Our new St. Albert city council has only been in office for eight months, but they’ve been pretty busy. They’ve done several good things so far:
• Council changes: Several councillors campaigned on having council focus on governance role, instead of administration. They have kept their promises, as this council’s meetings generally seem shorter than their predecessors. Council also moved the starting time ahead one hour, making it somewhat easier for the public to attend and present at meetings. Mayor Cathy Heron has also worked to make council meetings more inclusive, reminding people that insults and attacks are not tolerated.
• Indigenous relations: Council has reached out to St. Albert’s Indigenous community to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and raised flags in council chambers to honour St. Albert’s Métis heritage and our being part of Treaty 6. These are important steps in recognizing the rights of Indigenous people in Canada and ensuring that they are respected.
• Spending changes: Council has implemented a new budgeting process to spend tax dollars more efficiently. They have also worked to keep tax increases low, shaving this year’s projected tax increase by nearly half, and placed a cap on public art spending. Several councillors also spoke during budget debates about needing to focus spending on core needs rather than “nice to have” items. Other councillors talked about not delaying capital projects, which are exactly what the City should be spending public dollars on.
While council has done several things right, they’ve also done some things wrong:
• Pre-registration to address city council: Some public speakers now have to register several days in advance if they want to speak to council. It’s meant to let the city staff prepare for what people have to say, but they don’t always have time to prepare. A better solution might be just to advise the public that the city can address their points better when it has time to review what they want to say in advance. That way, the public can speak freely, but they’re responsible for ensuring that the city can give them an informed response.
• Electricity franchise fee: The proposed electricity franchise fee has been panned by everyone from the business community to the public school system to the Gazette. Businesses and schools have both said that the fee will make things significantly harder for them. No one I’ve seen outside City Hall seems to think the fee is a good idea.
• Library plebiscite: Despite the branch library plebiscite being defeated, several councillors want to continue with it, justifying it by saying that the public told them they want a library, just not for those specific costs. Council might have a point if the plebiscite’s original wording had been used, but the plebiscite was reworded to become a simple yes/no question on the library. Several of the same councillors who want to continue with the library were involved in changing the wording. Now that the plebiscite was defeated, they’re trying to backtrack despite the public being very clear on the issue.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.