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Opinion

Incumbents and wealthy neighbourhoods prefer “at-large” – poorer prefer “Wards”

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Red Deer keeps saying they want to be treated as a big city but campaign as a small town.
Elections for city councils are held through either a ward system or at-large system, depending on the location. Vancouver is the largest city in Canada to use the at-large system, while most other larger cities use wards.
Wards versus at large: Niagara Falls (population of 88,071),candidates discuss. If you want to get in the game, some say a ward system is helpful. … Now, more than a decade into an at-large system where eight councillors are elected to represent the entire city, some candidates are calling for a return to the ward system.
It may better represent the city, but some people find it confusing. One political scientist says we should consider bringing back the ward system with the civic election one week away.
A ward system, essentially, has an elected representative from varying neighbourhoods around the city.
Langara College political scientist Peter Prontzos says it’s a little more democratic and things won’t be rushed through council because there are more voices to be heard and more issues brought to the table.
But he warns there are cons.
“It may be a little more confusing in some ways and there may be occasional gridlock on city council, but I think that’s relatively minor.”
He says right now those who run for office are people with money who only represent wealthy neighbourhoods where something like public transit may not be issue.
Today, 8 out of the 9 current incumbent city councillors and mayor live south of the river and east of Gaetz.

This blog was posted on Todayville.com a year ago. How far off was I? Please read and consider next week’s vote and should we ask ourselves the same question now.

“At Large” versus “Ward” municipal governance.

A year from now, October 16, 2017 there will be a municipal election and the citizens of Red Deer will vote for (1) mayor, (8) city councillors, (7) public school trustees, and (5) separate school trustees.
Red Deer uses the “At Large” system for voting so you have the option of voting for all positions mayor, councillors and school trustees either public or separate. 16 spots or 14 spots respectively.
The last election in 2013 we had 5 people running for mayor, 30 people running for council, 14 people running for public school board and 7 people run for the separate school board, 56 people in total.
How many people can remember all the candidates, anyone? Let us make it easier. How many people can remember , everyone who won, anybody?
The huge advantage of the current “At Large” system falls to and gives advantage to the incumbents and then to the more wealthier campaigns,
It takes money to advertise to every household in the city, so naturally you will find that the wealthier candidates more often than not live in the wealthier neighbourhoods. It is less expensive and easier for the city staff and management to deal with councillors, at large, in bulk than it would be to deal with the ward system and on individual basis. There is I have been told less infighting among councillors, perhaps because they have more in common, under the at large system than under the ward system.
The advantage of the “Ward” system is that poorer neighbourhoods get equal representation. The citizens are closer to their elected officials and poorer candidates have smaller areas to cover. The city staff will have to refine their method of dealing with councillors in regards to neighbourhood issues.
There are pros and cons to both system, and we had a plebiscite on the issue during the 2013 municipal election. 71% voted to remain with the “At Large” system, feeling that Red Deer is still small enough to stay with this, the current system. The city council incumbents voted to budget $30,000 to inform the electorate of the issue, which was heavily in favor of the current system. They held an open house with a heavy leaning to the current system with just one local person, Larry Pimm, speaking a popular former councillor, known for and speaking for the “At Large” system.
I believe that by looking at the city today, the current system has systematically and historically failed one third of our city.
One third of our city lives north of the river and they are represented by 1 person out of 9 at city hall. Out of 7 indoor ice rinks and 4 aquatic centres in Red Deer, they have 1 north of the river and the latest buildings are being built or planned south of the river. When it comes to school boards, the city has, is building and planning 6 high schools, all on the south side and 5 high schools are unbelievably along 30 Avenue. So 1/3 of the population gets shafted and has been since merging with the city nearly 70 years ago.
Let us get back to voting. In 2013 we had 56 candidates for 21 spots and naturally most incumbents who ran won. How can anyone know and understand the positions of 56 candidates. Many would like one or 2 newcomers, vote for them and fill the rest with known incumbents. They are sabotaging the chances of newcomers by voting and electing their opposition.
I have been advocating for 4 wards within city limits. Each ward would have 25% of the population, give or take 5%. 100,000 residents would mean that each ward would have between 23,750 and 26,250 and the boundaries would change with the population growth.
Each ward would elect 2 councillors, perhaps the school boards would adopt the ward system, so the public school board could for example. have 2 trustees from each ward, and the mayor would be elected city wide.
Using the 2013 ballot, you would elect 1 mayor out of 5 candidates, you would elect 2 councillors out of 7 or 8 depending on the ward and the public school voters would elect 2 trustees out of 3 or 4 candidates, again, depending on the ward.
Perhaps under the ward system, with representation at the table, using my previous arguments, the residents living north of the river will actually get a new indoor ice rink, swimming pool and perhaps (dare I dream),their own high school. One can only dream.
The incumbents will say no to the ward system, stating the small size of Red Deer, omitting the fact that most incumbents are relying on their constituency of voters that are spread across the city and may not their constituency of voters may not be strong enough in only one ward.
Lately, there has been some voices out of city hall, demanding to be recognized as a big city and to be included in the “Big City Charter” and the extra money and power associated with it. Incidentally the cities covered by the big city charter currently use the ward system.
Should we hold another plebiscite, asking that our councillors represent their neighbours, should we ask that school board trustees represent the neighbourhood families, should we take the step to recognize that Red Deer is now a big city and not that small town anymore, and prepare for and govern like a big city.
2017 will see a few candidates run against the incumbent mayor but we may see in excess of 30 candidates run for city council and in excess of 20 candidates running for one of the 2 school boards’ trustee positions. Under the current system we will again see governing concentrating their attention in the same areas like downtown or the east hill. We will continue to ignore the needs of residents living in neighbourhoods like those north of the river.
“At Large” is an ideal that fails when reality is involved, the “Ward” system is a flawed ideal that may best represent our reality. What would do you think? It is your home. Thank you.


