More interviews with Red Deer City Council Candidates + Andrew’s How and Why (and a note about grammar). 

Paul Harris Red Deercampaign website | facebooktwitter

Andrew Kooman: Two words: Bike Lanes. Let’s just get this Q out of the way. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen two words create so much conversation in the City. This is a 2-part question:

A) What was your position on the pilot project before it became a reality – were you for the pilot or not – and why?

Paul Harris: My position on the bike lanes was that we should pursue a long term bike infrastructure strategy, as long as they are safe for ALL cyclists and separated from traffic.  Safe enough for 8 year olds and 80 year olds.  I’m on record as supporting this position from the beginning and was disappointed with the implementation of the pilot which didn’t contain any separated lanes.  I believe if they had been included in the pilot those lanes would have received praise.

Many people in Red Deer expressed the desire to see bike lanes in our city, both to me personally, by petition, and through numerous open houses over the years preceding the pilot.  Much of the early thinking and planning for bike lanes began long before I was on council and the discussion will continue long after I’m off council.  It is important to provide people with various choices of getting around our city.  Not everyone drives, nor wants to take transit.  Many feel that active transportation such as walking and cycling is important to community health.

B) What have you learned about the people of Red Deer and the political process through this pilot project, and what is your opinion of Bike Lanes now?

PH: The most obvious thing that I’ve learned is that although we can try it is very difficult to engage citizens in civic planning; people often don’t become involved in what is being planned until it directly affects them in a perceived negative way.

Once a controversy has begun the vast majority of citizens remain silent, avoiding conflict at all costs.  Yet these people will often share their views with councillors privately.

All of this means that the city must find new ways of communicating and engaging with public in a two way conversation that really allows people to know in advance what to expect and have their input before implementation.  It means that we need to engage people in various ways, one size does not fit all.  Although an advertised open house or a survey will work for some, others need to be personally invited and interviewed.  Opportunities for every type of person regardless of background or personality type need to be available.  The space needs to feel safe and comfortable.

It also means that citizens need to become more active in learning about their city and the plans that are in the works, what other citizens are asking for and working toward.

I’ve learned that one issue can cause some people to overlook all of the other work that a council or administration has done in many other areas.  People look at issues from a variety of perspectives; some consider the bigger context and curiously explore rationale, others are single focused.  What is common sense to one person is complete insanity to another.  Thank heavens we have diversity.  Wouldn’t it be boring otherwise.

Few citizens understand the governance role of council and the role of administration. That a council as a whole makes decisions based on majority vote and that no one councillor has the authority to make decisions for the community on their own, nor does an individual councillor have authority to direct staff throughout the organization.  Council has one employee only, that’s the city manager.  He or she manages the workload and administration of the whole organization.

At the end of the pilot, my opinion is the same as it was at the start.  Bike infrastructure is good as long as it is safe for ALL cyclists, old and young, and separated from traffic.

AK: The City has put much effort and resource into uncovering Red Deer’s true identity. What is Red Deer to you and what does the City have to offer the province in its next 100 years?

PH: After talking with many citizens over the past two decades as a business owner in the downtown, a community change facilitator, and as a city councillor I have come to believe that our community identity is built strongly on four values.

1)  We put great emphasis on our connection to our place and our relationships.  We value our place on the earth and the way we strive to belong in the environment — how our facilities and gathering spaces connect to one another and to the land itself.  We believe that all neighbourhoods and cultural venues should be tree-filled and connected via parkland trails and green spaces allowing for healthy circulation by walking and biking.  In a similar way, the relationships and connections across generations and among diverse cultural communities allow for healthy exchanges.  Our gathering and connecting spaces are important for us to form great relationships with one another and to enjoy our city together.

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2) We value our diversity, which places importance on our differences.  We are welcoming and respect difference; we try hard to be inclusive in our activities, organizations, and planning.  We appreciate the discovery and personal growth our relationships create.

3) We value our long history of leadership, and ‘can do’ spirit. This ‘rural roots leadership’ reflects our desire for shared community action — our leadership is an extension of our prairie heritage.  We still hold the pioneer spirit close to our hearts.  The community draws on its longstanding tradition of sharing responsibility for one another to make powerful things happen.  We believe the community knows best what it needs and knows how to do it —  that because of our diverse experience and tenacity, the wisdom we need is within us.

4) We believe we are distinct and different from other cities.  This authenticity is a personality and sense of place — that which makes our community unique.  It’s the sense that what we build reflects our collective identity as people who live here on the Red Deer River, in the aspen parkland with the shadows of the Rockies on the west and the wide open prairies in the east. We are central in our province with 80% of Alberta’s population living within two hours by vehicle.

