I have been door knocking over the past few weeks. It has been an absolute pleasure to meet so many kind, polite and engaged residents. 

This experience certainly reinforces what I know and believe about St Albert.

As I seek consensus about the issues affecting our community, I am hearing several common themes. Without doubt, high residential taxes is the first subject brought up by most homeowners. Several are now moving out of St Albert, explaining they can’t afford the tax rate. Others are asking for some relief. It negatively impacts a fair percentage of our residents.

To balance, I do hear from a much smaller number that they are completely fine with the existing taxes, they get better services as a result, and they knew coming in to St Albert that such was the case.

I hear that our community wants a reduction in wasteful spending by the City. 

I hear that the twinning of Ray Gibbon Drive is a priority.

Many are concerned that poor long range planning has resulted in today’s traffic congestion. 

I continue to hear that ‘winds of change’ are coming. Many are not pleased with the actions of some (both elected and non-elected) in City Hall.

These are all issues that I believe deserve serious consideration by both the candidates in the upcoming election, as well as by those who will be going to the polls in October. The only way to affect change is with diligent examination of candidate platforms, clear expectations (ask the candidates!) and careful voting.

I will strive to address these and my previously identified issues if elected. 

Traffic safety continues to be a discussion point for many St. Albert residents. It is particularly topical when a tragedy strikes our community.

Some residents believe that vehicle drivers carry the entire responsibility for traffic safety. Others suggest that new bicycle safety education, new signs, new rules, or new ‘trail barriers' should be initiated or installed in an effort to ensure we make our streets safe for all roadway users. 

There are other traffic safety philosophies that deserve consideration in St. Albert. ‘Vision Zero’ has been adopted in several countries and cities, and can provide guidance for reducing injuries associated with traffic collisions. Wikipedia provides this useful definition:

“Vision Zero is based on an underlying ethical principle that "it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system.” As an ethics-based approach, Vision Zero functions to guide strategy selection and not to set particular goals or targets. In most road transport systems, road users bear complete responsibility for safety. Vision Zero changes this relationship by emphasizing that responsibility is shared by transportation system designers and road users.

While we must consider infrastructure installations, we should also be examining our own behaviours. Most unsafe actions are already governed by existing legislation.

Adding physical safety measures (such as ‘off-set’ barriers on trail/roadway intersections) are appropriate in locations where serious visual obstructions or significant uphill/downhill grades exist. 

Cautionary signs in specific locations may also be helpful. We must be alert to the possibility that if saturation occurs, the signs become a part of the visual ‘blur’ of everyday life. 

However, I believe there are many other steps we as a community can take before we presume that simply dedicating cash to traffic safety solutions will solve the problems. 

As parents and responsible adults in St. Albert, we are all accountable. We need to have discussions with younger citizens at every relevant opportunity about personal responsibility, personal safety, and the rules of the road. These discussions could be bolstered with an explanation of the reasoning for the traffic laws and why they are in place. 

How do we establish personal accountability?

Parents need to closely supervise their children whenever possible. Don’t let poor judgement become the norm. Model safe and lawful behaviours, and routinely have discussions about why adhering to the rules is important.

Remind your family members why it is so important to detach earbuds whenever interacting directly in any roadway use.

Uniform officers should be always visible in the community, as a deterrent, and to have personal discussions with young persons to acknowledge correct road safety behaviours. They must talk to those who put themselves in grave danger by ignoring existing rules or simply demonstrating poor judgement. This doesn’t necessarily require a heavy hand, but a real consequence for dangerous and/or unlawful behaviours. It’s another layer of personal accountability.

Having an officer explain why a certain action was well thought out and safe (or inherently dangerous) is probably the only reminder many would need. This kind of uniform officer interaction will save more young lives than a new sign or new rule will ever realize.

Several years ago, St. Albert embarked on a very thorough and expensive pedestrian safety review. The Safe Journeys to Schools1 (SJ2S) program (… cost $4.4 million when complete) will include the installation of crosswalk signs, speed feedback signs, roadway realignment and new traffic lights in the vicinity of most schools in St. Albert. This project involved consultation with many user groups, planners, engineers, educators, parents and the RCMP.

Page 18 of the SJ2S report detailed traffic safety issues around schools. Of the top 6 issues, 5 were driver related. Of the total responses (530), 82% were driver behaviour related, not infrastructure related. It’s clear what needed to be fixed.

We should be reasonably confident that school aged children have been taught an age appropriate level of traffic safety by their parents, teachers and police (who are assigned to our school systems2). Bicycle operation and the related safety considerations should and likely would be part of that education. Adults have no excuse to be uneducated about all matters of traffic safety. But unsafe examples, both young and old, are evident almost every day.