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Opinion

Is Lethbridge population 100,129 larger than Red Deer population 99,832?

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Red Deer’s latest census in 2016 showed that our population shrank from 100,807 in 2015 to 99,832 or by 975 residents. We have not done a census since 2016, because it is costly and needs growth to justify undertaking the expense of a census.
Lethbridge’s census of 2016 showed that their population grew from 94,804 in 2015 to 96,828 or by 2024 residents, a growth of 2.3%. 2018’s census for Lethbridge showed a population of 99,769 a growth of 1.7% over 2017 or 1571 new residents.
Let us optimistically assume that Red Deer has halted it’s outward migration of residents, without any indications or proof, and that our population has stabilized at 99,832. This is the population number that is currently being used by planners in budgeting etc.
Let us pessimistically assume then that Lethbridge maintains it’s slowest growth of 1.7% or 4 new residents per day. The latest census was done in the spring and announced in June so if we say 90 days have passed and Lethbridge only grew by 4 residents per day or 360 new residents, then, to give them a current population of 100,129 today.
So is Lethbridge, now Alberta’s third largest city? Will we find this out next June?


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LOCAL MOM AND SON: EMPOWERING CHILDREN THROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION

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Yesterday was the last day of Suicide Awareness Week. It was also my brothers birthday. But for me, like millions of others around the world it doesn’t end this month or this week or on September 15th. How I see the world and the people in it was forever changed just after 3 am on March 18, 2012.

I see you. I see the ones so ashamed and scared to speak the truth. I see trauma. I see secrets. I see family members fighting and blaming. I often see doctors and therapists looking in the wrong direction. I see our loved ones dying. I see love. I see hope. Mostly I see love and hope.

I come from a long line of alcoholics, which is now known as substance use disorder (SUD). I say this with complete love and respect for my loved ones, and even though no one discussed this within my family, from the time I was a 5-year-old child it was impossible to ignore as I could see the devastation, heartbreak, and struggle with my own two eyes.

However, what wasn’t so obvious was that mental illness also ran in our family. Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder was, and continues to be, a well-kept family secret.

