Re­flect­ing on coun­cil achieve­ments

Lethbridge Herald - - READER'S FORUM - Chris Spear­man is the mayor of Leth­bridge. His col­umn ap­pears on the third Fri­day of the month. Chris Spear­man

The 2017 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion is just a month away, and the term of the cur­rent city coun­cil com­ing to an end. This seems like an ap­pro­pri­ate time to re­flect on the is­sues we’ve faced and some of our more sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments over the past four years.

Very early in our term in the fall of 2013, we faced two very im­por­tant is­sues: the preser­va­tion of lo­cal am­bu­lance dis­patch ser­vices and the spec­tre of pro­posed oil drilling in west Leth­bridge.

At that time, we were con­cerned about how the prov­ince’s planned con­sol­i­da­tion of am­bu­lance dis­patch to Cal­gary would im­pact the efficiency and ef­fec­tive­ness of those ser­vices here in Leth­bridge. As coun­cil, we ad­vo­cated pas­sion­ately and per­sis­tently to a suc­ces­sion of pro­vin­cial health min­is­ters that the course be­ing pur­sued by the prov­ince at that time would have detri­men­tal ef­fect on pa­tient safety and am­bu­lance re­sponse times in life-threat­en­ing emer­gen­cies.

Af­ter some very de­ter­mined ad­vo­cacy by city coun­cil, our lo­cal MLAs, the may­ors of our re­gional com­mu­ni­ties and lo­cal cit­i­zens, the prov­ince re­versed course in early 2014 and com­mit­ted to op­er­at­ing satel­lite am­bu­lance dis­patch cen­tres in Leth­bridge, Red Deer and Fort McMur­ray.

An even more prom­i­nent is­sue dur­ing the first half of 2014 was ur­ban oil and gas drilling. There was wide­spread con­cern among Leth­bridge res­i­dents about Golden Key Oil’s plans at the time to drill oil wells on un­de­vel­oped land in west Leth­bridge where fu­ture res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment is planned. City coun­cil fa­cil­i­tated a com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tion meet­ing that year to help cit­i­zens get com­pre­hen­sive, ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion on this is­sue.

It was a re­lief for our com­mu­nity in May 2014 when the com­pany aban­doned its drilling plans in Leth­bridge, but the re­al­ity re­mained that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties like ours have no legal author­ity to block such ac­tiv­ity un­der the ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tory frame­work in Al­berta. That’s why city coun­cil pro­posed an emer­gent res­o­lu­tion on ur­ban drilling which re­ceived 85-per­cent sup­port from the Al­berta As­so­ci­a­tion of Ur­ban Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Septem­ber 2014.

In Au­gust 2014, city coun­cil voted to amend the Cap­i­tal Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (CIP), ex­pand­ing an aquatic cen­tre pro­ject to in­clude all re­main­ing com­po­nents of a multi-pur­pose leisure com­plex. ATB Fi­nan­cial was later brought on as a nam­ing part­ner, and now con­struc­tion of ATB Cen­tre Phase 2 is well un­der­way and on sched­ule to open in 2019.

Our com­mu­nity has taken large strides for­ward in our ap­proach to waste di­ver­sion dur­ing this term of coun­cil. In the sum­mer of 2015, coun­cil ap­proved a Waste Di­ver­sion Pol­icy, which set a tar­get of re­duc­ing over­all com­mu­nity per­capita waste by 50 per cent by the year 2030. Later that sum­mer, we ap­proved an im­ple­men­ta­tion strat­egy for meet­ing our com­mu­nity tar­gets of re­duc­ing lo­cal busi­ness-sec­tor waste dis­posal by 45 per cent by 2030. And in late 2016, de­spite some dif­fi­culty reach­ing agree­ment pre­vi­ously, coun­cil ap­proved a blue cart res­i­den­tial re­cy­cling pro­gram which will roll out in two phases over the next two years.