We understand that our economy is based on agriculture, the petrochemical industries, education, and our spirit of creativity and innovation.

It’s important that as we work to strengthen and diversify our economy that we recognize our identity and our prime location in the region.  No other city has the locational strength, and the can do spirit of innovation.  We are central to so many activities.

The community’s steady push to become a sports tourism capital of Western Canada is coming to fruition.  With the hopeful win of the 2019 Winter Games bid and the establishment of a competitive swimming venue, along with the upgrade to many venues and parks, we’ll be unstoppable.

It’s important that our face to the world is unified and that we speak with a clear voice.  Much of the work exploring our identity is for the purpose of helping one another understand the various viewpoints in our community and finding the common ground that can serve as a foundation for our shared work.

AK: What do you think are the biggest challenges the City faces in the next four years and how do you propose to address them?

PH: Certainly the future remains unknown.  The best we can do is to carefully plan what we’d like to work toward.  The challenge comes in not knowing what the future holds.  But, we have incredible strength and ability to work together as Red Deerians.  I think we’ll rise to any challenge that we face together.

I’ve listed here a number of items that I believe we should work toward, and the challenges that will arise as we do that work.

  • Work toward a long term economic development plan that provides us enough diversity to protect us from the ebbs and flows of an increasingly unstable petrochemical industry.  We need broad diversity for economic balance and sustainability.

  • We have a social infrastructure deficit.  The community has been asking for a number of facilities improvements and new amenities for people.  While the city has been focused on providing better roads, bridges, sewers, water treatment, and stormwater management, it has created an imbalance in funding for things people need to enjoy life, and to attract and retain new businesses and citizens.  We’ll need to have a community conversation about the timeline, and how to fund and build the needed amenities such as the 50 meter pool facility as envisioned by the Central Alberta Aquatics Centre supporters, and a civic concert hall.  Council needs to provide some certainty to the community about long range plans.

  • As we diversify our economy we’ll have the benefit of a rapidly growing airport and new services.  These will bring great rewards and also challenges which will need to be worked through by our partners in Red Deer County.  The airport will need new runways, an expanded passenger concourse, and other services to support the freight industries that are beginning to capitalize on in our central location.

  • Red Deer College is working hard to build its downtown campus and expand its degree granting capacity.  Both of these will have a significant and positive influence on Red Deer.  There will be increased demand for housing, food service and retail in the downtown.

  • As we are successful with our economic development efforts and create a more desirable place for people, we’ll need to vigilantly monitor increasing demand for housing.  We’ll need to allow for a variety of housing types that are attainable for people.  Not everyone will want a single family home, alternatively neither will everyone want a condo.  We’ll need to provide a mix of housing that appeals to the diversity of our citizens.  There will be a much greater demand for housing within walking distance of schools and amenities.

  • Safety and crime is currently a challenge. Although the efforts that council has made to improve the situation are beginning to work, there is still a lot to be done.  I feel that we need to tackle drug trafficking of highly addictive drugs.  These are the ones that are pulling our young people into the gutter before they even begin to understand the result of their careless choices.  However, crime enforcement will only go so far.  We’ve got to work on the crime prevention side of the equation, helping people make the right choices to become upstanding productive adults.  We must also put policies in place that strictly monitor social housing in our downtown so that downtown ceases to be a springboard for illegal and harmful activity.  We got to have a ‘hand up’ attitude not a ‘hand out’ attitude.

  • The City needs to find ways to get the brownfield sites and abandoned buildings back into circulation and contributing to the economy and tax base.  We need to work toward a policy change that would prevent such problems from occurring in the future.  Buildings in the downtown and elsewhere that are boarded over do nothing to contribute to the base base or the viability of the business community.  Although I’ve had some success in the past three years this is one area of focus I’m very frustrated with.  The vacant lot, formerly a hole beside Gaetz Avenue United, is now home to Cool Beans bus.  It’s one example of success.  We need several others.  The lack of movement elsewhere suggests that new ways must be found to deal with the problems.  There must be a way to support the redevelopment of sites in a beneficial way without costing the community.  Sites in need of environmental remediation and abandoned building sites are lost revenue for the community and strain the economy around them.  These harm everyone. With these sites back in circulation the benefits can spur new growth.  There are effective practices from other communities that need to be looked at by administration.

  • The redevelopment of the Riverlands areas, formerly the old city yards, is an opportunity that only comes once.  There have been challenges with it up to this point but I’m hopeful that most of those are behind us and we’ll be rolling full steam ahead with the area redevelopment plan and a strong business case that will contribute to the economic prosperity of the community.

