The release of the Red Deer Vital Signs report this week should be seen as the unofficial kickoff of the 2010 municipal election campaign.
A year from now, Red Deer voters will go to the polls to elect a new city council. The choices the voters make will be influenced by how the candidates respond to the issues and how they express their vision of the future of this community.
Two years ago, in the wake of the release of the first Vital Signs report, Red Deer city council candidates referred to the report during forums and in written material to voters. They were in the heart of the campaign, and they were looking for ways to connect with voters and to be informed. But Vital Signs was a new initiative for this community, and perhaps they didn’t have the confidence to use it to guide platforms and policy statements.
Two years later, with three annual Vital Signs reports in hand and a much clearer feeling for the community’s pulse, anyone who is contemplating a run at council next fall should be well equipped to talk to voters. The report is compiled from a local online survey (the response this year was so strong that the foundation extended the deadline), Statistics Canada data, municipal and other census material, information from the provincial government and local organizations.
Vital Signs is a national initiative with community roots. Similar reports are prepared in a number of cities across the country. In Red Deer, as elsewhere, it is produced by the community foundation.
The Red Deer and District Community Foundation report this year provides a snapshot of our most critical issues (Note: the No. 2 issue on the list is health care, which is not within the scope of city council to influence):
• Crime, law, order and public safety: 48 per cent of all respondents said this is Red Deer’s most important issue (the No. 1 issue on the list). According to the report, Red Deer’s violent crime rate is 26 per cent above the national average and 5.3 per cent above the provincial average. The local property crime rate is similarly skewed (43 per cent above the national rate and 13 per cent above the provincial rate). And despite regular emphasis on policing during annual city budget discussions, our police officers per 100,000 population ratio remains well below national and provincial averages.
• Poverty, housing and hunger: the No. 3 issue on the list, it was cited by 45.4 per cent of the respondents. The EveryOne’s Home report released this week lays out a five-year plan to end homelessness in Red Deer. It is aggressive, thorough and will be costly. It will take commitment and leadership. According to Vital Signs, about 11 per cent of Red Deer families live in poverty. Hundreds of people live on the streets in Red Deer. And the Red Deer Food Bank is facing record demand for its services.
A number of other issues are also raised, including transportation (encompassing public transit, road quality, bicycle access and parking); leadership; cost of living, public debt and taxes (surely as interwoven as any three issues could be); social services; recreation and culture; environment and green space; and facilities. Each, on its own, deserves the kind of thorough, articulate analysis that should be front and centre during a municipal election.
The issues that figure prominently in Vital Signs 2009 will not fade from public consciousness, and a year from now voters will want creative, practical and informed answers to the questions those issues raise.
Let the council race begin.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.