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City of Red Deer

City Council Forum Part 2: Issues facing economic development and growth in Red Deer


28 minute read

City Hall
In the closing days of the municipal election campaign Todayville has considered the issues that seem to be emerging as priorities for Red Deer voters.  We’ve taken the opportunity to send questions via email to all the Candidates for Mayor and City Council and we’ve promised we’ll post the responses of those who get back to us.  We are happy to add responses from those who haven’t gotten back to us yet over the weekend, but here is a collection from some of the contenders.
We’re separating the responses into the four questions we asked.  The first 2 questions come from the Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce Municipal Priorities Survey.  The Chamber has identified issues of utmost importance to area business owners, managers, and employees.  The top priority they identified for our next council to tackle is no surprise.  It’s crime, disorder, and safety.  The second most important issue according to the Chamber Survey was economic development.  Here’s our question:

2. In your opinion, what are the main issues facing economic development in Red Deer and what suggestions do you bring to help kickstart a new era of development and economic growth?

Mayoral Candidates

Buck Buchanan

I think the overall economy is not good due to what has happened to Oil and Gas and now dealing with your number three question COVID. I have spoken to several Local Businessmen and would like to create a mayor’s Task force to determine how we could make things better whether that be in tax incentives or to help to eliminate red tape with permitting. As the Business people I believe they would be best suited to advise the council as to what would or could be done and how to ensure Economic Development increased.

Ken Johnston

When I launched my campaign and throughout my campaign I have been speaking of a mayors advisory group for business. We have excellent entrepreneurial skill in our city and the mayor needs to be an ambassador for economic development. This will certainly be a priority of mine and a new approach in promoting the city and winning business. This latest energy downturn has really spurred research and development into alternate fuels, carbon capture, high speed rail, renewable energy, agribusiness etc. Oil and gas servicing companies are more optimistic with the rise in prices. We have tremendous opportunity for partnership with our Red Deer Polytechnic. Our major events strategy is designed to attract sporting and cultural events on a broad scale. Investors and investment capital need to know Red Deer is ideally positioned in the Province. We have a tremendous natural environment, all the amenities that any city could offer, an incredible trail system and a quality of life designed to retain and attract a skilled workforce. Economic development is a community effort and requires all stakeholders to share vision, best practices, resources to maximize success. The city will be a working partner with the Mayor  as its ambassador

Council Candidates

Bruce Buruma

  • Reputation matters and when it comes to doing  business in Red Deer, we have work to do. We need to be Open For Business where we want business to succeed by being responsive, competitive and service oriented. I have heard far too many examples where significant impediments by the City have created frustration and lost opportunities. The evidence is clear, business will go where it makes the most sense. How do we overcome this–we ask, listen and respond to the list of concerns and shift our culture at City Hall, driven by City Council. These have been long standing issues, and little has been done to change this. We need to create confidence to invest in Red Deer and its future. We have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, we need to let it thrive because strong economies create strong communities. We also need to take a long term perspective on economic development and diversification given some of the fundamental shifts in our local and provincial economy. Red Deer needs to be positioned as a key player in province wide economic diversification given our strategic location. I also believe that Red Deer Polytechnic, with a refreshed mandate, needs to play a key role in providing programming that is responsive to new and existing opportunities that can thrive in Red Deer.

Brenda Campbell

We need to retain current and attract new business in order for much needed growth and economic development in Red Deer. Red Deer has a reputation of being difficult to deal with in the business community. Land use bylaws and zoning need to be addressed so red tape doesn’t hold up projects. Tax rates have to be reduced as lower taxes are better than no tax revenue at all .We have the supply but need to make it more in demand. Red Deer is centrally located and that alone should be a big draw. However, too many blunders have occurred and we’re losing, instead of gaining, population and possibilities. Relationship building and promotion of Red Deer as well as tax incentives are some ways of kickstarting a new era of development and economic growth. Let’s learn from the county and other areas that are flourishing so we can do the same.

Craig Curtis

One of the major issues is competition with the County, which has lower commercial tax rates.  There is a long history regarding Gasoline Alley and the reasons it did not become part of the city. The city’s tax rate for commercial and industrial is very comparable with that in other cities. However, there are significantly lower tax rates in the County and other smaller communities. The main reason is that these communities do not have to pay for a full range of services. In particular, police and fire services comprise well over half of the municipal budget and the tax rate. Setting the above aside, we must face reality and negotiations with the County could see a greater contribution by the County to facilities like the Westerner, which serve the region as a whole. In addition, some movement on the tax rate could be considered on a phased basis. I used this model in Owen Sound, Ontario by reducing the ratio between residential and commercial properties. This resulted in the city being congratulated by the CFIB for the progress we had made.

