In the last meetings of our previous City Council, two discouraging and concerning events occurred. Both are related, and in my view deserve to be examined carefully by St Albert residents. They are worthy of a critical analysis of how the electorate should react, with careful thought of potential outcomes.
In one development, a group publicly presented to Council that they were organizing as support for a ‘branch library’ and would endorse candidates that would work for the immediate approval of same. The speaker was backed by a number of folks in the audience wearing t-shirts - also in support of the ‘yes for the library’ campaign - some of which are on the campaign trail now. Since then, a well organized and very public campaign has been launched in what is clearly an effort to convince the public of the need for a second library building.
What this development has cemented is the polarization of what should have been a wide range of election discussions and platform issues into a narrow focus of ‘do you want another library building or not?’ That is unfortunate. It has also pitted a number of committed and knowledgable candidates against each other, where an entire cohort may very well be defeated, and of which leadership talent otherwise enjoyed by our community will be lost.
This ‘system’ of adversarial approach has been building in St Albert for many years. Perhaps it has been a vacuum of leadership, or perhaps too much influence by those who might have something to gain. Regardless, instead of us coming together as a community, we are being torn apart.
Which leads me to the second development that occurred at Council.
When a groundswell effort to slow or stop the library borrowing bylaw was presented to Council in the form of a petition, Council agreed that the public should decide. To that end, a motion was passed which would provide a plebiscite for the electorate with clear indicators of costs, tax implications, projected operating expenses and a timeline (within the next 4 years).
This was the motion:
In a subsequent meeting, just before the dissolving of Council, another motion was brought forward by Mayor Crouse to amend the previous ballot questions by removing all detail concerning costs, tax implications, operating expenses and timeline. This was explained as an effort to make the matter easier for residents to understand. The motion to amend was supported by Mayor Crouse, Councillors Heron, Brodhead and Osborne.
Residents have concluded that the change to the ballot questions insulted their intelligence. I have heard from many that they are not fooled by the changes to the ballot, and are in fact prepared to show even more resolve through their vote.
I expect that the branch library issue will receive a clear mandate from the public. In my many door to door visits, there has been an overwhelming sentiment that a second library building, at this point of time and economics, is simply not necessary.
Perhaps by good planning, the original motion for a plebiscite question was confirmed to be ‘non-binding’. Meaning, that the new Council would not be obligated to adhere to the results. When the ballot questions were then neutered by amendment, the ‘non-binding’ feature remained.
What does that mean to the electorate, and how should the questions be approached?
It is my view that the ballot questions are now a completely non-functional exercise. They don’t give specific information with which the public can evaluate the real consequences of the questions, and they are too ‘loose’ to provide any real guidance to a new Council.
I previously committed to adhere to the outcome of the plebiscite. That decision was made before the amended questions were passed by the four members of Council. I am now in a position where I made a promise based on information which is different than what is now our reality.
How will I respond if I am a Council member? I want to be clear so the electorate will be able to evaluate my worth in Council.
I have heard clearly from so many residents who don’t want a second library, that I must take the position that I will not support a second building unless it is supported by a new, fully articulated ‘binding’ plebiscite that contains all the necessary information with which the public (and Council) can make an informed decision.
A 50% + 1 outcome on any of the existing ballot questions will encourage continued planning (which I will honour), but would not convince me of any need for the immediate construction of any of the three.
If St Albert elects a majority of candidates who support the immediate construction of a second library building, those candidates may similarly discount the ‘non-binding’ plebiscite, regardless of the outcome. That’s how politics appears to be played in this city. And so it should be, if that’s what the electorate desires.
However, if you do not support the building of a ‘stand alone’ second library building, you must elect a majority of candidates who will support your view, regardless of your feelings about providing additional program space for the library. A ‘NO’ vote, and election of candidates who respect your wishes, is the most certain way to ensure the issue is decided in a manner favourable to you.
What can you do to contribute?
Firstly, commit to vote. That is the only avenue you have to invoke change. It will be a long four years until you can influence the management of our City again.
It only takes a few minutes. Plan ahead. Make the effort.
Secondly, be informed. Carefully examine the background and platforms of each of those candidates who have your attention. Ask direct and clear questions of them. All should have contact information available, either in the local media, or in social media, or in the literature that they are delivering to your door.
You should create a short list of your personal concerns in anticipation of the opportunity to ask candidates about their perspectives. You may have many different concerns, all important, which you should explore with potential candidates.
If you have taken a position with respect to the branch library, and if you want clarity from a candidate, consider asking:
‘are you supported by or do you support the ‘yes for the library’ campaign group?’
‘will you support the immediate building of a branch library?’
‘what is your position on creating a new plebiscite for this very question?’
But do not forget the other crucial issues affecting St Albert residents. We have major transportation issues, we must scrutinize the efficiencies and effectiveness of each of our City departments and we must get a better handle on how we plan our future city. These are all important in the scope of how we spend money right now, and how spending today will affect our ability to manage the city’s resources in the future.
Having all the information you gather for the various candidates, you’ll be in a good position to select those who you know (or reasonably believe) will carry your preferences forward as agenda items in the new council. It’s equally important not to ‘guess’ about candidates; you’re better to selectively vote for less that maximum than to vote for anyone without having any certainty about their platform.
This election should be much more than ‘about the library’. But, unfortunately, it is being pushed in that direction. I hope to be proven wrong.