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Reader question: Resident feedback

One reader asks candidates in St. Albert's municipal election how they would weigh resident feedback versus what they personally view as best for the community.

Gazette reader David Clayton asks: It is entirely possible that during the next four years an issue will come before council where residents, through a survey or non-binding plebiscite, show a preference for a certain course of action. If your values or available data supports a different course of action, what would you do? Would you support what you see as providing benefit to the community as a whole, even if it is against the wishes of a smaller group of residents?

All St. Albert municipal candidates had 60 words to answer the question.

Mayoral candidates:

Bob Russell: I believe in research and good, solid data and therefore would support a project or program that I felt would benefit the whole community.

David Letourneau: Elected official are responsible for representing the community’s best interests. Using supporting evidence and public preference are what elected officials should be using during the decision-making process. Safety trumps popular opinion (for example residential speed limits of 40km/h) and popular opinion should be respected when it comes to amenities the community states it values (for example another aquatic facility). 

Cathy Heron: There are many factors that elected officials need to weigh into their decision making. Yes, surveys and plebiscites are important, but so is community need, expert advice, and data. Council has access to all of this and needs to find a balance. If I personally disagree but all other factors point to a particular direction, I will support that direction.

Angela Wood: If we have information that could influence the decision, then the public should be made aware of it. The public should be educated in the same manner to make informed decisions. When we ask for public consultation, we need to be prepared to act on the responses we get and be prepared to explain why so that expectations are well managed.

Council candidates:

Wally Popik: If elected I would be supporting the benefit of the whole. Supporting small interest groups at the expense of the whole is not what proper representation is in my opinion. We have too much history of that in the past and it only leads to extra costs and takes away from doing priorities.

Wes Brodhead: My intent is always to seek the best outcome for the community on any issue. Understanding what is best includes hearing the collective will of the citizens of St. Albert. A lesson learned by hard experience is to ensure any question being asked of the citizens is clear and not open to interpretation.

Louis Sobolewski: My job is to represent the wishes of the citizens of St. Albert. If during the plebiscite I express my opinion and the people don't agree, then so be it. My job is to make people's wishes happen. If I cannot do what the people want on moral grounds, then I will resign. 

Donna Kawahara: City council should do their best when data supports a course of action that residents clearly support. I believe city council needs to listen to residents and work for the whole city. If there are circumstances that do not allow for this to happen, city council has a responsibility to explain to the residents why, and look for potential alternatives.

Mike Ferguson: Yes. I would follow the data, or values. Consensus is "no" to the solar farm. If parents asked their children, "Is the planet dying?" the answer they get is the future consensus, not the present consensus. So, yes. Values and data over consensus, if I have to.

Sheena Hughes: I was the only councillor to vote against the branch library after two-thirds of voters did not support it in the last election’s plebiscite. Council should accept objective and requested public feedback as seen through the plebiscite and ensure the resulting decisions do not create harm. A principle of democracy is ensuring that majority rules while respecting minority rights.

Rachel Jones: Whether a majority or a minority of residents wish or prefer a certain course of action, they should always be listened to with respect, as everyone’s opinions matter. I believe that, as a community leader, I must make decisions with the whole community in mind, based on all available data, information, and feedback — that is our responsibility. 

Kevan Jess: Council should not ask questions if it already has an answer. If a decision relates to public safety, then surveys are inappropriate. Otherwise, I would carefully consider the results and their statistical breadth and strength. Those factors both being strong, unless the decision ran counter to my core values or I was party to additional information, I would respect the voice of the people. 

Shawn LeMay: Ethics MUST always go before courage of conviction in governing sound decision-making. Ethics means always doing the right thing all the time, and that equates to letting your own preferences go, in support of the popular vote.

Ken MacKay: A councillor must be as informed as possible about the topic or issue and be willing to listen to both sides of the debate before arriving at any decision, but ultimately, councillors have the duty to consider the welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole, not based on our own personal values or popular opinion.

Leonard Wilkins: If a majority of the residents are for or against something, I feel that it is the duty of city council to follow the will of the people as long as there is sufficient funding to do so. For example, if the majority of people want a new swimming pool, but they don’t want taxes to go up, then there are conflicting desires. We need to listen to the will of the people.

Gilbert Cantin: Once elected I will work for all constituents and not for myself. In democracy there is a rule that needs to be respected at all times, it is 50 per cent plus one. I will not be there for my personal preferences but to represent the majority. 

Natalie Joly: Council is expected to research proposals extensively, listen to experts, and consider information that isn’t available publicly — land sale information and business interests in particular — so they’ll be able to make decisions based on information the public doesn’t have. I will continue to vote based in the best interests of the community, even when my vote might not be popular.

Joseph Trapani: In the past we have seen plebiscites sent to the city council and found that the community says one thing and council did the other, ie. the solar farm project, library, new pool, and so on. I believe plebiscites should be binding, because we are elected to serve the people of the City of St. Albert. If they say "no" then as far as I am concerned the answer and vote will be "no."

Shelley Biermanski: If council is being pro-active and forthright with citizens, plebiscites should not come up. Early availability of all data should maintain balance of agreement in council. I believe answers can be found to support all citizens.

Sandy Clark: I believe that each decision must be weighed on its own merits, and I could not give a definitive answer without knowing the basis for the survey or non-binding plebiscite and all of the information and issues surrounding the potential decision before council. All decisions must be in the best interests of the future of St. Albert.

Mike Killick: Maintaining my values and decision making supported by data are critical, otherwise decisions are just reacting to which way the political wind is blowing. Ultimately, I am here to listen to and serve all residents. I will serve our community as a whole. By listening to all viewpoints, often a solution can be found that meets everyone's expectations.   

Ross Guffei: As an elected representative of the people of St. Albert, I will vote based on the direction they give me. The reason I’m running for council is because the past elected officials have failed in their duties to represent the people that voted them in. It’s time for a serious change in attitude at City Hall and I want to be there to achieve that change.

Jennifer Cote: Individuals elected to public office should expect to be in this situation. It is pivotal that councillors remember their role: to serve the wishes of the community, not their own. Democracy recognizes the will of the majority. Therefore, we must encourage respectful dialogue and facilitate conversations that entertain all points of view so we can ensure the majority are well-informed. 

Isadore Stoyko: Yes the community as a whole is the one we answer to. There is a mechanism for outlining your disagreement — to do a survey and/or plebiscite, but if the issue is for the greater good of the whole versus a minority interest, the larger community interest will take precedence. Even if my opinion is overturned, majority rules. 

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