Thursday, August 30, 2007

Surveying The Players

The field of Aldermanic candidates for October 15th's municipal election is starting to sort it's self out.

Here are the candidates that have announced their intentions, in alphabetical order, with their website (if available) so you can check everyone out. I'll also add these to the Worthwhile Blogs section on the right hand side of the site.

Gladys Blackmore

Elroy Deimert

Bill Given
Website ummmm - you're on it.

Kevin McLean
Not Available

Lorne Radbourne

Helen Rice
Not Available

David Story

Let me know what you think using Comments down below. There are still a couple from council that haven't stated exactly what they will be doing but with Gerry and Carol-Lee deciding not to run and Alderman Logan challenging Wayne for the Mayor's seat there will be at the very least three new faces on council.

Over the last few months I've met with at least four new people who were considering putting their name forward. They wanted to know what the job is like, what the time commitment is and in general what they could expect. ... none of the people I've met with are on this list, yet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good Moves for Affordable Housing

Last night at Council we approved two new policies that we hope will help spur the private sector into helping provide more affordable housing. As I heard at the Affordable Housing Conference these types of programs used to be the domain of only the largest centres like Vancouver. With a housing crisis like there is in our community (and in Alberta as a whole) I think they will (hopefully) start to be more common in mid-sized centres like GP

The the introduction to the first policy (Policy 607) reads:

"Application may be made to the City for the waiver of any or all of the permit fees, levies and/or securities identified below with respect to Global Housing Projects, City Related Projects, Affordable Housing Projects and any other projects identified by the Public Works Committee as deserving of assistance:

Permit Fees:
Development Permits
Building Permits
Transportation (Driveway Crossings, Storm Connection Permits, Excavation Permits and Barricade Permits)
Subdivision Applications and endorsements

Transportation Levies

Paving securities
Landscaping securities
Off-Site Infrastructure securities"

In a nutshell it says that if you are developing an affordable housing project you can ask the city to waive some or all of these fees. These fees, securities and levies can add up to thousands of dollars on a project so waiving these would be a loss to the city but will make it less expensive to build new affordable housing. One concern about these types of programs is that the original builder will take the money and then a few years down the road the project is sold or turned in to a condo.... The policy has something to say about that. The applicant should have "an agreement with the City for all or part of their development to provide affordable housing for a period of not less than 15 years."

The second policy (Policy 609) provides an avenue for Density Bonusing. The goal here again is to spur on private sector development of affordable housing in the city. The concept behind it is that "The City of Grande Prairie acknowledges that every member of our community needs a place to live and that for some members of our community safe, adequate, affordable housing may be unattainable. The City supports the provision of affordable housing in all neighbourhoods, and encourages all developments to contain affordable residential units."

You might be wondering just exactly how we figure out what "affordable" housing is - thankfully the policy has a definition to spell out exactly what the City means by "Affordable":

"... housing that is housing that is offered for sale or rent with a purchase price or monthly rental price that is 80% of market value for a similar housing unit."

Check out the policies for yourself, I think they are another good step in working to provide housing of all sorts for everyone in our community.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Council Pay

City Council pay was in the news again last week.

The DHT covered the discussion at a General Government Services meeting on Monday the 20th. The newspaper article is generally accurate even if the headline "Council Seeking Pay Hike" is a little off.... the issue came to council because we have a policy from 2002 that says in the third year of a term the out going council will set the salary for the next term and the new council. At that meeting staff brought forward a report salaries and recommendation to increase the base salary for Alderman to $25 000 with and additional $3000 for time spent as Deputy Mayor. The Per Diem rates were also changed from $150 for a full day out of the city to $200 for a full day and $100 for a half day. All of this would become effective October 22nd, after the election for the new council. The actual motion from the committee was this:

"MOVED by Mayor Ayling the Committee recommend Council approve that:

1. the Mayor’s salary be set at $75,000, effective October 22, 2007,

2. the Aldermen’s salary be set at $28,000, effective October 22, 2007 (based on $25,000 salary plus $3,000 acting pay for Deputy Mayor duties), and,

3. the Per Diem rate be set at $200/day and $100/half day, effective October 22, 2007.


MOVED by Mayor Ayling the Committee refer the matter of a full review of Council remuneration to a future Committee meeting post October 15, 2007.


Two things about the actions suggested by the motion...

First - I'm not sure I'm a fan of Per Diems. In my opinion it would be better to do away with them all together and put in a proper salary that reflects the job. I think this would be a lot clearer for the public and it removes the temptation for elected officials to become professional meeting-goers. It would also ensure that each member of council is paid the same - then it's up to the public to decide if they are all putting in roughly equal time.