I have seen groups of children (10 - 12 years old) walking against a wait light at a busy intersection near a school. They know better, looking firstly at the light, then laughing as they sprint across the road. Somewhere the message has failed.

I have seen adults and youngsters riding bikes without helmets, even though bylaws are in place to try mitigate injuries in the event of a bicycle collision or simple loss of control. I have observed adults pushing a baby stroller, with a very young cyclist in the group, all walking across an unmarked and uncontrolled intersection when a safe, well marked and light controlled crosswalk is immediately across the roadway. I have watched adults, child in hand, glance up at a pedestrian control light and then immediately strike out against the wait light. Or texting while they drive, with children watching this behaviour in the vehicle. 

This modelling of inappropriate or unlawful behaviour3 certainly gives the wrong message to youngsters who then believe the traffic and safety rules are for someone else.

There is ample room to improve on the behaviours we already know to be safe. There is room to reflect on our own responsibilities and to teach our children the ‘why’ and ‘how’. And those who create a safety risk for others need to held to account.

We can all play a part in bicycle, pedestrian and roadway safety. The police, who are already an available community safety resource, must be fully engaged. It doesn’t have to cost millions of additional dollars to be safe. And we can’t wait until another tragedy occurs.

1) https://stalbert.ca/uploads/PDF-reports/Safe_Journeys_to_School_-_Report_without_Appendix.pdf
2) https://stalbert.ca/uploads/PDF-reports/RCMP-School-Resource-Officer-YearEndReport_2017_2.pdf
3) http://www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/tac-campaigns/young-drivers/strings#strings

I bring attention to this because I worked for the establishment of civilian oversight of our RCMP in St Albert for well over a year. I did so because of the overwhelming evidence that the City was not managing our police resources in a manner that reflected our community’s interests and needs. It will be fixed starting in the New Year when the St. Albert Policing Committee will be fully functional. 

Quoted from the St Albert Gazette (July 22, 2017) re: RCMP Insp. Robinson…

"City council approved of Robinson due to her support for community policing and initiatives such as bike and golf-cart patrols on the trail system, said Mayor Nolan Crouse.”

This is an example of why it was so important to fight for and implement civilian oversight of our police. We already have an excess of officers assigned to duties that serve mostly public relations exercises on behalf of the Mayor. We have demonstrated in many ways why that type of deployment is counterproductive to all the other important public safety, officer safety and crime prevention objectives that should be the focus of our community's police officer's efforts. (Go to policingstalbert.ca for all related data and reviews.)

Turns out, the Mayor did not consult with Council. In fact, the majority of Council members surveyed reported they had NO deliberations or notifications about this selection. This follows the pattern observed in City Hall where the Mayor was the sole steadfast opponent of the Policing Committee proposal. Now, he suggests that Council made the selection based on what was clearly his own agenda and was soundly refuted by the 6 other Council members during various votes. 

Although there is no reason to be concerned about the selection of Insp. Robinson, it was not a ‘Council’ decision at all. Which has been a consistent problem for years.

I’m pretty sure that Insp. Robinson was not fooled by what the Mayor was suggesting. The message has been loud and clear for some time now... the status quo is no longer acceptable to our community. 

As a three year resident of St Albert, Insp. Robinson will understand.

On another SA forum, Lisa Saxby wrote:

"I absolutely agree with you about a structure like this! I feel that council sits on too many committees. I don't think there is much to gain with them being there. (There are some like CRB and AUMA, etc where participation is required) I think that the Chairs of these various committees could send their agenda to council ahead of their meeting for info purposes, and if there is some council input required it can be sent to the Chair. Then send the minutes to Council afterwards. Every month or two they can do a quick overview presentation to council. I would plan these presentations outside of the regular council meeting time."

My take...

I agree wholeheartedly. This makes sense and is completely workable. It allows the committee to conduct their work without direct Council influence, reduces the likelihood of a Council 'agenda' being advanced in the committee, and yet provides Council with a full understanding of issues both before and after deliberation.

The discussion centered on whether a Councillor should be able to vote on matters related to committees they are assigned to. Those Councillors are usually the most informed about the committee's work. To refuse them the opportunity to vote would remove critical and timely input of deliberations which they are knowledgable of. I see no conflict in those votes.

In basic mediation and conflict resolution training, a key message is the identification of the often opposing ‘positions’ taken in disputes, and how those positions can be mitigated by examination of ‘interests’.

There is lots of literature on the subject, readily available on the net, so I won’t try to replicate the entire philosophy of conflict resolution here. The basic premise I want to address is that there are methods to negotiate and/or facilitate disputes so that both sides achieve at least part of what they are looking for. Otherwise, by the time it is necessary to resolve the issue, folks are entrenched in their positions. The objective suffers.

