St. Albert is often described as a community where residents enjoy a high quality of life, but that does not mean all residents in the municipality share equal experiences or needs.
Leaders in cities around Canada have a part to play in dismantling systemic racism and ableism, and ensuring vulnerable populations are dully considered and cared for through initiatives such as affordable housing, easy access to transportation, and an equitable justice system.
The Gazette asked all candidates in the Oct. 18 election how they would support underserved communities in St. Albert, such as seniors, people living with a disability, racialized people, and the unhoused.
Mayoral candidates had 120 words to answer the question:
Angela Wood: In order to properly support underserved communities in St. Albert with any degree of effectiveness, we must first take the time to find out what the specific needs are. It would be prudent through assessments or other means to determine as a municipality what the needs are and if it is something that we can provide a solution to, or does it extend beyond the scope of what our municipality can do. The question as stated is broad, as such, requires some preliminary work to determine actual needs and until that is done, challenges the ability to answer with any level of accuracy. We need to determine what each of these groups need in order to improve their quality of life and what the impacts will be to those receiving it.
Cathy Heron: Big important question. We must understand that we are all responsible for each other, as this is the joy of living in our city. When it comes to housing, I want to donate city-owned land to builders who commit to affordable housing. I am determined to follow through with the recommendations coming out of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness to build a youth transitional home. I am also committed to bringing a youth mental-health hub to St. Albert. We have an approved Universal Accessibility Plan that is guiding us to build accessible playgrounds, make city facilities accessible, as well as provide transportation options. Bring law enforcement, social services, and racialized communities together to address race-based violence.
David Letourneau: I believe there are a few things that the city can do to address underserved people in the community. First, this pandemic has brought to light the need for accessible Wi-Fi for our residents. I believe it is important for the city to extend free Internet service in public places for residents and visitors. Secondly, the city has significant land holdings that could be used to support underserved communities, many of which are downtown. I believe we should be actively seeking out partnerships with developers to increase density and reduce costs in our downtown. Third, and most importantly, is to engage the community in a meaningful way to actively seek out blind spots and find solutions to address them.
Bob Russell: I am not sure what The Gazette reporter means by "underserved.” I have spoken to senior citizens about busing and I have some questions that I have passed on to administration and I intend to ask the new council to look at issues that affect the disabled so that seniors can access services. One of the first steps I will take is to have the public area for presentation to council in council chambers torn down and reconstructed so seniors can access the area with someone else and the provision of room for documents. I recently presented a brief to council and a senior lady sitting next to me in the gallery decided not to present after watching me try to get down the narrow steps with my brief case and a bottle of water.
Council candidates had 80 words to answer the question:
Rachel Jones: Accessibility and inclusivity are high priorities for me. Some of my closest friends and supporters are seniors — they are incredible sources of wisdom and motivation. Disabilities can be visible or invisible. Racism can exist where we think it does not. Seniors may struggle with isolation and finding community. I will watch my words and language, listen with intent, and work to remove barriers. From my two years with the Edmonton for All working group, this is close to my heart.
Wes Brodhead: The number one action I would support to serve the disadvantaged in our community is to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing. The construction of the proposed affordable housing complex in the downtown would be a start. Second, I would expand the travel options for Handi-bus users into Edmonton, connecting more health-care-related stops with direct service from St. Albert. Finally, I would advocate for continued pursuit of housing-first options for the unhoused in community.
Kevan Jess: I would work to ensure that perspectives of all sectors of the community are utilized during decision-making processes by staff/council and, where possible, members of identified sectors are directly involved in or consulted on matters impacting them. Some of these groups, appropriately, have some representation within city mechanisms, but others' needs and concerns will need to be sought out by both elected officials and staff members. This lens of community and neighbours needs to be reinvigorated within St. Albert if we are to maintain/enhance the small-town feel residents seek and avoid becoming just a suburb of Edmonton.
Louis Sobolewski: I would first identify what the barriers are that are preventing these communities from receiving the services that are available to them. Once the barriers have been identified, I will work on removing those barriers. At the top of my list is helping seniors live in their homes without worrying about how they will pay their taxes.
Mike Killick: The city hired a new social housing manager and will need to work with the various groups on strategies to address their specific needs. I believe it is important to support our seniors with affordable housing options and services. They have and continue to contribute so much (volunteering, etc.) to St. Albert and want to continue to live here to be able to provide support to their families and ultimately receive support back from their families.
Ross Guffei: We have to review the existing policies regarding seniors, the unhoused, racialized, and people with disabilities. New policies have to be developed based on input from each of the groups affected. As with other issues, my platform is to provide solutions that reflect and respect the needs of existing residents.
