Building consensus

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The election is over, and we have a new council, particularly a new Mayor. The new council has many issues it needs to figure out, many of which were discussed during the campaign. Perhaps the biggest challenge they have to face, though, is deciding what constitutes core spending that the City should focus our tax dollars on, and which are merely “nice to haves” that are not essential to St. Albert.

The discussion of core and non-essential spending has been one St. Albert has been wrestling with for years. A lot of the support for candidates like Cam MacKay and Sheena Hughes, both in this election and in previous ones, is based on the frustration many residents have felt about spending on what they consider non-essential things. These include purchases like the Steinhauer sculptures behind St. Albert Place, the branch library, the roundabout on Ste. Anne Street, the trees on the boulevard on St. Albert Trail, and the final costs of some of the City’s past projects, including the feeling that the City is always trying for the ‘gold standard’ for recreation and other projects, even though they could have gotten something just as useful for less money. This was the primary point the St. Albert Taxpayers Association tried to make when it was active.

Many people, on the other hand, feel that such projects improve the city’s quality of life for its residents. Recreational facilities give people more opportunity to interact and stay in shape. The supporters of the branch library have highlighted its potential for everything from community building to helping people develop their education. Public art is meant to beautify the city. Supporters of these projects feel they’re just as essential to the city as our roads and sewers.

The election campaign revealed that these divisions still exist in St. Albert, despite our progress on many other issues. Besides the criticisms of spending made by some of the candidates at the debate forum, the debate over the branch library had an impassioned campaign supporting it, and a petition of thousands of residents opposing it. Unfortunately, the election also revealed just how deep these divisions run, with everything from sign vandalism to vicious personal attacks on social media directed at different candidates.

Despite that, there are signs of common ground on what constitutes core spending in St. Albert. No one seems to complain when the city spends money to assist people with particular needs, such as AISH recipients, seniors or lower-income recipients. The criticisms made of St. Albert Transit during the election had more to do with how it has been operated, rather than the idea that we should be providing transit services. Nor do many people seem to mind the money we have spent maintaining our walking trails.

We have something to build on for the next four years, but our new council has its work cut out in trying to build a bigger consensus in St. Albert.

What happens next is entirely up to them.

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Jared Milne