It’s officially a race.
Councillors Rick Bonnett and Doug Gill have announced their intention to replace Larry Henkelman as mayor of Ponoka.
Residents aren’t used to actually electing their mayor; Henkelman was returned to council by acclamation the last two terms. It’s not that the mayor has been politically untouchable — this isn’t Montreal or Chicago after all — it’s more that no one else wanted the job.
And by this twosome throwing their hats into the ring, two vacancies open up among the five council seats. And, if as expected there are two more councillors throwing in the towel, Ponoka will have a real opportunity to chart a new or at least improved direction.
It’s unlikely the seven people elected in October will unanimously agree on where Ponoka should be going and how it should get there, so it will be refreshing to have more councillors challenging the status quo and shaking things up.
If the community is to advance, it needs fresh ideas and the revitalization a new generation of leaders can provide.
Residents deserve local government that is willing to listen to their concerns and their suggestions. That’s a cornerstone of democracy. That doesn’t mean council is going to cave in to the unreasonable demands of the electorate. It has to do what it feels is in the best interests of the community. But council needs to respect the very people who elect them.
Nomination day for the fall election is Sept. 16. That gives you less than three months to get up to speed on what town council has been up to. You don’t have to understand mill rates, off-site levies, municipal development plans and debentures right away to be considered a good candidate for office.
This council will boast their Ponoka is open for business — maybe it is — but it is closed to criticism, no matter how constructive.
Residents of Ponoka, the business community, institutions such as schools and hospitals and service clubs need to be involved in forging a new, common vision for the town. We need to have a frank discussion about Ponoka’s future and tonight’s open house to discuss the revised municipal development plan is a good place to start. While council can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly create accelerated growth, its plans, policies and attitude will have a bearing on whether Ponoka is even considered by the international widget companies looking to get a toehold in central Alberta.
The challenge facing this community is achieving steady growth but we have to recognize that an increase in the population does more than simply add new neighbours on our streets and customers in our stores; growth has a more widespread impact on the community, its needs and desires.
It is a planning challenge to accommodate new, land-intensive housing developments without destroying the small town qualities that attracted the newcomers here in the first place. Creating new residential subdivisions doesn’t lower your taxes or create jobs; it requires the town to buy more snowplows and lawnmowers, maintain more buried utilities and provide more firefighters and Mounties.
The alternative is to close the door to new development entirely. Cap the population of Ponoka at 9,500. Once we’re all in; quick, close the door.
Small town atmosphere means security and safety, peace and quiet, friendliness and community spirit. We need to achieve a reasonable and sustainable balance of commercial and industrial assessment versus residential assessment. We must face the challenge to increase our self-sufficiency in creating local jobs — the more opportunities residents have to work here, the more opportunities they will have to spend here.
Ponoka’s common vision should be to ensure a positive business climate that supports expansion and diversification of the local economy; and one that contributes to an improved quality of life for all residents while maintaining the community’s agricultural roots and protecting the natural environment.
It’s time to get started.
— Off the Record