‘Positions’ are often intractable, in that no options will be considered. “We need a new library” and “We don’t want a new library” are both ‘positions’.

‘Interests’ on the other hand, are defined as desires, outcomes or goals that people want to achieve in a given situation. This often includes the reasons why an outcome is important. “We value libraries but don’t want to pay for a new building. How can we achieve better services without the cost?” could be described as an ‘interest’. Generally, interests are negotiable, while positions are not.

It’s also reasonable to conclude that there are only winners and losers when one or both parties remain steadfast in a ‘position’. There is no room for wiggle room or middle ground.

With a bit of critical thought about the ongoing debates in St Albert, and how our City should be managed, it would be healthy for our community to move off of the firmly entrenched positions. Solving the issue amicably is always the best option.

In the example of the ongoing debate about the need for a new branch library, one ‘position’ is that a new branch is needed. This is often explained as a requirement because of a shortage of space for programs available to the community. The arguments are further bolstered with studies premised on data and statistics, which are summarily dismissed by the opposing party in the spirit of the dispute. Perhaps unfair, but a part of the polarization.

The problem with taking a position is that it is very difficult to then move to a more conciliatory stance if and when the issue must be resolved. In this case, those that insist that a new branch library is an absolute necessity, or completely unnecessary, may struggle to then agree that some form of interim proposition will be satisfactory. 

I am encouraged that in spite of the positions taken by some, many others are still seeking to explain how the ‘interests’ of our community could be well served by alternative solutions. We have read on different local forums, in the Gazette and heard in Council that there are different ways that the ‘interest’ of better service by the SAPL could be achieved without building a stand-alone building dedicated to a branch library. 

There are many possibilities to make this work. We could use any of the ideas presented as temporary solutions. Remember, that unlike a swimming pool or skating rink, the function of a library does not require specific infrastructure. We could plan, in a new development on the northern edge of St Albert, to have a new library attached to a new school, or a new sports facility. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for achieving the community ‘interest’ of improved service, without building another single-purpose City building.

This dispute has the potential to focus the pending election on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a library branch. It should not be that way. We risk the possibility of a whole slate of candidates - leaning either for or against - subsequently losing this election. Worse, and with that possibility, we risk missing out on some true leadership talent if one side or the other is eliminated because of this single issue.

It’s time for everyone to move off their positions. Think firstly of how our community can achieve improved library services, while ensuring that everyone feels like they have been heard. Think of the common community interest. There is a solution hiding amongst all the rhetoric.

On being a ‘Change Agent’….

Change is a difficult proposition for many, particularly when environmental circumstances are comfortable, the universe is unfolding as it should, and when nothing appears to be a threat to that comfort. The inertia of a consistent path is an easy course to follow.

As a candidate for the upcoming St Albert civic election, I wish to acknowledge that many of our creature comforts in St Albert are cared for incredibly well. Many of us don’t have any issues with City services, taxes, personal safety or how the City is managed. That is how it should be, in that we have many dedicated individuals who look after our needs and ensure our safety. Awesome work is completed every day.

But that comfort should never stop us from ‘keeping our eyes open’ to possibility. The possibility that, as a City, we can do better in specific areas. The possibility that we can reduce the cost of living in St Albert. That we can enjoy a greater degree of community support, public safety, and leisure activities.

That said, it is also clear that we must manage our expectations and take care that we don’t extend ourselves financially to the point where recovery is going to harm future generations of our residents. We are responsible for our actions even though they may not impact our children and grandchildren for many years. We own it.

For those who follow the business of running our City, some issues continue to be seen as opportunities for improvement. We have seen spending in specific situations  where the justification given is not supported by the actual and final product. Some of these issues are relatively small (unnecessary painting, unnecessary signs) while others are more substantial (new road and traffic circle). We must never forget that every expenditure is cumulative towards the total amount spent through the budget process. Every dollar counts.

I see large empty SAT busses moving through small residential loops. There must be a more efficient way of offering transit to our residents.

I see us pushing for stand-alone community facilities (ie the Branch Library) when to do so would add substantially to our debt. We obviously have not examined every possible solution, as new possibilities are still popping up in Council deliberations.  

Although we have a relatively low-crime community, we also have disturbing incidents of pedestrian and cyclist collisions. In my view, every user of our roadways must play a critical part in responsible and safe roadway use, so everyone can remain safe. We should consider a reduction in the speed limits on purely residential streets, but balance that with accountability for those who put others at risk. We cannot continue to rely on automated traffic enforcement when ‘in person’ enforcement provides so many better learning opportunities, ‘real-time’ consequences, and demerits where applicable.

