10 Questions: Strathcona County Ward 1 Candidate Ben Proulx

*Part of a 10 Questions series with local candidates

1.       The number one issue facing Strathcona county:

Heading into the election, the main issue Strathcona County faces is growth. There are two main concerns with the exponential expansion being experienced in the County.

The first issue that must be addressed is that of Council pushing for a new hamlet in the Bremner area, which is expected to be double the size of Sherwood Park. The current Council has advocated for the development of Bremner prior to taking the necessary steps in the decision-making process, including asking pertinent questions:

• Is it necessary to create a new hamlet?

• Do Strathcona County residents agree with the development of the Bremner area?

• Is it feasible and sustainable to develop Bremner?

• Is Bremner the best location for a new hamlet?

These are all questions that must be answered, and that Councillors must be held accountable to. There has been a noticeable lack of public consultation for the Bremner development proposal, and not enough studies have been conducted to determine whether Bremner is the most suitable area for this type of development. There are potential sites that are closer to existing infrastructure, and where the soil is not as high of quality as that in Bremner — one aspect residents have repeatedly defended. However, residents feel their pleas have been ignored. There are many questions left to answer when considering the Bremner development. It is a complex issue. My full stance can be found here.

The other issue that goes along with that of growth — and the one that most impacts residents of Ward 1 — is the Mature Neighbourhood Strategy.

The Mature Neighbourhood Strategy, as it has been pushed by Council, would see infill in the older areas of Sherwood Park. This would allow developers to replace older homes with high-density housing, because of the larger lots inherent to our aging communities.

Like many residents I’ve heard from, I am opposed to this approach in dealing with our mature neighbourhoods. The strategy should instead focus on maintaining and upgrading infrastructure in older areas (including roads, sidewalks, sewer systems, drainage, etc.), ensuring they are up to par with what is being offered to residents of newer subdivisions.

Again, public consultation has proven a hurdle for residents in Ward 1 when it comes to the Mature Neighbourhood Strategy. Not only will I restart the public consultation process with more comprehensive questionnaires and more information released to residents, but I will also push for the creation of a Resident Advisory Committee for the Mature Neighbourhood Strategy to ensure resident opinion is at the forefront of the issue.

My full stance on the Mature Neighbourhood Strategy can be found here.

                  2.     Is there a way to balance infrastructure maintenance and overall county growth without debt?

This is not just doable, it is necessary. Strathcona County needs to ensure that development is sustainable and cost-effective. Part of this boils down to ensuring projects are completed properly the first time around. A great example of this issue is Lakeland Drive, where there was recently a redevelopment to widen the eastern-most part of the road to accommodate traffic. It was anticipated from the start that Lakeland Drive would become an arterial road, yet the construction has now been two-fold: Developing Lakeland Drive, and fixing what was developed the first time.

The only way to be fiscally responsible in development is to plan for the future. This includes not only new development, but also maintenance, upgrades, and changes in areas that are already developed. There is a need for Council to be able to look at all projects with a critical eye.

                  3.  What is your take on the Sherwood Park hospital issue? 

The hospital is a provincial issue, plain and simple. It is Council’s duty to advocate on behalf of residents in order to see Phase 2 of the hospital completed, but the municipality ultimately has no say in any final decision made by the province.

However, there are issues in how this has been dealt with over the last three years.
In the 2010 municipal election, certain elected officials — including the incumbent for Ward 1 — campaigned on getting the hospital completed. This was wrong on their part. Current elected officials who campaigned with the promise of a completed hospital knew it was a provincial issue, but intentionally misled voters.

The other problem, and one that must be dealt with by the new Council on an ongoing basis, is that over the past three years, the relationship between Strathcona County and the province has been significantly damaged. It is crucial that this relationship be fixed — and not only in an attempt to secure developments such as the hospital, a new courthouse, and so on. Strathcona County Council must work collaboratively with the province on a number of issues over the coming term. It is important that meetings take place on a regular basis between Council and our local MLAs, as well as with various provincial ministers.

                  4.  Transparency is a buzzword for this election.  How will you contribute to an open government?

 Yes, transparency is a buzzword, but it is a necessary one heading into this election. There has been a noticeable lack of transparency from our elected officials, which can largely be attributed to a lack in accountability.