As far as the Downtown is concerned, the social and economic issues need to be worked on together. There are inadequate facilities for the homeless and there is spillover into the adjacent downtown area. Closing the temporary shelter is not a solution. That would only make matters worse. The answer is to build the new emergency shelter with wraparound services. This and other economic development ideas which would solve problems and support development are included in my platform (

As a City Councillor I would: ·
 Work to immediately address a temporary shelter solution as well as increased support services that address housing needs and addictions.
 Advocate that Red Deer leverage its central location to attract people “working from home”. Red Deer offers an affordable better quality of life in a smaller community.
 Support the city using its outstanding recreation, culture and sport facilities to attract events and ignite prosperity for businesses of all sizes. The 2019 Canada Winter Games left a legacy of facilities that can be used to host provincial national and even international events. The Games alone had an economic impact of over $100 million of economic benefit for the community.
 Seek to address the disparity between City and County commercial tax rates. Although the city’s tax rates compare favourably with other cities, businesses in Gasoline Alley have a distinct tax advantage.
 Recommend a stronger partnership with the Downtown Business Association to make development more affordable so the downtown can reclaim its position as the economic and cultural heart of the city.
 Propose that the city play an active role in ensuring there is a Red Deer stop on any future high- speed rail connection between Edmonton and Calgary and that this is integrated with our transit system.

Michael Dawe

The basic answer to this question is economics. Red Deer has to have very careful budget controls – spending on the “need to haves” – and not merely the “nice to haves”.  Out of this, there has to be very tight controls on taxes and fees to make the cost of living in Red Deer and doing business in Red Deer more competitive with the nearby communities. This budget, tax and fee control is particularly essential in the current economic times.

There needs to be more flexibility on rules and regulations as well as eliminating red tape. A good example of this came up with the issue of the old Deer Park Fire Hall. City Council initially declined a rezoning, thinking that by doing so, the proposed developer/business owner would be forced to go downtown or perhaps another commercially zoned area. Instead, he decided to relocate to Gasoline Alley, until, fortunately, City Council reversed its decision and a business was “saved” for Red Deer.

Finally, another part of economics is ensuring that basic standards and requirements are maintained – proper roads, sewers and infrastructure, emergency services, recreational facilities and our wonderful parks system, particularly our trails systems. These are incentives to ensuring people want to live and do business in Red Deer.

Victor Doerksen

Economic development starts with strong basic infrastructure … you need water and wastewater systems, power, transportation corridors, and recreational infrastructure. Add to that a predictable, competitive tax and regulatory regime and you have the environment that will attract investment. After that get out of the way and let developers and investors do what they do best. We need to have a hard look at the extent to which the city is in the land development business, especially speed to market. Taxpayers are on the hook for the land development in Timberstone, Capstone, Queens Business Park and Eco Industrial Park. Let’s not strand our investments.

Sarah Harksen

I honestly believe that the main issues is the lack of support and options the City has given our Businesses. We need to start offering initiatives in a form of grants, lower start up fee, lower taxes, promoting and re zoning.  We also need to show others that we support local and we need to start giving back to our community.  We have many empty warehouses, and shops that its losing revenue in our City. Let’s start filling them up. I also know that rezoning in Red deer is not the best. We need to revamp our zoning so that more businesses can move around or spread throughout the community.  I am all for development but it’s hard to fill places if businesses have to pay huge overhead costs for starting up. I will also state that building clientele is a process.

Vesna Higham

Given skyrocketing Federal/Provincial debt and rising inflation, pandemic hardships on our business community are ongoing and exponential. Now more than ever, we need prudent spending and a simplified regulatory environment at City Hall as we continue to navigate residual Covid impacts to our economy. Here are some suggestions to help “kickstart” a new era of development and growth:

First, it’s critical that we foster a more streamline, business friendly environment at City Hall: things like reducing administrative red tape and the time it takes to get permits pulled or applications approved, as well as taking a more generous approach to interpreting our pivotal City planning documents and the Land Use Bylaw itself. Given the challenging economic times and the pressure of competing development opportunities (like Gasoline Alley), we can no longer afford to lag behind the best practices of other communities who incentivize development with low taxes, simplified regulatory procedures, and a flexible approach to working with the business community.

Second, we need pro-active strategies including things like: appropriate tax breaks and economic incentives, as well as other regulatory levers to support business and families dealing with ongoing Covid impacts.

