Ponoka prepares for next stage in political change

For the first time in a political forever, Ponoka will have a race for mayor in the October municipal elections.

For the first time in a political forever, Ponoka will have a race for mayor in the October municipal elections. Mayor Larry Henkelman, after decades of service, will not seek re-election.

With councillors Rick Bonnett and Doug Gill running for mayor, Ponoka voters should have a clear choice of where they want the community to go and how to get there.

Other serving councillors have also decided to join Henkelman on the sidelines; John Jacobs, Shane Steffen and Izak van der Westhuizen have paid their dues, they’ve done their time and they’ve got the lumps on their foreheads to prove it.

Political change seems to be a two-step approach for Ponoka: 2007 voters elected a majority of newcomers to council and now for mayor they have to decide between Gill, an experienced councillor, and Bonnet, who has served one term and challenged the status quo. There could be only one incumbent standing, with Loanna Gulka surrounded by a variety of council candidates with myriad platforms.

Ponoka News will provide profiles on the candidates and reports from forums and council meetings. This is the basis for your education on the issues.

This is your best opportunity to influence the outcome of the election. This is your time to tell the candidates what they should be doing for you, your family and your community. The election is your opportunity to elect the people who will represent the way you feel about the need for a new north traffic bridge, about policing and fire protection, how much industrial land should sell for, and how often streets should be plowed.

As voters, our perceived lack of political knowledge creates problems for government. As people become less knowledgeable about how their government works, the more they believe that they are powerless to change it. This creates frustration and cynicism, which in turn creates a vicious cycle of non-voting, unresponsive representatives, and even lower voter turnout and disconnectedness.

You don’t have to understand mill rates, off-site levies, municipal development plans and debentures to make an informed choice on election day. Read the candidates’ literature, their profiles in this newspaper, attend the political forums and talk to the candidates when they come to your door. It’s as much their responsibility to educate you about the issues as it is yours to seek out the information.

Voter turnout at the polls on municipal election days has become poor and part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the candidates. It is their responsibility to work hard over the next month to restore our faith in government and ease our frustrations. These candidates must make us feel included in the system and empowered to make change.

In Ponoka, voters will be filling six council seats in addition to choosing the mayor. If you are unfamiliar with some of the candidates, you have no obligation to vote for them. Vote for the one you have made a connection with. Randomly filling in the ballot or checking off six may knock out the one candidate that you do want to see elected and instead put people in power who do not share your views or who lack commitment to take the role of councillor seriously.

If there is a lack of credible candidates on the ballot, and a low voter turnout, the nutbars and axe grinders stand a better chance of getting elected and taking control of the political agenda for the next three years.

Confront these candidates when they come to your door. What do they see as the municipality’s greatest challenges in the next few years? Quiz them to determine for yourself their integrity, leadership, vision and suitability for office.

Municipal council exists for one purpose: to govern. It is accountable to the taxpayers and the community as a whole to see that the corporation achieves its annual and long-term goals such as economic growth, low taxes, sufficient police and fire protection, and maintaining infrastructure.

For some seeking office, sitting on municipal council is a matter of civic duty; for others it is an opportunity to push a personal agenda, to, oust an out-of-control incumbent, or to interfere with the administration of the municipality. It is not council’s job to oversee the day-to-day operations of the corporation — that is the job of the CAO hired by council.

The grassroots is fertile ground for the propagation of all sorts of creatures who feel they have “something to offer” or who wish to “give something back to the community” and offer themselves up for election. Beware the one-issue candidate whose purpose is to sabotage the community agenda for his own political ends. If municipal council is in touch with its residents, it enjoys the confidence and support of the community; it reflects the needs and ambitions of the community, contributing to the growth and benefit of the economy.

Councillors must offer visionary leadership that encourages business and residential growth, and which opens the door to new opportunities for success.

Be sure to elect those candidates on Oct. 21.

— Off The Record