Ken Johnston led by a landslide right out of the starting gate and is “extraordinarily excited” to become Red Deer’s new mayor.
Johnston, a former incumbent city councillor and retired banker, says he’s “overwhelmed” and “humbled” to assume the city’s top office after half of poll results showed him leading by more than 54 per cent of the vote as of 10:45 p.m.
Johnston knows there’s a lot of work to do: His first priority will be revitalizing the downtown, as well as focusing on the local economy. “We need to get the business spirit and drive back.”
Clamping down on crime is another big priority for many Red Deerians, as is finding some workable solution to the homeless shelter dilemma. Johnston was among the minority of councillors who didn’t want to shut down the temporary Cannery Row shelter without having a Plan B in place. He believes council will have to work harder to come up with a reasonable solution for all.
He also wants to bring Red Deerians together in what’s been a very polarized pandemic climate. “I grieve the separation that’s happened over COVID,” said Johnston. “We need to get everybody back to the table.”
Mayoral candidate Jeremy Moore, who got the second highest support, with just over 15 per cent of votes by 10:45 p.m., could not be reached for comment on Monday.
But Buck Buchanan, also a former incumbent city councillor (and retired RCMP officer), conceded defeat. He had attained just over 14 per cent of the vote and thought the margin would have been closer.
“Obviously I am a little disappointed, but the people have spoken and the people are always right,” said Buchanan.
He called it a strange campaign with less face-to-face interaction with voters. Buchanan believes some people might also have held his conduct code complaint against him, but he maintains he was misunderstood when called out for seeming to support pandemic rule breaking.
Buchanan believes Johnston might have been perceived as the more Liberal candidate while he and most of the other contenders were seen as more conservative, and this might have led to a vote split.
But while Buchanan will miss being on council, he said he wishes Johnston all the best in his new role as mayor.
Other mayoral contender Bradley Magee, who got about 10 per cent of the vote, could not be reached for comment. But candidate Dwight Hickey, with four percent, said he was most disappointed that so many incumbents will be back on council.
While Mayor Tara Veer stepped down, a council incumbent will again be mayor. Incumbents will also occupy four of eight council seats. A new councillor appears to be Victor Doerksen, a former Red Deer MLA who had retired years ago. Hickey remembers Doerksen spoke at his school while he was still a young student.
“We need change. What fresh ideas will there be?” he added, stressing that big changes are needed in order to bring large employers that offer good jobs to the city.
Right now Red Deer has a college/polytechnic that turns out “middle-educated” students and yet most jobs available here are either require a very high level of schooling, or are minimum-wage jobs, said Hickey.
‘We have no middle-of-the-road jobs.”
Mayoral candidate James Allen congratulated Johnston on his win.
The total number of eligible voters in Red Deer were 71,475.