Mayor Ken Johnston spoke to participants at the CommUnity Power of One event on March 19, 2022, at Red Deer Polytechnic. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Johnston: Uniting our community

Hello, once again Red Deerians and thank you for taking the time to read my monthly updates. Thank you to the Red Deer Advocate for providing this outlet for City Council and I to continue to be transparent and open with you, our cherished citizens.

This month, as spring approaches and we all feel a bit of a renewal and refresh, I remain optimistic about what’s to come. I am optimistic to what the new season will bring, and hopefully sustain, but I also want to take some time to talk about something that is very important to me, as your Mayor, and I believe to all of our residents.

Red Deer is fortunate to be home to people from incredibly diverse backgrounds, whether Indigenous, settled, or new to Canada. Not only that, we are so fortunate to also have many extraordinary community organizations working towards a better tomorrow.

I have had the opportunity over the last several months to sit down with many of these organizations, and I am completely overwhelmed by the compassion, the dedication, and the humanity of the people of our community working towards inclusion.

As a municipality and as a Council, we are committed to working with our local multicultural organizations to understand, support and identify what we can do to discourage discrimination and build a more inclusive community.

Our communities, our economy and our culture are richer and stronger because of our diversity. There is a huge economic benefit to a diverse workforce, and immigration is very important to our economic recovery. On behalf of City Council, I have been meeting with local community organizations to hear their stories, concerns, and ideas for how we can better work together to make Red Deer more inclusive, safe, and welcoming.

Thank you to each and every one of the organizations and people I have had the pleasure of sitting down with over the last few months. I have had the utmost pleasure of speaking with members of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society, Urban Aboriginal Voices, UBUNTU, members of our Sikh, Ukrainian, African, and Hindu communities, to name just a few. You have all welcomed me, and I have so appreciated our conversations.

We are working to find new ways we can more actively help people understand why our differences should be celebrated, not diminished. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

I care so much about this community, it is why I threw my hat into the Mayoral ring, and when I say I care about the community, I really mean every single person.

I know I don’t have the same experiences in life as many of you. I have walked a path that is one without bias and filled with privilege as a white male, but I want to listen. I want to learn, and I want to be able to support all citizens in conversation. I want to take what I learn and grow as a leader and as a human being.

I don’t know everything, I don’t know what many in our community have faced, and that’s ok. I can’t know – but I look to our amazing community members to teach me. To teach all of us. So, I humbly ask for your patience with me, as a new Mayor of what I know to be the greatest city in Alberta.

I know as a new Council we are expected to hit the ground running, and in many ways, we have, but I am here to say I am also going to walk along side you. I am going to walk, listen and learn as I navigate the landscape of the city as a whole.

We stand with you. We support you – every single one of you. We will do everything we can to look inside our organization and the community to evaluate what changes can be made. Red Deer has a vision to be a vibrant, healthy, and diverse city that supports a welcoming and inclusive community where everyone feels safe and can fully participate in community life.

The City of Red Deer is a signatory to the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities (CIM) and has been since 2013. As a signatory of CIM, The City agrees to improve practices to promote social inclusion, establish policies to eradicate all forms of racism and discrimination, and promote human rights and diversity.

Whether that be through providing facilitation and capacity building, partnering on initiatives like the Orange Ribbon Campaign, the Proud to be Your Neighbour Campaign or through financial support to events like the CommUnity the Power of One event held this month, or the incredible International Pow Wow event held in Red Deer last year. We are committed to working collaboratively to build a community that celebrates diversity and creates inclusivity.

I implore all members of our community to do the same. To listen and learn, always. To be a good neighbour, because I truly believe that the simple act of getting to know your neighbours, near and far, builds community and resilience.

Diversity is a human strength. We need to identify and address barriers to participation and be skilled at working in an inclusive and respectful manner with each other and the community.

Sadly, discrimination does exist in Red Deer and the entire community is needed to stop it. Many people are unwilling to accept that racism exists in our area – if they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem, then it is impossible to make efforts to change.

We all need to be allies. And we, at The City of Red Deer, commit to be allies to our community and to our employees. We are listening. We are learning. We welcome residents from Red Deer and Central Alberta to show solidarity in our community and around the world who, for far too long, have experienced racism.

We stand with you. We support you. We will do everything we can to look inside our organization and the community to evaluate what changes can be made. We, as a community, can come together and support each other in a peaceful, respectful, and safe way.

We have all opened our eyes wider to the realities many face and look forward to working with our local community groups, our great people of Red Deer and our amazing employees to put an end to systemic racism in Central Alberta.

As a Council, and an organization, we are taking steps to do more listening, more learning and having more conversations. Whether it be by taking courses as we have on learning more about Indigenous history and issues in our country, to sitting down with the people in our community who are fighting this fight every day.

I encourage all Red Deerians to listen. To have conversations and to challenge each other to envision and work towards a peaceful community where harmony is a result of diversity. That is my vision, and I know we can get there, together.

Ken Johnston is the Mayor of Red Deer.