Mayor of Slave Lake
In the coming days I will make an announcement on whether I will run again in the next election.
In thinking about my last seven years I am reminded of how much work we have done and wanted to share that with you.
I have spent seven years on council so far, with the majority of the time as your Mayor. I got into politics because it interested me and I wanted to see our community grow. I thought in 2010 when I put my name in it looked like things were running fairly smoothly and might be a nice easy warm-up to politics.
Roughly six months after being elected, an unthinkable event happened which changed Slave Lake – the Wildfire. We went from a fairly smoothly-functioning council to a crazy intense five years. Councilors put in way more hours than any other part-time council in Canada, trying to deal with a disaster nobody had ever experienced.
It was grueling and took a toll on me mentally and physically. That being said we came together, and we all survived thanks in huge part to our families and those that supported us in our positions.
The other huge factor was the people of this region, who never cease to amaze me. You are a group of people that has strived to make things better and is not afraid to roll up their sleeves to get it done.
Over the last seven years we have seen improvements to many of our parks and facilities. Those investments have been made to the MRC, a new government building and library (built twice) and a new town shop. We recently moved the fire hall, opened the Legacy Centre and a new group of ball diamonds. We made multiple investments in our parks, trees, mowing, and upgrades in other areas to our parks.
Along with improvements to facilities and parks we looked at how we did things. We improved policies and service levels, including snow removal, grass-cutting, utility bills, development and council looked at current bylaws to see which ones made sense and which ones could be rescinded.
During my time I have advocated hard, with the help of all my council, for federal and provincial grants. We have been very successful in the majority of the grants we applied for, which went towards paying for many of the things I discussed earlier in this column.
We were also successful in obtaining grants for other projects, including enhancements to the airport runway and lighting, $6 million for a sewer upgrade, and as I write this, a $1-million grant is going to upgrades to the Multi-Rec Centre.
One of my other passions is health care. Over the last seven years we recruited physicians, increased physiotherapy, toured nursing staff, invested over $450,000 in new healthcare equipment, recruited a private ultrasound clinic to town and worked with Northern Lakes College to expand their health programs and start training paramedics here. We also advocated to keep our medevac plane in this community.
In the last seven years we have learnt a lot about rail safety, and I’m proud to say that we were successful in lobbying CN to invest $500-million in upgrades to our rail lines to make them more safe.
After the fire, council had to navigate through the recovery process, and did approximately $30-million worth of infrastructure recovery. We had to fight hard with the Province of Alberta to get that financial support, but we were successful.
With the help of the town’s administration, we kept tax increases to zero per cent for the last two years, while making a variety of fiscal improvements.
Most communities won’t be able to experience this in 20 years, but I’m happy to say we did it in seven. I am so proud of the people I have worked with to make it all possible.
But let’s be honest, not everything we did was perfect. I will admit we made mistakes along the way, but I could walk away tomorrow knowing I am leaving it better than it was before.
But that’s the future. While I’m deciding on my next step, I want to talk about the future. I believe that future councils will need to focus in on two areas – tourism and economic development. We will need to support the oil, gas and forestry industries.
Other areas that will need support will be the Legacy Centre, which has a huge learning curve to go through and will need steady support. Health care needs a strong voice and will continuously need support from the future council. We need to continue to work on our relationships with our partners in First Nations and Metis along with our neighbours in the MD.
To be honest, I have enjoyed the challenge. I have learned so much and have met and worked with some amazing people over the seven years on council. What I know for sure is I love this community, its people and its spirit.
Before I end this I do want to single out one person; she has been a rock over the last seven years. I want to thank my wife, who has been the most understanding and compassionate partner a husband could ever have. I also want to thank my family, my friends, my staff and my neighbours for helping me survive these last seven years. I want to thank the residents who supported me and although we always didn’t agree, at least listened to why we were doing something.
Communications was a huge part of who I was and I hope it will be again in the future.
I wish good luck to all those who decide to put forward their names. I hope to make my decision public over the next few days, and I hope everybody gets out and votes in October.