Second - This leaves the Council after the election having to do a full review of council pay after jut being elected. I hope part of that would be the question of if the job of Alderman is a "part-time" job and should it pay like one? That's a tough spot to put a new council in - would they decide to change things? Would they make it effective for that term or would they make it effective three years down the road? For the record, my feeling is that if it's an issue and a change needs to be made then it should be done right away. I would have liked to see this come forward a few months ago so people thinking about running for council would have all the information about what pay for the next term would be. Maybe we would have a few more people decide to run, and that would be a good thing. (If you are interested in running I've posted info on what to do.) More importantly the votes would know what job they are electing someone to.

Since the first newspaper article there has been a follow up article to gauge resident reaction and of course letters to the editor. This week's GP INK had an editorial which I made a point I really agree with:

"With an election only a few months away, be careful when listening to and reading comments from candidates on this issue. There will be those who take their lumps and those who seek to gain political mileage from the pay raise issue.

Some will want to have their electoral cake and eat it too, so resist the temptation of having this issue become the key issue in the coming campaign. "

I agree with this point in the editorial because the discussion comes up over what amounts to a total cost of $52 992 ($6624 x 8 Positions). The people elected to council in October will be in charge of the City's operating budget, which in 2006 was just shy of $60 Million dollars.

So, what's your opinion on the whole issue? Use the Comments to have your say.

Oh and before I finish....

I've mentioned council salaries before where I provided the 2005 numbers of all City Council members as well as those of County Council. The 2006 numbers were released later in the spring so here they are to keep you up to date. (These numbers include base salaries as well as any per diems, benefits, confrence fees, travel expenses ect. The department of Municipal Affiars requires all municipalities to record them the same way.)

W. Ayling $86,110E. McDonald $79,819
G. Blackmore $26,128K. Balderston $56,917
J. Croken $33,397L. Beaupre $62,417
C. Eckhardt $27,612J. O’Toole $77,602
B. Given $23,793 P. Jacobs $56,276
M. Heath $27,467D. Longson $66,578
D. Logan $23,804B. Smith $67,004
G. Mazer $25,353R. Harpe $80,608
H. Rice $25,656M. Eckstrom $55,423

Smoking Bans Coming Jan 1st

I've mentioned before that the Province of Alberta is finally looking like it will enact a province wide smoking ban.

The most recent news, says that it looks like January 1st of 2008 will be the day. On top of the ban on smoking in public places the province will also reduce the places that tobacco can be sold and how it can be displayed is stores.

From the Edmonton Journal:

"The bill was introduced in June without any implementation dates. Hancock's ministry has now proposed bringing Alberta's tobacco-use rules in line with nearly every other province on New Year's Day.

But the government will give businesses more time to prepare for other anti-smoking measures in the Smoke-Free Places Amendment Act, which awaits third reading in the legislature this fall.

The ban on visible store tobacco displays, or "power walls," is planned for July 1, while the rules blocking all post-secondary campuses and pharmacies -- even supermarkets containing pharmacies -- from selling the cancer-causing products would take effect at the start of 2009."

Full Story

I think this is good news, it's about time Alberta had uniform legislation rather than the patchwork of different rules in different municipalities.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What About the Roads?

Last weekend at my cousin's wedding reception I was chatting with Dan, a friend from the hotel. He and I were talking about the election, all the projects going on in the city and what an important time this next three years will be for our community. I was saying that among other things the next council is going to have to work hard to get the Aquatics & Wellness Centre built and sort things out with the county on issues like fire.

Then Dan paused as if he was about to say something... and, after I encouraged him to say what was on his mind, he asked a question that I've heard a few times before...

"What about the roads?"

Well, Dan - I'm glad you asked:

Over the past six years (the two terms that I've been on council) the city of GP has invested much more in core infrastructure like roads and sidewalks than previous councils. In each of the last six years (2001 to 2006) council has spent an average of just under $9 million ($8,705,432) on roads and sidewalks - over the previous 16 years the average was $3,838,810.

I'll put the full numbers below for you to see year by year what was actually spent.

Year Spending
1984 $2,570,655
1985 $1,991,427
1986 $2,709,927
1987 $1,993,258
1988 $2,779,404
1989 $2,789,725
1990 $3,080,285
1991 $3,177,366
1992 $2,331,702
1993 $3,063,182
1994 $9,575,994
1995 $3,183,657
1996 $3,333,385
1997 $6,173,406
1998 $4,563,461
1999 $6,668,825
2000 $5,274,123
2001 $9,618,030
2002 $8,317,848
2003 $7,936,830
2004 $8,812,489
2005 $8,280,463
2006 $9,266,936

Many people think that council has a choice of either fixing the roads or building facilities. The fact is that running the city isn't a "zero sum game" where we have to do one at the expense of the other. We have to find ways to do both and that's the balance that the two councils I've served on has found. Sure, there is still much work to do - our roads take a beating and it shows in many places but the investment is there.

Of course there's also the fact that the contractors are suffering from the same labour shortage as the rest of Alberta - they can only handle so much work. Last year (2006) we tried to spend an additional $3 million but couldn't get anyone to do the work! So, the projects carry over to this year and we'll try and get them done.

