana set to be legalized in less than 10 months, zoning regulations will be a tool the city can use to decide where and how many dispensaries may be opened. They will also have to take a similar approach to how to regulate a potential supervised consumption site.
In the middle of the new term, Red Deer will host the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Councillors spoke about the need to consider what happens after the games with the new infrastructure built to support the event.
Wong said he wants to continue his fight to bring both commercial and residential development to the north end of the city. He hopes with the addition of Higham to council, who also lives north of the Red Deer River, it will bring another voice advocating for that part of the city.
Results are unofficial and will be made official on Friday. Councillors will be sworn in on Oct. 23 at 5 p.m. at Red Deer City Hall.