Starting a new four-year term, Red Deer city’s just-elected Mayor Ken Johnston plans to ask his council colleagues to look down the road to 2025.
“I’d like to know what they would like to have accomplished” before the next municipal election rolls around, said Johnston. He believes in establishing goals and assessment markers as a way of measuring success.
As for his own main priority, the 67-year-old retired Scotiabank manager said it’s addressing downtown revitalization, including the social housing/homelessness crisis: “I see it as not just a downtown problem, because when our downtown suffers, the whole city suffers…”
Johnston’s election platform centred around making city council more welcoming to businesses and developers who want to eliminate municipal barriers to development.
“We need to be more open at city hall, be more accessible and we need to be repairing some relations,” he said. “We need to put ourselves back on the Alberta landscape as being the city of choice to live and do business.”
Tied to this is providing for Red Deer’s vulnerable citizens, so they aren’t left sleeping in doorways. Johnston acknowledged there had been growing frustration on council “that we didn’t seem to have a lot of options on the table,” regarding relocating the temporary homeless shelter.
But he was among the minority of councillors who voted not to close the Safe Harbour-run facility without having an alternative in place. And Johnston still believes in finding a better solution.
He also wants to focus on ongoing crime-fighting, initiatives, better inclusion for “newcomer communities who want to be able to contribute more to the fabric of Red Deer,” and harder work on Truth and Reconciliation efforts for Indigenous citizens.
The local arts and culture community “wants to take their place at the table,” as well, he added.
Johnston, a father and widower, who just got engaged to his fiancée, retired from banking in 2013. He was first elected to city council in 2017. After a sharp learning curve — Johnston credited outgoing mayor Tara Veer for being “very patient with me” while he was learning the ropes — he participated in a heavy council term.
Councillors had to deal with momentous matters over the last year or two, including fiscal shortfalls at Westerner Park, downtown problems, involving complaints about homeless shelter clients — and the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnston decided to enter this fall’s mayoral race to succeed Veer when she decided not to run again. He said he was “grieved” by all the community division over masking, vaccinations, and other pandemic realities.
“I recognize that people are passionate about their rights,” said Johnston, “but I have been encouraging people to reconsider their approach… I feel we really need a sustained provincial direction because this is a health issue and we need to react to (hospital overcrowding). It’s a matter of public safety.”
Johnston’s campaign messaging appears to have resonated strongly with the public. In Monday night’s election, he won by a landslide 54 per cent of the popular vote over five other challengers, including his former council colleague Buck Buchanan.
Johnston promised to release a strategic plan “shortly” for what he wants to accomplish in this term.