I really want to see Red Deer recognized for its greatness.  We have such an incredible opportunity with the undeveloped land in Riverlands to create a world-class commercial, residential, and cultural district.  We can do it in an environmentally friendly way which would reflect our long history of environmentalism. It could be connected to the park system by bridge to Bower Ponds and to the downtown through Alexander Way.  This district can be a hub of activity, conference space, celebration, and living that truly reflects our distinct character.  It will be something Canada and Alberta will point to as a place of innovation, environmental  sustainability, and financial success.  I see it being a key piece of our identity in the future, much like the Waskasoo Park system has become.

I see it as a place where district, locally-produced energy gives back to the city and creates new technology and industry.  We will become the model for district energy solutions that will change how cities are built.

Next year the reconstruction of two major intersections leading into Riverlands will create some challenges but when completed will smooth the traffic flow at Taylor and Ross and allow for access to Riverlands at Taylor and 48th Street.  These changes will mark the beginning of a great civic story for an area that will surely become the gem of Red Deer.

  • Another challenge on the horizon is the development of great quality residential and commercial space in our city centre.  For many years the city has heard the siren call to help improve the downtown so that it becomes a great place to live and work.  Even with all of the changes made to date, the main thing we need now is people — lots of healthy, employed and creative people.  How we can invite those opportunities for development need to be worked out.  I see this as a prime focus of our downtown efforts.  As the downtown succeeds in this way it generates property tax revenue that can be used to fund other community needs.  It’s a win-win-win strategy for the economy and community well-being.

  • Living in an urban forest as we do has some challenges.  Our trees are under stress from climate change, pests and disease. Currently we have a 26 year deficit in tree replacement at current levels of funding for those trees that have died on our boulevards and roadways.  Our challenge will be to find ways to improve our urban forest and help it survive in increasingly more unpredictable weather.  The creation and continual expansion of the Waskasoo Park system as envisioned 35 years ago has served us well. Where other cities have or are developing land within the floodways and flood fringe areas, Red Deer has carefully and methodically expanded its parks in those areas.  Although we can never be completely protected from severe weather events our land use policies are something that Alberta holds up as a model for other communities.  Our park system and urban forest are features we must strive to expand and preserve.

  • Mobility is and will continue to be a challenge for us in years to come.  I believe we need to actively pursue increasing walkability throughout our city with better sidewalks and trails, snow clearing, transit frequency and routing.  As well we need to provide safe, separated from traffic, and efficient linkages for cycling throughout our city.  A balanced approach is needed that benefits everyone whatever their personal choice for transportation.

I imagine us becoming far more conservative in our approach to roads and intersections — finding much better ways to balance the various ways people move around our city.  I believe that as we do a great job of this we’ll be able to slow urban sprawl, increase quality of life, and reduce poverty.  These things are all very much connected.  As communities become more walkable, with various amenities nearby, the whole city benefits.

  • Environmental degradation worldwide continues to grow.  From plastics in the oceans to pharmaceuticals in our waterways to the decline of pollinators.  Humanity must work at every level to find new ways of living that protect the environment we rely on for life.  This is not a one term issue, it’s something that’s been growing and could be the demise of humanity in short order.  Policies followed by immediate action to protect and preserve the air, water, and habitats are key.  These are not sit-on-our-thumbs and wait-to-see-what-happens issues, they require immediate attention by all orders of government and by every citizen.  We need to be looking at waste to energy strategies, better ways of recycling, the filtration of water we put into the river, the elimination of pollutants in our air and natural environment.  Further because we’ve waited so long to act we must also look at climate change adaptations strategies in order to deal with severe weather events and a food chain that is at risk of collapsing.

AK: What are you most proud of accomplishing or contributing to in your last term as a City Councillor?

PH: One of the biggest accomplishments is the work on the council document we call the ‘strategic direction’.  This thinking and writing utilized my skills as community facilitator.  It enabled me to work with my council colleagues to distill the thoughts of the community through their interactions with council into a form that would guide our community for the foreseeable future.  The strategic direction created clarity for every department of the city enabling them to design work plans which have lead to forward looking changes in neighbourhood design, economic development, crime and safety, and transportation.  It’s helped us identify need and rationale for important community amenities, such as Blue Grass Sod Farms Spray Park, Glendale Skatepark, and upgrades to downtown streets and gathering places.

This work will help us with understanding the influence that a world class pool facility and other missing pieces of social infrastructure will have on our quality of life and the local economy.