Leth­bridge truly came to­gether in early 2016 and demon­strated how much it cared by col­lab­o­rat­ing to wel­come more than 300 Syrian refugees as val­ued new mem­bers of our com­mu­nity. This was a tremen­dous ef­fort, and we con­tinue to pro­vide these new res­i­dents with the sup­port they need to ad­just suc­cess­fully to their new home.

In July 2016, ren­o­va­tions and im­prove­ments to Henderson Pool were com­pleted, and we saw peo­ple turn out in un­prece­dented num­bers. This out­door pool has quickly be­come a pop­u­lar sum­mer­time des­ti­na­tion for res­i­dents of our city and the sur­round­ing re­gion.

To ad­dress growth pres­sures in west Leth­bridge, coun­cil voted in Au­gust 2016 to fast track by five years the twin­ning of Whoop-Up Drive and the con­struc­tion of Métis Trail be­tween Whoop-Up Drive and Walsh Drive West. As you know, these con­struc­tion projects are well un­der­way, and while they will help re­duce traf­fic con­ges­tion in the fastest-grow­ing area of our city, they will also re­duce Fire/EMS re­sponse times to neigh­bour­hoods such as Garry Sta­tion and Coun­try Mead­ows.

In 2016, Leth­bridge was also rec­og­nized by the In­tel­li­gent Com­mu­nity Fo­rum as a Top 21 In­tel­li­gent Com­mu­nity of the Year. An In­tel­li­gent Com­mu­nity is one that makes sure it has the broad­band and IT in­fra­struc­ture needed to be com­pet­i­tive in the broad­band econ­omy.

In the cur­rent Op­er­at­ing Bud­get, coun­cil ap­proved new in­cen­tives to spur new res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment in down­town Leth­bridge. Down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion is a strate­gic pri­or­ity for coun­cil, and we have seen tremen­dous re­sponse in terms of new res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment. We’re also con­fi­dent that re­cent changes to the Tar­geted Re­de­vel­op­ment In­cen­tive Pro­gram (TRIP) will have the de­sired ef­fect of at­tract­ing new down­town com­mer­cial in­vest­ment, ei­ther in the form of new con­struc­tion or in sig­nif­i­cant ren­o­va­tions that add value to ex­ist­ing down­town build­ings.

Con­struc­tion of Legacy Park, the 74acre re­gional park in north Leth­bridge, has pro­gressed well dur­ing the past cou­ple of years and will open to the pub­lic next year. It will of­fer a tremen­dous ar­ray of new ameni­ties to our com­mu­nity and will be an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to our lo­cal parks sys­tem.

In a time of eco­nomic un­cer­tainty in our prov­ince, our di­verse econ­omy helped us re­tain jobs and con­tinue a steady pat­tern of growth. This of course is high­lighted by the un­prece­dented $350mil­lion in­vest­ment re­cently an­nounced last De­cem­ber by Cavendish Farms, which is build­ing a new, state-of-the-art frozen potato plant in Sher­ring In­dus­trial Park. This is the largest in­vest­ment in our city’s his­tory.

I am proud of the rapid progress of our broad-based com­mu­nity ef­fort to re­spond to the grow­ing opi­oid cri­sis. The prov­ince is back­ing our lo­cal ap­pli­ca­tion to es­tab­lish Su­per­vised Con­sump­tion Ser­vices in Leth­bridge, and we are now await­ing ap­proval from Health Canada. When it opens, this fa­cil­ity will help re­duce over­dose deaths, pub­lic drug use, petty crime and pub­lic nee­dle de­bris.

A 10-year Com­mu­nity Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Im­ple­men­ta­tion Plan re­ceived ap­proval from city coun­cil to guide the lo­cal com­mu­nity in re­spond­ing to the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion of Canada. The plan was de­vel­oped by Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Leth­bridge, which will be host­ing the firstever Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Week Sept. 18-23. I hope you’ll take in the planned ac­tiv­i­ties.

In clos­ing, I would like to thank my coun­cil col­leagues for their ser­vice and ded­i­ca­tion to our com­mu­nity these past four years. I’d also like to thank the many com­mu­nity part­ners we’ve had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing and work­ing with dur­ing our term as coun­cil.

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