Early in the four-year term, I will create a monthly newsletter for Ward 1 residents, in which I will outline the current issues, how Council has voted on these issues, what my votes were, and the reasons behind my votes. In this way, I will remain accountable to my residents on an ongoing basis. This is initiative I will also mandate for Councillors of each ward in Strathcona County. My full commitment to accountability and improved communication can be found here.
In terms of transparency, it’s important to be as open as possible with residents. This includes accessibility to Councillor expenses, online availability of Councillors’ attendance records for Council and committee meetings, and a limitation on the number and types of issues that are discussed during in-camera sessions.

I will also push for the creation of a local set of guidelines for Councillor conflict of interest. Currently, these conflicts exist only based on what is outlined by the province’s Municipal Government Act. However, the only conflict of interest in the Act is that of Councillors receiving monetary gain from decisions made by Council. As we know, there is a much broader spectrum of what should constitute conflict of interest.

I will also help to create clear processes for reporting conflicts of interest, as well as guidelines for any subsequent repercussions. I have spoken with Alberta Municipal Affairs on this issue, and what I learned in our conversations concerned me. As it stands, the onus is on individual Councillors to determine when they are in conflict on any decisions. If they fail to do that and a conflict exists — and it is not brought forward by Administration — residents must take the Councillor in question to court to see whether a move made by the Councillor was, in fact, a conflict. They also must be the ones to provide all necessary evidence. This process makes no sense. There should be a clearly-defined set of guidelines for Councillors to follow, and another set of repercussions if they fail to follow guidelines. End of story.

Additionally, I will work with the province to create a more accountable system of campaign contributions, in which money accepted by municipal candidates would need to be received and made available to the public prior to Election Day. My full position on this issue can be found here.

Finally, it is important to increase communication with residents. This is the best way to ensure accountability. Councillors are elected to represent their residents, not themselves. This atmosphere needs to be restored.

                  5.   You are running against an incumbent.  Why do you believe there needs to be a change in representation for your Ward?

I believe in term limits at all level of government. The incumbent in my ward is running for his sixth term as Councillor, and I strongly believe it is time for a fresh perspective. Beyond concerns of complacency setting in, there are many major issues that must be addressed over the coming term, including the Mature Neighbourhood Strategy. It is important to get a fresh set of eyes on the issues.

Also, through my experience as a long-time reporter with the Sherwood Park News, I took on many investigative stories focused on issues within the local municipal government. There were many issues that I found were not being dealt with as I wish they would, as a resident. My thoughts on these issues have been echoed in countless conversations I’ve had with residents. My experience in this regard would be an asset on Council.

                  6.  Who was your first political influence/mentor?

My main political influence at a young age came from my family. I was lucky enough to have grown up in a politically-inclined and socially-aware family. While our viewpoints did not necessarily always match, the conversations that ensued were imperative in shaping my current view on politics. Also, because of these differences of opinion, I have always been able to see both sides of a coin and consider all aspects of an argument.

Through my career as a journalist, I have had many mentors in the political realm, including renowned political reporters who have dedicated themselves to an integrity-based career. Despite any negative connotations that may accompany the media world, there are still good reporters and columnists out there who have a lot of insight to offer.

                  7.      Your perfect Sunday:

I like to be able to relax on Sundays, although it is rarely possible. I enjoy being able to sleep in a little bit, sipping on coffee throughout the day, and then catching up with friends and family after what typically ends up being a hectic week.

                  8.     The music in your car stereo:

I’m a big country fan. I usually just listen to the radio, but my iPod is currently set to the Zac Brown Band, and the CD in my stereo is Johnny Cash.

                  9.     What’s your most embarrassing moment?

I’m sure I’ve had many that I’ve blocked from my mind. I’d say some of my biggest embarrassments would have come when I first started coaching basketball and would try to keep up with the senior junior high girls teams I coached. I tried to push myself to the limits, but my body has significantly narrowed those limitations. It’s never fun to come within a few minutes of collapsing and passing out for six hours, while junior high players run circles around you.

                  10.   Your vision of Strathcona County in 25 years:

Strathcona County is already a vibrant community that is able to attract residents, as well as commercial businesses and industry. I would like to see this continue. There is a need innovative development, while hanging on to what makes the County unique. While continuing to attract industry, it’s important keep in touch with our roots of agriculture, as well as to make Strathcona an ideal place for residents to live, in both rural and urban areas.

We must become a leader in t innovation, economics, development and community.
Strathcona County has residents with a lot to offer, and I would like to see a stronger sense of community built throughout the County. Resident involvement is of the utmost importance, and it is something that can always be improved upon. It is when residents take pride in their community that changes can occur beyond the scope of government.

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