I’m very pleased with the advances we’ve made with the Red Deer Regional Airport.  That growing enterprise will have long term and lasting influence in our business community, supporting our efforts to diversify our economy and take our place as the most central city in Alberta, serving over 80 percent of the population within a two hour drive.  It will be our gateway to the rest of the world.  I expect to see major improvements to the facility and capacity over the coming months and years.

My national work with the Federal of Canadian Municipalities has helped to shape our collaborative efforts with the federal government which lead to significant investment in infrastructure beginning in 2014.  This work also helped municipalities  secure stable and more predictable funding.  I am proud to serve on the Sociol-economic Development Committee, the Environmental Committee, and the Women in Politics Committee.

What I enjoy is being able to invite the kind of change that the community is looking for.  To be able to learn from other municipalities and to bring the effective practice and good thinking back to Red Deer for consideration.  I love listening to the fantastic ideas and passion of Red Deer’s citizens and helping them find a way into city planning; such as the need for a spray park and skatepark.

AK: How a City helps to provide services to those in need and those who are vulnerable can make it a great municipality. How do you rate Red Deer in this regard: where is the City doing well and where can it improve?

PH: “Whatever you do (or not do) for one of the least among you… “  captures my belief about how a community should respond to the most vulnerable.  People make good and bad choices but ultimately we are all connected to one another in the giant web of humanity.  Any single person’s choice affects us all.

Red Deer has over the years taken strong leadership in caring for the least among us.  These efforts haven’t just been the City but the community as a whole.  We do however have a lot of work to do.  We continue to have a homeless population that needs help to find relationships that give them hope.  We have need for youth and child programs that help families break the cycle of poverty.  There are increasing numbers of families using the food bank.  Healthy and active living among the population needs to improve.  The list is long when looked at from a glass half empty perspective.

Overall the quality of life that even the most vulnerable experience in Red Deer is much better than in many parts of the world.

What does the City need to do?  I think we should support the community in providing the social services our population needs.  The wisdom of the community is underestimated and under supported.  The City’s job should be one of facilitation not one of doing.  We shouldn’t ever become the owners of the programs but instead allow the community to lead and support them in their leadership.

The City needs to do careful and thoughtful neighbourhood planning that helps foster strong relationships among neighbours and throughout neighbourhoods.   We need to build in a way that promotes community connections.  Part of that is improving the walkability of the city.

The City does have a strong role in providing recreational and cultural amenities to everyone at low or no cost.  Our parks and trails are a good example of that.  The spray park and skatepark are another.  We’ve got to build things that give young people things to do and places to connect with one another.

The City needs to look at the factors that create happiness and prosperity for everyone and help every department and Council understand those principles so that decision making can be made in a more wholistic way.

The City needs to improve transit and make it more accessible for everyone, increasing the frequency and length of service  and providing more directs transit routes.

We need to frame things in positive ways.  Instead of talking about poverty reduction we need to be talking about creating prosperity for everyone. Instead of homelessness we should talk about homefullness, instead of youth at risk — youth with great potential.  It’s the words that we choose that will create the worlds that we live in.  When we consider society in a positive way we create activity around our ideas that is life giving and helps everyone.  Singling out one group of people as vulnerable separates us from them and likely leads to further problems.  Thinking about society as a whole gives us the opportunity to create better connection and understanding, and helps us know our individual responsibilities and what collection action to take.

AK: Vibrancy of the Arts can make a City remarkable, even inspirational. On a scale of 1 to Remarkable, where would you place Red Deer? What is your connection to the Arts and in your opinion how important are they to a thriving community?

PH: We definitely are not a one on your scale and have been moving up steadily in recent years.  We have remarkable moments and we have some pretty sad moments too.

People move to great cities because they have great social offerings, are open, and are aesthetically beautiful.  Everything we have done in the past few years is working to improve these things.

Red Deer College’s focus on the arts has helped us greatly. Students are now completing their studies and staying in Red Deer to create.  In the early 2000s this wasn’t the case.

We’ve had a long history of arts in Red Deer.

The influence of arts and culture in community has been a focus of my community involvement for about 15 years.  I was the lead facilitator for the Community Culture Vision, a document that was adopted by the City of Red Deer in 2008, as one of its four major planning tools.  It’s a ripping yarn of possibility, and you’ll see many things are starting to come to pass.  The Culture Vision does a great job of explaining the value of arts and culture in Red Deer.  Here is a link to it.

AK: What qualities do you expect and hope for in the person who will be elected as Red Deer’s Mayor?

PH: As we go into a new and challenging century we need a mayor with broad life experience, proven leadership, the ability to look forward, and relationship skills to be a strong advocate for Red Deer with other orders of government.  Someone who knows how to work with people in a way that everyone is fully heard and appreciated.  Someone who works with the wisdom of the community, never an ideology.