There are more issues. The point is not to identify every one, but to suggest that there are possibilities for improvement in the way St Albert does its business.

Which brings us back to the whole idea of examining and where necessary, creating change.  

It takes courage and conviction to consider change. It also takes a lot of hard work. And, it most definitely takes a team to ensure the best product is achieved.

A new set of eyes and a new perspective is always a healthy growth opportunity for a community and how it is governed. For all of the comforts and services that we enjoy, there are significantly fewer issues that should be changed. But change would be - and is - healthy and evolutionary.

The theme of this blog is that we should not be afraid of change…that it requires fortitude to advance change… and change cannot be advanced by a minority of council.

I’m prepared to make changes and have demonstrated my willingness to do so through my work in promoting and establishing civilian oversight for the St Albert RCMP.

I will work hard if change is required. But no one person can accomplish such lofty goals by themselves. In order to affect change, a majority of council must agree to the principles of what adjustments are necessary. Unless a majority will support a new direction of business, not much will occur. Inertia will prevail.

If you want to see business conducted in a slightly different fashion in St Albert, you must examine each candidate's willingness to support change. It should be obvious in their past performance. It should be unequivocal in their platforms. It should be evident in the expressions of what they are prepared to do as new councillors.

For incumbents, a track record is easy to evaluate. They have been in the public realm for the last four years and their comments and voting records are readily available. If you want change, you must evaluate the record of these incumbents to ensure you understand who you wish to support and why. If they have been open to change, that behaviour is a good predictor of their future decisions.

I’d be happy to work for  change. It’s critical that your favorite candidates understand your concerns. The majority of your new council needs to understand that too. Any one of them can be change agents.

But it will work best as a team effort.

Question: Since 2000… Al Bohachyk - yes or no for branch library?  I think I will base my votes largely on this issue.

Al Bohachyk: Short answer - no.

Longer answer…

I chose to sign the ‘borrowing bylaw’ petition early in that process and volunteered to help Carrie as soon as I spoke to her. Although I didn’t collect nearly the number of signatures as did others, I was a part of that process. I did so because I did not believe the city survey used to support the building of a branch library allowed a proper list of options that residents should have been able to consider. For example, a ‘none of the above’ type question. Other concerns about the proposal were; no design, no site selected, and no firm cost estimate.

Regardless of my personal view, what I saw and heard while collecting signatures was overwhelmingly against the prospect of building a second stand-alone library. About 80% of the folks I talked to were anxious to sign the petition.

To be clear, I’d not support the building of any new ‘stand-alone’ venue right now. Although there is demonstrated need for many different public facilities, we cannot simply agree to build for every request. I understand we must provide a reasonable amount of access to ice surfaces, pools, indoor soccer, library space and many other of our communities expectations, but we must also maintain a balance of what we ‘need’ versus what we can actually ‘afford’.

I believe there are options, which may only become known if we actually start to ask for them, to build new facilities in partnership agreements or in space and infrastructure sharing arrangements. And, it makes sense to me to engage in such decisions when we have some funds saved, so we’re not borrowing the entire amount.

I also believe it would be easier to afford these facilities if we were more diligent about expenses in many other areas of City management and responsibilities. That’s another discussion for another day.

I will have more information in the coming weeks and months, both on this issue and others I think are equally as important, posted on my website and FB page.  

2017 July 9

Which political party am I affiliated with?

The question has been asked. Presumably, the answer would provide others with an indication of my potential taxation and/or spending habits.

I’m not really interested in being labeled within the current provincial or national political party spectrum. It serves no purpose for me and I’d prefer that constituents in St Albert understand my interests, rather than any party position. My preference is to speak to the issues that concern St Albert, focusing on the actual scope of what we are able to accomplish in our city, and leave the other political issues to those who are in a better position to deal with them.

I have not affiliated with any party platform, and only once (many years ago), when convinced by a friend to buy a party membership to support a specific candidate in an upcoming leadership race, did I ever ‘belong’ to a provincial party. That 5 minute membership proved to be an exercise in futility as the person I was asked to support did not pan out as I had expected. I didn’t do that again.

Any similarity between the agenda I want to advance in St Albert and any political party positions in AB or Canada is purely coincidental. My words and ideas are my own.

My preference is to be seen as a fiscally responsible, common sense driven, individual thinking team builder. I will do my best to stay on the track of reasonable civic governance and not be caught up or constrained by platforms that do not fit with what we need to accomplish in St Albert.

I do acknowledge appreciation for the positions taken by some of our current council, engaging and respecting public concerns and input. We should not be afraid to accept public guidance.