LeighPatrick.com Interviews: Strathcona County Mayor Roxanne Carr

A chat over breakfast with Strathcona County Mayor Roxanne Carr…

LP: You spent six years as a Councillor before becoming mayor in one of the closest election contests in the province.  Other than my endorsement, to what do you credit your victory?

RC: I would attribute the victory directly to two things.  I had an amazing team, and we had a vision and a plan.  I knew why I was running, I knew what I wanted to fix and how I wanted to fix it, and we gained the support necessary – people who saw another way to run Strathcona County and to plan into our future - and that was one of the key things, looking to the future and still am because it’s not about today, it’s about what our grandchildren are going to need. We can’t just go day by day as elected officials.

LP: During the election campaign you introduced the ‘9 in 90 day’ plan.  You’ve been in the Mayor’s chair for almost a year now.  Were you and Council able to fulfil these in 90 days?  How so?

RC: ‘Myself and Council’ – I’m glad you used that term because going through a campaign trying to achieve title of mayor is one thing, but as soon as you are elected you become part of the team.  Council has to work together which is in the 90 day plan.  No, we did not achieve the entirety of the 9 in 90 plan, but what was meant to achieve was a structure, the putting together the start – getting a good start on the goals that we put together.  We wanted to start to –

LP: So the foundation has been built and now it’s on its way.

RC: Yes.  We’ve built the foundation.  That was the idea.

LP:  Strathcona County is a vital member of the Capital Regions Board, building relationships with other area municipalities to focus on our common needs –

RC:  I’m going to go back on you to the 9 in 90 day plan.  Because of what I just said about the team – we’re a team now and now it’s not about the campaign and what one individual wants as outcomes or per county.  Now it’s about Council and how to plan for the next 30 to 50 years.  So now my concern was how to take the 9 in 90 day plan and make it work with the revised strategic plan of the entire county.  So now you’ll see I won’t be coming out with any more reports called the ‘9 in 90 days’.  I will be reporting on the vision for the county and the strategic plan for our municipality. 

LP:  Regarding the CRB, back on March 5th during what I believe was a State of the City address, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson stated: “…if the CRB cannot deliver results than the region could face ‘forced amalgamation’”.  Now I assume you’ve spoken with the mayor of Edmonton since then.  What’s your take on that?

RC:  We’re touching on now one of the greatest challenges that is facing our entire region and our province.  It’s the pressure of growth.  That the province put together the CRB and put together the Calgary partnership shows vision on the provinces part quite frankly, because they understand that they cannot deal individually with 500 municipalities.  The more that municipalities work together, building on their successes and strengths, the better it will be for this province.  So the Capital Region Board or some other partnership – and those municipalities involved in the CRB, all 24 of them, have different kinds of joint-ventures with their neighbouring municipalities.  So it’s not just about the Board, it’s about us.  For example: Strathcona County works with Fort Saskatchewan in affordable housing through a housing foundation.  There are different accords we have and our neighbours have with each other.  When we go back to Don Iveson’s statement about….

LP: ‘Forced amalgamation’.

RC:  Well, even back further when he says that…when he says ‘if the CRB cannot deliver results’ I would say to you that we are the CRB.  We as municipalities, all 24 of us, have the responsibility to deliver the results and to work together.  It’s not some entity out there, it’s us.  And it’s up to us to be successful.

LP: We touched on this a little bit earlier.  Right now, what is the most important issue or issues facing Strathcona County today other than pot bellied pigs?

RC:  Well, the pressures of growth are what’s facing almost every municipality in Alberta in one way or another but when you take it and translate it into what we are facing in Strathcona County specifically the pressures of growth are resulting in the…in Council analyzing the options with growth.  So we have two growth nodes as approved by the CRB: Colchester, Bremner…but add to that the fact we have eight different hamlets.  So we have to look at those as perspective growth areas.  We have area structure plans for a number of them.  We’re going to have to find out through our studies and through our consultations with the public three things: where to grow, when to grow, and how to grow.  There may not be one answer; it may not be in just one area.  It may be in several areas but which areas?  How to grow? And put into that equation how much will the taxpayer pay?  How much will industry pay?  That is, I would say, the primary issue in front of this Council that must be resolved.  We must paint a clear picture for our public in the next three years.  That is a mandate of this Council.

When you look at the growth pressures you have to look at our neighbours like Edmonton.  How are they dealing with their growth pressures?  Then you look at another neighbour, Fort Saskatchewan.  How are they dealing with this issue?  They’re looking at a growth study right now.  They’re going to be a public consultation in January/February.  The consultants will come back with a preliminary I believe next year.  We are involved because we are their neighbour so we will be impacted – not involved in the actual study but we will be impacted.  And so that is in front of Council as part of the pressures of growth.

LP:  Strathcona County is currently hosting the Canada 55+ games.  Broadmoor Lake Park and Centre in the Park is in the running for the Best Places in Canada contest.  Lately it seems the County is receiving a lot of positive focus in various forms.  Is the outside world finally recognizing how amazing our part of the world is?

RC:  Add to that Moneysense – and Moneysense for the last four or five years has been looking at us, we’ve been in the top 3 or 4 in the best places to work, live, and play, and raise a family.  This is an accumulation of the work done since Strathcona County was born.  You look at the leadership of the past, look at the leadership of the early ‘90’s that led to…that initiated talks with the province to result in what we are today: a specialized municipality.  So when we get these accolades we can look at two things.  The vision of our leaders of the past, and we can look at the hard work of our administration in the last several years to bring these things forward because it’s not about right now, today, snapping your fingers.  These things started decades ago.

