Green light for seniors committee

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St. Albert seniors will officially have a way to advise city council on policy issues.

Councillors voted 5-2 Monday night to establish a seniors advisory committee, with Mayor Cathy Heron and Coun. Natalie Joly voting against the motion. The new group, which comes with a price tag of $50,000, will advise council on issues seniors face, such as transit, bylaws, affordable housing, educational programs, library services and recreation facilities.

Two local seniors came to council to encourage the group to establish the committee, while a representative from Seniors United Now spoke against the new group.

Dick Tansey said there are already effective advocacy groups in St. Albert that are giving a voice to seniors.

Tansey noted the establishment of the committee may displace those existing groups while dumping a phenomenal amount of work onto a council committee.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said while there are many great organizations currently in existence, for him the debate came down to the difference between groups who specifically advocate on seniors issues and the committee, which would provide advice to council about those issues.

“From my perspective, this is about gathering a group of individuals who can speak on behalf of this age demographic in relation to the issues that affect our cohort,” Brodhead said.

“I think it brings great value. That doesn’t dismiss any of the value that the other groups bring forward.”

Coun. Ray Watkins, who brought the bylaw forward and campaigned on the issue during the last municipal election, said the group isn’t looking to silence any existing seniors groups but rather work with them. He noted seniors advisory groups exist across the country and help to give seniors a voice.

Heron and Joly both voted against the bylaw. They said they thought there are more cost-effective ways to consult seniors without the $50,000 cost associated with an official committee.

“I have received many unsolicited messages from resident seniors who feel this committee is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and staff and council time,” Joly said.

The duo said there are currently well-established and strong groups in place in the city which advocate for seniors issues and give the demographic a voice.

Seniors United Now organized an all-candidates forum for the 2017 municipal election that almost all of the council members participated in, Joly said, adding the demographic has been able to give feedback into many municipal issues including the complete streets plan, affordable housing and recreational engagement.

Along with a strong seniors voice in the community already, the duo said they would like to see committees be issues-based, rather than demographic-based. Heron said many of the issues facing seniors, such as mobility, disabilities and affordable housing, are also challenges for people in every demographic.

Coun. Ken MacKay wondered whether the establishment of a seniors committee would also mean other groups might need to be represented by their own committee, although in the end he decided there was value to the committee.

Heron agreed, noting the LGBTQ community, landed immigrant community and persons with disabilities communities all have less representation than seniors.

“Unfortunately, this conversation has turned into a little bit of us versus them,” Heron said.

She, along with Joly, said she would like to see seniors better integrated into the already-established council committees.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.