Third, we have to get a better handle on the crime and social disorder impacts in our community (as noted in the previous question).

And finally, Council itself needs to be flexible and business oriented. The clearest example of how a rigid approach by Council can drive business out of our boundaries is the inordinate struggles Council had around the old Deerpark firehall approval. At first denied due to concerns raised by a handful of local residents, the long-time downtown business owner came “this close” to moving his entire operation to the county. Within a week or so, Council revisited the decision on a motion to reconsider, and two councillors switched their votes to approve the development application. There must be a conscious, resolute mindset on the part of this new Council to be flexible to forthcoming development/business applications, as reasonably appropriate of course.

Cindy Jefferies

First and foremost, we need to work together. It concerns me that we have lost so many businesses to Gasoline Alley/Red Deer County. What concerns me more is that from my perspective, we did nothing to try and keep those businesses here. We watched while they left. It will take years to get those businesses back in the city, if it ever happens. Our downtown needs help. We need to address the social needs that we see and experience downtown. It is not acceptable for the city to stand by and claim that this is not our mandate and that this is the province’s responsibility. When downtown deteriorates, businesses leave, and people don’t want to go there, it is the city’s problem. We must work with the provincial and federal governments. We need a permanent shelter with services like mental health, detox, and treatment. We also need affordable housing, including temporary supported housing, permanent supported housing, and transitional housing. Our city’s current response costs way too much money. We currently respond with EMS, police, mental health, bylaw officers, peace officers, outreach teams, social diversion teams, emergency room visits at the hospital, the DBA’s clean team, and encampment clean up by parks crews. What is really crazy is that we do that over and over again with very little, if any, improvement. I believe investment in housing is a more affordable and effective choice. If we fail to put these pieces in place our economic development efforts to attract business and residential development will also fail. When the city planned Capstone there was recognition this could detract from the downtown if it wasn’t well planned. With the downturn in the economy, followed by the pandemic, we have not seen the uptake and interest that one would have hoped. I think we need to be patient and  not “sell out” as we have been done in the past. At the same time, we must recognize the true cost of that development potential. Incentives for both the downtown and Capstone may be needed. Capstone is an opportunity our community won’t get again. It’s our riverfront. Arts and culture are critical. Many small businesses emerge from this pillar in our community. Arts and culture contribute to our quality of life – to the fabric of our community. It is what differentiates us from other cities and towns.

Ryan Laloge

We have a business property tax approach which is punitive to location in the City that motivates relocation to the County. The City needs to do what it does well and not be all things to all people. Businesses do not locate here or expand here to be in mini Calgary or Edmonton.

Lawrence Lee

We need to look at our downtown in a different way – setting up business incubators will be imperative to jump start our business landscape. Working with Red Deer Polytechnic will also assist where we have always shone, by providing a source of highly skilled labour. Diversification will also play a role as Red Deer capitalizes on its geographical location and on the success it has had in attracting national events – Canada Winter Games, Canadian Finals Rodeo, Gretzky Hilinka tournament, World Juniors, Canadian National Pickleball and the list goes on.

Janisse Somer

I believe our hope is in our downtown. Every relocation decision, be it a family or a business, is made with an image of ‘place’ in mind. That image is powerful and physical … a picture of buildings, streets, cafes AND the feelings and social life that are associated with those places. Whether good or bad, that image is hard to shake! And, with rare exception, that image is downtown. Every city’s reputation is largely based on the downtown. If the downtown doesn’t look good, the city doesn’t look good. People won’t want to move here, and it will be that much harder for citizens to feel good about the place they have chosen to live. If we focus on increased business and activity in our downtown, people will feel positive about our downtown and therefore, positive about our city. If people feel safe in our downtown, therefore, they will feel safe in our city. I want our downtown to be a unique shopping destination that attracts both tourists and Red Deerians. Add some tourist
attractions and you have a recipe for kickstarting our economic growth! A beautiful and vibrant downtown can be the rising tide that lifts all ships.

Dianne Wyntjes 

These days, there is much economic competitiveness among all Alberta municipalities to attract businesses to their municipality; Red Deer is no different.

In the next Council term, I’d like to bring together Red Deer community leaders as we work together on the “Red Deer Plan” with a delegation to go to Edmonton, meet with Provincial leaders, so Red Deer is on their mind as a future site for any suitable future major sector development that may come to Alberta. Our city is on a major corridor and consideration must be given to our City and region, rather than the Province often looking to the two major cities. It’s also important to ensure that vision and planning continues so that Red Deer is recognized and plans will be in place for any future stop for high speed rail between Edmonton and Calgary.