LP: So this is the culmination of planning that was –

RC: Planning and hard work and vision along the way.  The job of our Council is to support the work that’s been done in the past and build on our successes, which we continue to do.  High-five to our staff, by the way.  We’ve got some staff that...with the blessing of Council and support, go out there and find things to bring to our community.  And this Games – I particularly relate to these Games because these are the people, these are the champions we look to, to build on health.  How important is health, how important is recreation and sports?  We want our children to take up sports and to continue sports throughout their lifetime.  We’re not just talking about happiness.  We’re talking about the economic value of good health, and we need to give a boost to our health system to support it.  How we can do that is to stay healthy. 

LP: …and maybe there’s a kid sitting in front of his laptop and grandma is out running a road race.  Might be a little bit of motivation there…

RC:  (laughs) We’re hoping so…

LP:  What is your most embarrassing moment?

RC:  These are the hard questions, Leigh.  What am I embarrassed about?  (long thoughtful pause…)  It must have happened a very, very long time ago as a young person because as I have ‘evolved’, matured, um…I’m so outwardly focused.  I’m not poopin’ ya…

LP: ...and THAT I’m putting right in – letter for letter…

RC: (laughs) I’m told that I have a good sense of humour. 

LP: You need to have a bit of self-deprecation if you’re going to be in politics.

RC:  I never started out to be in politics.  I was very happy running a stud farm in Ontario.  – of horses! (laughs)  So we go from that agriculture background running a racetrack, working as Manager of Agriculture at Farmfair International, and I never meant to be a politician.  I love working with volunteers and I was... I was more outward focused on other people.  When I deal with people, whether they work for me or with me, and….some people like to say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ and I always say to them “thank you, okay, but now let’s look at what we can do to fix the issue”.  Let’s not spend our time and resources there, let’s spend our time and thought process on making it better.

LP:  You know I have to bring up the most famous current celeb in Sherwood Park, that of course being Eli the pot-bellied pig.  Here we have someone who broke a bylaw by bringing in what is classified as livestock, she was fined, didn’t pay and plead not guilty.  The court date is set for November, I believe.  My take is the owner is not asking for the bylaw to be changed, but rather for some sort of special exemption just for her.  What is the Council’s take on this?

RC: Yes, my understanding of the situation is that a resident has brought a pig into Strathcona County – into our urban areas, and that’s an important differentiation here because our bylaw says that we cannot have livestock and it names different types of livestock including swine, which a pig is.  They cannot come into the urban area.  They can live and do live in our rural area of Strathcona County. Our municipality is blessed as being a specialized municipality.  We have urban, we have rural, we have industrial…so you know what?  We have more flexibility that many communities and it’s unfortunate that this swine, this livestock found itself being moved into an urban area but you know, above and beyond all of this is our very bylaws.  We have bylaws in place to help support the quality of life and health of our residents.  We have to make those bylaws so that they fit the majority of our residents.  Bylaws by their nature do not have exceptions or exemptions written into the bylaw.  Let me take this situation – let me make this example for you: we have many excellent drivers.  I mean, there are a couple professional race-car drivers here.  So why wouldn’t we make an exemption for them?  We’ve got 60 km/h speed limits, 30 km/h speed limits in school zones but we’ve got some excellent drivers out there.  We created some sort of test for them.  Why don’t we put a special flag on their car and they can just go 80 km/h throughout our neighbourhoods?  Well, the reason is obvious and to me it’s just as obvious why we have to uphold this specific bylaw on livestock in the urban area.  In the future if anyone objects to any bylaw – speed or animals, or kind of animals such as exotic animals – we can deal with those through the proper system.  But asking Council to put in an exemption under any kind of bylaw, to me, is walking down a path that no resident really wants to…

LP:  It would set a precedent for others.

RC: Yes, absolutely.

LP:  Which high school clique were you part of?  I won’t suggest stoner….

RC: (laughs) In high school I played volleyball so I was a team sport person.

LP: You were a bit of a jock, then?

RC: You know what?  I did not belong to a clique.  I remember that distinctly through public school and high school and university.  In university, I was in a few clubs but I didn’t have a social peer…a social net, if you will, around me.  I tended to be more of an individual thinker and an individual who went out and did her own thing.

LP: One person, past or present, you could sit and have a coffee with is:

RC: Today, I would say that it would be Margaret Mead because of that statement she made, one of her quotes: ‘A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’  To me, it speaks of teamwork, and it speaks of a small group of people having a vision and the determination to move forward and accomplish great things.  So I want to know what experiences in her life drove her to come up with that thought.

LP: Last question.  You’re coming up to the end of your first year as mayor.  Have you put any thought, any consideration as to things you have started now that might take a second term to complete?

RC: I think politicians - and certainly speaking of myself as a politician, I need to not think about myself being re-elected.  I need to think about the plans and accomplishments we as a team are able to put together.  So I won’t even think about re-election until 12 months before the date.  We need to put all of our energy, all of our focus on what we’re doing today.  The campaigning, being political right now is a waste of my energy and time.

** Special thanks to Mayor Carr for her time and to Jessica B. for making it happen. 

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