Donna Kawahara: Marginalized individuals have many needs that go without recognition. Ensuring access to buildings for wheelchairs/walkers and ensuring curbs and sidewalks are in good repair is important for those with physical disabilities. Providing sources for nutrition, such as the food bank, is vital for those unhoused or living below the poverty line. Ensuring individuals who are experiencing racial crimes have access to police services. Bringing issues to the forefront and working with residents to find solutions for social issues is key.
Mike Ferguson: I don't believe these communities are underserved. The taxpayer is the real underserved group.
Isadore Stoyko: To listen to concerns that impede their way of life and support programs to enhance and improve, where possible in the city, programs or policies to give them a voice. Example: free senior bus passes. Looking to improve disability mobility within city facilities are some things to look at.
Sandy Clark: For a start, I would support initiatives for a safe, diverse, inclusive, and accessible city. I would encourage affordable housing development, which may take bylaw changes to address things like parking and density, which directly affect the viability of these built forms. I would seek forward-thinking ways to encourage multi-generation residences through innovative built forms. I would encourage secondary or garden suites for use by seniors or young adults or as rental/mortgage helper suites to make affordability more achievable.
Jennifer Cote: St. Albert offers a range of services to our underserved population through the FCSS-funded community program. We must ensure funds are being effectively redistributed by maintaining dialogue with service providers and service recipients. To properly serve these communities, we must understand their needs. We could do more to support racialized populations. Our diversity should be celebrated. City- and community-organized events that showcase and educate the population about different cultures and their traditions would be a great start.
Joseph Trapani: I believe that all residents should be treated with equality and equity. It’s important to ensure that all people are afforded the same resources and opportunities regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, or disability. I would invite under-represented groups to speak to city council regarding the challenges they face and what we can do to achieve equity and equality for all St. Albert residents. I personally have people in my family circle that identify in these underrepresented groups, which is one of the reasons I chose to run for city council.
Shawn LeMay: Listen to them — listen. I am receiving so many emails from residents who describe themselves as marginalized and/or underserved. I will ensure that St. Albert is, and will always be, a community for all, full of respect, tolerance, and acceptance. I want to empower and engage focus groups if and where applicable. I want to make sure every person knows and feels that council will listen to you and hear your message, so that we can all be champions of change and action.
Shelley Biermanski: A society is only as strong as how it treats its weakest. Seniors have been hit hard over the last few years. I would like to see care facilities more accountable. With current societal problems there will be many more jobless and homeless. Lockdown rules have people divided and many vulnerable people are left alone. I would like to see access and location to assistance more advertised and promoted. A volunteer community help line could be helpful as well.
Sheena Hughes: Government should not make the mistake of assuming the correct solutions without first defining the problems accurately, and each of these groups mentioned may have different issues to overcome. We need to have more open dialogue to determine the unmet needs of each group. After understanding their challenges, we can find solutions that are within the scope of a municipal government, or advocate on their behalf to higher levels of government to work together toward solutions that will positively affect their lives.
Gilbert Cantin: Our society made the choice of taking care of everyone, like our free health-care system. It should not be different if you are older, of another race, or homeless. Since I have lived in St. Albert, I have tried to do my part. A few times, I invited homeless people to sit at my table and paid for their lunch. We should take care of each other because we never know what struggle another person went through and you can make a difference.
Ken MacKay: I am committed to ensuring that St. Albert is a welcoming and inclusive community where all residents feel safe, respected, and comfortable being themselves and expressing all aspects of their identities. I will continue to support community-led initiatives to ensure that cultural identity remains strong and is viewed as an asset. I will continue strategies that increase housing diversity in St. Albert and ensure that affordable housing is available to residents of all needs and stages of their lives.
Leonard Wilkins: In my recent discussion with an unhoused person, I was informed that too often we try to solve the problems these communities experience from the outside. My support would be to work with each community to understand their true needs and work to provide solutions that are tailored to meet those needs.
Natalie Joly: I’m excited about council’s decision to donate land for affordable housing, and I hope that we have an announcement about a project soon. As the chair of St. Albert’s provincially-designated housing body, and through my previous role with the North Edmonton Seniors Association, I’m deeply committed to seeing seniors supported in their community of choice. I’m also vocal about my support of the St. Albert Universal Accessibility Plan, in addition to UNESCO’s Toolkit for Inclusive Municipalities in Canada and Beyond.
Wally Popik: St. Albert presently supports these groups, and I would continue that support through conversations with the groups, the public, provincial, and federal governments. That would help to identify the main concerns, priorities, and budget requirements. These discussions would also reveal what is workable and what is not.