Outreach and engagement to gather community business wisdom and working with entrepreneurs. What are the niches/segments where we can expand in Red Deer? Ensuring we have the research, data and information about gaps in industry and business, and identifying opportunities to fill them.

Meeting with small, medium, large business and industry, what regulatory hoops have not been addressed these past years or need to be considered for ease of doing business with the City? Along with zoning and bylaws review. What’s working? What’s not working? What City incentives might be possible that will bring return on investment for our tax base?

Recognizing new ways such as working from home and what does that mean for office spaces and utilization of these spaces, specifically in the downtown?

What’s possible for adding to the arts and culture and tourism niches in Red Deer and how can we advance the arts and culture vibe in Red Deer?

Continuing to ensure there is adequate serviced land supply – residential, commercial and industrial. For developments such as Capstone, do we need to revisit the development plan? What else does the City need to do to generate interest that will add to the tax base and quality of life for Red Deer? Reviewing all current marketing initiatives to promote Red Deer as a city of choice and a preferred central Alberta location. What can we do better? Using our strengths compared to our competition municipality weaknesses.

There’s a statistic that 80% of growth comes from current and local/regional businesses and 20% from new business that come to the city/region. Reviewing and looking to ways to support local business.

Looking to the future, ensuring Red Deer has available, skilled and qualified employees/workforce. It’s important we focus on what we can do to prevent “brain drain” so Red Deer and Alberta retains youth and experienced employees.

Last, liveability and quality of life in a city are investment attractions when someone or a business chooses Red Deer. This includes having high quality health care, education and post secondary education, recreation, vibrant arts and culture and a welcoming community for Red Deer to be a community of choice for newcomers and business retention, attraction and investment.



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Alberta Ombudsman can’t do anything about City of Red Deer complaint about 9-11 Dispatch

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Ombudsman Responds to Municipalities’ Complaint About Ambulance Dispatch

Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman took the unusual step of publicly commenting on a complaint received involving Alberta Health Services.

The City of Red Deer, along with the municipalities of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo filed a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding Alberta Health Services’ consolidation of ambulance emergency dispatch services.

The Ombudsman Act authorizes the Ombudsman to investigate administrative decisions of government ministries and many related bodies, but the Act specifically prohibits her from investigating decisions of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“My office thoroughly analyzed the complaint and confirmed that the decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch services was indeed made by AHS. While many government-related bodies fall under my jurisdiction, AHS is not one of them,” stated Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman. “In fact, the Ombudsman Act specifically states that my powers of investigation do not apply to health authorities. My ability to investigate AHS decisions would require a change in legislation. While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction.”

Investigations by the Ombudsman are conducted in confidence, and it is the Ombudsman’s general practice not to comment publicly on complaints, especially ones that are not being investigated.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

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City of Red Deer

14% of City Employees still unvaccinated as mandate comes into effect Monday

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City Hall

Employee immunization policy comes into full effect Monday

On Monday, The City’s employee immunization policy takes full effect with proof of vaccination or proof of negative rapid antigen testing required, per the timelines outlined in The City’s Covid-19 Employee Immunization Policy implemented on October 5, 2021.

Starting Monday, City staff who have not submitted their immunization records must provide proof of ongoing valid negative rapid antigen testing, tests are valid for 72 hours.

As of today, 1,256 (86%) staff have submitted their vaccination records; however, this number may change as more staff continue to complete vaccination and send in records. The City has set up a process for those who opt for negative rapid antigen testing in lieu of being vaccinated.

“We are pleased with the number of employees who have provided their immunization records, and we anticipate the majority who have not, will choose to provide proof of negative rapid antigen testing come Monday,” said Tara Lodewyk, Interim City Manager. “Many thanks to the staff who have worked together to bring this to implementation. The policy respects the preferences of individuals without compromising the health and safety of our employees and our community. In creating good policy, we need to do what is best for the overall organization.”

The City will do its best to work with all employees to navigate the complexities of the policy; however, the small number of staff who choose not to submit immunization records or provide proof of negative test will not be able to work and unpaid for that time.

The COVID-19 Immunization Policy implemented on October 5 applies to all City of Red Deer staff. The City Manager is delegated the authority under the Municipal Government Act to make decisions and create policies, which includes safety and business operations for the City of Red Deer. The current Employee Immunization Policy falls within this authority.

City Council will receive a report in January about what a potential policy for members of Council may look like, as well as potential timelines for implementation.

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