Do the numbers surprise you? What do you think of the investment in roads in GP? Leave a comment below.....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Over 50

Grande Prairie is officially over 50.

I'm not talking about the age of our residents (StatsCan says we are actually one of the youngest communities in Canada with median age of about 29. That means that half our population is under 29 and half of it is over 29.)
What I am talking about is population, the total number of people living in the city. On Monday a report will go to the General Government Services committee with the results of the census that the city conducted in the spring of this year - we are officially over the 50 000 population mark with 50 227 people calling Grande Prairie home!

The really impressive thing this about this is that the 50 227 is a 6.69% increase over the federal census that was taken just last year. That's pretty fast growth, I mean look at it as this "what if":

What if we kept that same pace (6.69%) for the next two years and then dropped off a bit and grew a little slower, say only 5% in the next year?

2008 Pop. = about 53587
2009 Pop. = about 57172
2010 Pop. = about 60030

Wow! That number doesn't include the growth that we see in the County, Sexsmith, Wembley, Beaverlodge or Hythe. The region will be pushing the 100 000 mark in no time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


There seems to be kind of a common perception in the community that the councils of the City and County don't get along and that we are "constantly butting heads" and that there are personality issues that get in the way of the two working together.

It's actually not true.

Sure, there are lots of areas where we disagree or where we come at ideas with different philosophies but that's to be expected when you are dealing with two groups of people. There are also many situations where the system of local government created by the Province of Alberta puts us at odds - both municipalities have to rely on property taxes for their main source of revenue so it's no surprise that we are both concerned with maximizing this revenue and what is built in our boundaries.

In reality we have tons of agreements in place between the two municipalities and most of those are working just fine. There are also issues that we tackle together.

The media release from the most recent meeting between the two councils (yesterday):

Media Release
August 15, 2007

City and County of Grande Prairie representatives met Wednesday to discuss
several planning and infrastructure issues as part of their ongoing inter-municipal dialogue. These included:

1. Aquatics & Wellness Center Presentation
The City reviewed project details and provided a progress update on the
proposed facility.

2. Lougheed Annexation Request
Representatives of the two municipalities discussed an application to the City by a County resident wanting to have land annexed to the City. This is located within the Inter-Municipal Development Plan (IDP) and was previously identified as a future growth area for Grande Prairie.

3. IDP Review
Discussion ensued from the City’s correspondence regarding the IDP review agreed to earlier. Councils discussed next steps in the process. The IDP is a statutory planning document between the County and the City that identifies future City growth areas and provides a framework for the resolution of planning, economic development, servicing and transportation issues.

4. City/County Pound Update
This project will be tendered shortly with completion of the facility expected by 2008. The pound will be located next to the current SPCA facility in the City of Grande Prairie. This will enable staff from the three agencies to work together.

5. Transportation/Truck Routes
Councils discussed the need to improve truck routes in the immediate vicinity of Grande Prairie.

6. Trades Training Centre
Councils agreed to collaborate on encouraging a trades training centre in Grande Prairie.

7. Containerization Site
The County provided a status update on the proposed rail container site to be located in the vicinity of Four Mile Corner.

8. Fire Agreement
Councils discussed possible extension to the current fire agreement that expires December 31, 2008.

On that last point .... out of this the City will have a special Protective Services meeting next Tuesday to consider the county's response to our offer to extend the contract for fire protection. This extension will hopefully give us time to coordinate an integrated fire service for the whole region rather than setting up independent fire departments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Now on

"Hi Bill,

I came across your site last night while searching for Municipal Blogs in Canada. I recently launched to highlight blogging Municipal Councillors and officials from across Canada. I've added your feed to the site's main page, the Alberta section and have created a Grande Prairie page. I have also created a 2007 Alberta Municipal Elections section. Let me know if your current blog is also going to be your election site or whether you're going to have a different site. I'll add your feed to the Election section as well.

My main goal with MUNIBlogs is to help highlight people such as yourself who are using the internet and blogging to actively engage with their residents.

Paul Synnott

Hey Paul, thanks! I've added to the Worthwhile Blogs section on the right hand side of the site. Pop by and have a look at some of the others taking about municipal politics in Canada.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Election Info Packages Ready

If you are curious about what it takes to run for city council go here. The city clerks department has released all the official forms and information you will need if you are interested in running for elected office in the October 2007 election.

There are great packages that have everything you need to run for:

Public School Board Trustee
Separate School Board Trustee

For be eligible to run you have to be 18 years of age, a Canadian Citizen and a resident of GP since March 17 2007. After that all it takes to get in the race is the signature of five electors (city residents of voting age) on the nomination form and your $100 deposit. Turn that in on September 17th between 10am and noon and you are a candidate! (* Read the packages for all the exact details.)

If you are interested in running but would like to know about the job contact me. I'd be happy to get together with you for coffee and give you the inside scoop on what being on council is like and what you can expect during and after the election.

Think about it.... local government needs thoughtful, dedicated people willing to serve.

Maybe you?


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