In a year like no other Red Deer was forced to confront the shocking murder of a much-loved doctor, racist violence, and a pandemic that took a physical, emotional, economic and mental toll.
The community was tested like it rarely has before — and will continue to be in 2021.
“When we think of 2020 I think this year will stand out for each and everyone of us in different ways,” said Mayor Tara Veer in a year-end interview.
“Some people have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus. Some people struggled with their health. Some people lived in fear because they’re vulnerable or immune-compromised.
“And many businesses and households struggled financially because of the multiple shutdowns throughout the year.”
For many the pandemic served as an “awakening” of how quickly things can change, she said.
“It’s amazing how much we took for granted on a personal level.”
As the vaccines are rolled out next year, Red Deer is working with all of the other municipalities in central zone to ensure the region’s voice is heard as the province begins distributing vaccines and steps up testing.
“I think it is absolutely critical that we are all treated equitably as Albertans and that their prioritization is equally applied across the province.”
Veer said the region has fared better than others, which she credits to an effective emergency response and the actions of residents to respond to the crisis.
The murder of Dr. Walter Reynolds, a married father of two young daughters, in his walk-in medical clinic was perhaps the lowest point for Red Deer, said the mayor.
A vigil at City Hall Park drew close to 2,000 people. “That really was a picture of who our community is.”
Violence at an anti-racism rally in the same park in October led to charges against two people and provided an uncomfortable reminder of the intolerance that lurks within the community.
Veer said that she and the city unequivocally denounce and condemn racism.
“The City of Red Deer, we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive community. It is imperative that we model that in our words and our actions and our inner actions.
“I do agree with the sentiment that as a community we need to do more.”
Despite it all, Veer remains optimistic that the city’s residents will eventually emerge from the pandemic and return to a life that will hopefully look more like the one people knew previously.
Veer said maybe hockey’s World Junior Championship set to begin a year from now will be not only a celebration of hockey talent, but of normalcy.
“I think that will be a sun-setting conclusion to 2021,” said Veer. “It will probably be a return to community life in a substantial way.”
The past year was one of challenge, but also of opportunity, said the mayor.
“I do think the pandemic functioned as a catalyst. We used the pandemic to re-calibrate, to challenge the way we were thinking, to challenge the way we were doing business.
“We need to, now more than ever, to be competitive, not just in our region, but certainly in our province and throughout Western Canada.”
Veer said there were a other successes this year. Hospital expansion was approved in the spring, drug treatment courts were announced, provincial funding for a shelter confirmed and the ground-breaking for a new justice centre in the fall.
The city has benefited from a big influx of infrastructure from the federal and provincial governments.
That money will likely sustain the city for two to three years, but Veer has no illusions there could be some tough times ahead as the province wrestles with a deficit that has now topped $21 billion and a debt that has grown to $90 billion.
Other levels of government had made it clear the infrastructure cash, which was fast-tracked during the pandemic, will dry up and future operating and capital grants are likely to be cut back.
“I’m thankful for this short-term window of reprieve for the next 18 months, to two and a half to three years. But beyond that I’m deeply concerned about what that will mean in terms of our infrastructure capacity and our ability to respond to emerging issues on a capital front.
The threat of the province downloading on to municipalities is also a real concern.
“Even though we’ve been expecting it, we know it’s going to be a challenge.
The city has been able to manage with the government funding it has so far but “if there are more surprises from future provincial budgets it will put the city in a very tenuous position.”