Many Albertans had their eyes fixed on Ponoka last week as the race for mayor was the closest many have seen.
Mayor Rick Bonnett beat Doug Gill by a single vote — 960 to 959, which drew provincial interest. Residents who supported Bonnett could be heard saying, “Yup. My vote counted.”
And others who supported Gill but were too late to vote said the opposite, “If only I had made it on time. It would have been a draw.”
With votes being so close Gill requested a recount and many couldn’t blame him; one vote separated him from retirement or the big seat. Sure enough a recount was held Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. but the numbers remained unchanged and Gill accepted defeat.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished. We did a lot. I can honestly say that what I did on council always had the interest of the citizens at heart,” he said. “And that makes me feel good.”
He still intends to help out with his committee work as he has lived in Ponoka for the last 43 years and was on council for nine years. Gill congratulated Bonnett for a hard fought campaign.
Bonnett understood the reasoning behind Gill’s request and stressed that voting is an important part of democracy. “Everyone says, ‘My vote doesn’t count.’ Every single vote counts in every election, no matter what.”
The new mayor knows he has a big job ahead of him after winning by the narrowest of margins.
“There’s going to be 959 people that are going to be pushing me that much harder so we’ve gotta jump to the challenge and work hard,” explained Bonnett.
After getting over the shock, he seems to have hit the ground running. Bonnett has already met with new councillors to see which committees they feel they could best serve the town. He feels there will be a learning curve for new councillors; Coun. Loanna Gulka is the only incumbent.
New councillors will need to study up on the Municipal Government Act, budget deliberations are planned for next month and they will need to plan for meetings but Bonnett said councillors are looking to the future.
“They all want to change the direction the town’s heading,” said Bonnett.
He looks forward to Ponoka’s potential as a farming community in central Alberta and suggests there may be ways to take advantage of being close to Edmonton and Calgary. “We are sitting in the heart of Alberta.”
“We do have a lot of seniors, there’s no doubt about it. We need to make sure we’ve got our younger generation wanting to stay here and wanting to come back,” he added.
Bonnett wants to see industrial growth and feels the town needs to market itself in a better fashion.
A common issue discussed during the campaign was recreation. When asked where he sees recreation in the future for the Town of Ponoka, Bonnett feels users in the county and in the town want to see a new recreation building. Both Ponoka County and the town’s councils have a younger generation, explained Bonnett and he feels there will be strong ties between the two. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Planning for a new building is something he wants council to decide on but bringing both municipalities, users and businesses together might strengthen the chance for provincial grants.
“Could we force the provincial government to give us grant dollars and things like that? I think we probably can,” said Bonnett. “We’re obviously in some tough times…The government’s not going to open up their cheque book and give us $15 million dollars.”
He feels the best thing to do is to start with a land site and then slowly develop and expand to mitigate costs. “I’m talking 100 to 120 acres. I want it to be able to envelope everything that it’s a full recreational complex.”
Bonnett suggests the best way to plan is to bring the community together to discuss ideas. A visioning session is planned for Nov. 6 at the Kinsmen Community Centre from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
“That’s a start of where we can see what the people really want to do and where they want to focus on,” he explained. “It’ll be good for this new council to actually become part of that.”
He hopes to see county councillors there as well.
To get acquainted with the town’s needs, Bonnett intends to sit in on some committee meetings. He has not sat on all the committees and wants to become more familiar with the different needs of the Town of Ponoka. With the council, his goal is to ensure they stay focused. “It’s meant to be a guidance through this and to help them (councillors) lead it.”