Over the past three years as councillor, and several as a community volunteer, I have worked with both women running for mayor in this election.  They are both strong and intelligent women who have served and will continue to serve this community well.

My vote this year will go to Cindy Jefferies.  I feel she has the most well-rounded way of working with people and possesses all of the attributes that will help put Red Deer on the map.

AK: There will be a number of individuals elected to Council for the first time in this election. If re-elected, what is your strategy for working well as a Council member for Red Deer’s best interest and what do you bring to the table as a team player?

PH: I believe in being purpose-centred in approach to every discussion.  In that, I hope to be a constant observer of the process and dynamic that unfolds daily as a councillor so that I can help invite us all to focus on the purpose of our work.  I will endeavour to listen carefully to understand everyone.

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I appreciate the varying perspectives that councillors bring to their work.  It’s important to remember that although we each do our best to represent the whole community, it’s hard to reach people who aren’t like-minded.  We each find ourselves talking with ‘our people’ and that’s why it’s important to have diversity of experience and social backgrounds at the table.  The broader the diversity represented the better the decision making will be.

Listening carefully, encouraging community dialogue, and following through on ideas and initiatives honours community leadership at all levels. When this works well, it enables positive change in our community.  Great things will happen.

I will continue to provide strong and thoughtful leadership by listening and responding to individuals, organizations, and businesses in the community.

I will continue to work to improve communication between the public and the City, and increase citizen involvement in council decisions.  It’s an area that I believe needs serious council focus and a change in administrative philosophy.  The more that is communicated the better.

I’ll work to honour each of my colleagues’ opinions and look for the wisdom in their thinking.

AK: As a Councillor you are given an expense account of roughly $20,000 to attend City-related conferences and training each term. Through the expenditure of these funds, how have you used them to develop both personally and professionally in the last four three years as a member of Council?

PH: Over the past three years, I made a conscious and consistent effort to attend learning opportunities and conferences offered the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Livable Cities, Alberta Municipalities Association, and the Economic Developers’ Association.

I also served on the board of the Federation and Canadian Municipalities for 2011, and 2013, and as a committee member for 2011-2013.  This organization represents over 90 percent of the municipalities in Canada and works to unite the country in creating a unified message for advocacy to other orders of government.  I was very involved in creation of the strategic direction which is serving as our guide presently and in the near future.  Through FCM’s successful collaboration and advocacy efforts with the federal government, Canada will receive new infrastructure funding to replace the Canada Building Fund, and more predictable funding for cities through the indexing of the gas tax.  The index means that the grant allocation to cities from Ottawa will increase two percent per year to keep in step with average inflation.

Our current major focus is on attainable housing for Canadians, although all other issues continue to receive attention.  Here is the link to FCM.

Some learning opportunities that were outside of my council budget, I attended on my own with my own resources, learning about change processes, mental health issues, and leadership.  These conference have served me well in working with the community and organizations.

AK: In the lead up to the last civic election I asked who you would like to emulate in life.  In the future, when people consider your legacy as a person and as a public servant, what do you hope they will remember about you and want to emulate?

Not that I’m planning on exiting this life any time soon.  When people consider my body of work I hope that they’ll remember me for my continual call to focus on purpose and human potential, and to talk about life in ways that give energy to action.  I’d like to be known as someone that helped others understand and craft compelling questions that breathed life into future possibilities for themselves and their communities.  The words we choose determine the world we’ll live in — how we design the questions we ask is more important than the answer itself.  Compelling, thoughtful and uplifting questions come with life-giving energy and lead to rapid change.

I’d like to be remembered as an open, kind and gentle person that invited people to look at everything in hopeful ways.  It’s my desire to be a source of strength for people facing bullying and discrimination, to help them rise above it and be present with themselves — not to take on an image of themselves that belongs to someone else.  Often it’s through our silence that we quietly hold up a mirror for others to examine the nature of their own reflections.  In silence we preserve our capacity for doing things that make a difference for ourselves and others.

Anger and negativity have little power to unite a society. Where there is love, appreciation, and empathy there is evolution and hope.

I’d want to be known as someone helped people be compassionate toward themselves and others — as someone who valued continual learning and supported others on their quest for personal knowledge and wisdom.

I’d also want to be known as a person that helped invite lasting positive evolution of communities and had fun along the way… and as one who always had time for a coffee and conversation.

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More interviews with Red Deer City Council Candidates + Andrew’s How and Why (and a note about grammar). 

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