New St. Albert council represents diverse priorities: former mayor
Prominent local citizens weigh in on new council
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 06:00 am
St. Albert’s newly-elected council is younger than the outgoing one and shows the diversity of viewpoints of city residents, some prominent local citizens say.
“We’re seeing a council in which predominant numbers are all raised in St. Albert,” said Richard Plain, a former St. Albert mayor, referring to Cathy Heron, Cam MacKay, Gilles Prefontaine and Sheena Hughes.
Those four are all young and well-educated, Plain said, but they’ve also come up through the school system.
Some might be surprised by the addition of Sheena Hughes to council, but Plain noted she was focused on key issues and perhaps had one of the best brochures of all the candidates.
Both Hughes and Heron are young, professionally trained women with young families, something that resonates with many voters, he said.
“They can resonate with a young family, a good place to raise your kids and a lady to represent them that’s intelligent and articulate,” Plain said.
The new council will have two options as they enter budget season, Plain said. They can either “cruise” into 2014 using the budget as presented to them in November, or they can review everything from the ground up.
“If that occurs then there will be an extraordinary amount of work,” Plain said, but then the budget would more closely reflect this new council’s priorities.
Those priorities are diverse, as are views on key policy issues like utilities and taxes, Plain said.
Plain said the councillors’ diverse priorities represent the diversity of the community. Given the makeup of the new council, items like utility rates, planning, taxes, public input and communication might need to be handled differently from now on.
Council will have to almost immediately decide if it wants to proceed with a municipal planning commission, Plain said, noting that should be handled at the organizational meeting if they want to implement one.
Nolan Crouse is now one of the senior municipal leaders in the capital region, Plain pointed out.
“When you get a significant new council, with different visions, which is what happened after the smoke cleared off here in St. Albert, you also have an experienced hand at the helm and that will help I think bring council together,” Plain said.
Plain noted a strong performance from Bob Russell, who came in eighth and was only about 600 votes away from Prefontaine.
Ken Allred, a former St. Albert alderman and MLA, said he’s disappointed that Malcolm Parker, who finished seventh, won’t be back on council. But Allred was pleased to see the rest of the incumbents re-elected.
Shelley Biermanski pulling 45 per cent of the mayoral vote should be noted, Allred said.
“I guess there’s a message there for Nolan; Shelley Biermanski did very well,” Allred said.
The campaign was conducted well, Allred said, but added it seems like it’s more expensive to run than it used to be.
It’s nice to see two women on council, Allred said. Ads run by the St. Albert Think Tank group might have had some impact on the election, he said.
“The issue of tax increases and particularly the utility increases … got a lot of attention,” Allred said. “Taxes have always been a major issue in St. Albert, though probably moreso this time around.”
Neil Korotash, a former St. Albert councillor, expected the opposite – he said he was surprised at how much taxes were an issue in the election.
“Clearly it was a bigger issue than I thought it was,” Korotash said. “I was surprised at the results for Sheena Hughes.”
This new council will have to tackle issues like utility rates nearly straight away, Korotash said.
“I think we’ve got a really young, energetic council,” he said, noting that he was otherwise mostly unsurprised by the results.
As a former councillor, and someone who was elected at 21, Korotash said he doesn’t think St. Albertans set out to deliberately elect a young council.
“I really don’t think that’s the case. I think the candidates that got elected, they’re young, but they’re also smart and they had good platforms and they were out there in the community,” Korotash said.
Tackling the budget right away will be a challenge, Korotash said, and it will be a learning curve to understand how municipal policies can affect the city’s economics. But Korotash is confident council will manage.
“I think we have a pretty smart council here,” Korotash said.
While the last council was reasonably transparent, Korotash said, with many of the successful candidates seeming to be more social media savvy, there might be a change in public communication.
“I think this council might do a little bit more outreach in terms of gathering community input,” he said.
The chair of the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce said it’s exciting to see a young council elected.
“It will be an interesting first year,” said Lynn Carolei.
She thinks the new council will be business friendly. She knows Prefontaine is aware of some of the issues on a “street level.” And she’s interested to see how the rest of council comes forward to see how they can help business in St. Albert.
“It will be an interesting time and we have some ideas that we are working on for council to consider,” Carolei said.