But silence and secrets perpetuate an unhealthy environment of shame. I know, because I was that little girl once, the one who overheard secret whispers. And although no one told me directly, the message was loud and clear, “Addiction and mental illness are shameful, you don’t ask questions; you look the other way and you hide them at all costs.”

We need to begin the conversation in our own homes. No one will ever find the courage to seek help or speak publicly if we can’t even speak about these topics privately in our own families.

My son, Ryan, started struggling with severe anxiety in Grade 1. With no explanation, advice, or whisper from my family that this might be a non-obvious kind of illness — something that is sometimes called an “invisible illness.” His dad and I were left on our own for months trying to maneuver our way through what was causing his panic attacks and tears. At appointment after appointment, while poking and prodding Ryan, and carrying out countless blood tests and medical exams, doctors assured us there was nothing wrong with him physically.

I was tortured. What is happening with my little boy? How can I make this better for him?

With no other explanation at the time, I was convinced that he must have been sexually abused at school. I was so relieved to find out eventually that I was wrong. I can’t help but think about how much time, effort, and unnecessary trauma we caused our young son. Had we known earlier about the mental illness in our family tree, we might have all walked an easier path.

Years later, we lost that much-loved member of our family — a sweet, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken man — to alcohol addiction and mental illness. My younger brother, Brett, Ryan’s uncle, lost his brave battle in March 2012. He was 39. I watched helplessly as shame and discomfort stopped him from talking about his feelings, broke down his spirit, and made him feel that the situation was hopeless.

And it wasn’t hopeless.

I was raised in the 1970s. It wouldn’t have been a reasonable expectation to have these open discussions back then, and I accept that. But I can’t help wondering if things might have turned out differently for my brother if we had worked through some of our early childhood trauma in our adult lives.

But we can’t go back; life is about moving forward. My perspective is that I am blessed and proud to be part of a changing world where we are encouraged to speak openly and honestly about our experiences, including addiction and mental health. And I believe that encouragement starts with young children.

Years later, Ryan and I were reminded once again that life has unexpected challenges and doesn’t always go as planned.

On June 3rd, 2017, I had a mental health breakdown that landed me in the hospital.

One day I was myself; the next day I wasn’t. During the next twelve months, I came to understand firsthand what it is like to wrestle with thoughts and feelings you can’t control, thoughts that plague your mind every waking moment as I fought my way through fear, anxiety and clinical depression.

Since my son was a little boy, I tried to do things differently than how it was done in my family when I was a child. Ryan and I have always talked about things openly, ever since that first experience when he was 6 years old. We discussed understanding his feelings and anxiety, and later addiction and the dangers of self-medicating with alcohol. We did that all so that he is aware not only of himself, but has empathy and compassion for others; you never know what someone else is going through.

I have two young nieces who were only 6 and 13 when their beloved Uncle Brett died. Unlike other family members of mine, I have spoken to my nieces openly and truthfully ever since that very day. As they grow up, I talk about the topic more in-depth, being sensitive to how old they are at the time; always with honesty, love, and without shame.

My niece Kaddi is now 12 she graduated last year from the sixth grade. The class had to do an oral report on a topic that meant something to them, and she chose alcoholism. She is as comfortable speaking about it as she is with the knowledge that her grandmother passed away from breast cancer before she was born. I was overwhelmed with pride and thought to myself, “I hope that teacher knows how amazing and brave that little girl is.”

Her sister, Payton, is now 19. She has a big bold tattoo on her left arm of bear paws bearing Brett’s name. When people ask what it means, she answers kindly, lovingly, and honestly, “That is my uncle who struggled with alcoholism and died by suicide.”

When we talk honestly and openly to our children, they can grow up to have no stigma or judgment toward those struggling through addiction and/or mental illness. These young children will not only grow up to be more aware but to be more empathetic, kind, caring, and compassionate as they maneuver their way in this world and lead others to be more kind and caring too.

I am proud to see those qualities in my son; he is no longer a child, but a 25-year-old man. It should not go unnoticed that one of the traits I am most proud of is his desire to challenge himself and come out of his comfort zone. As he is typically more reserved and has a quiet personality. His commitment to help others by being a positive role model not only to young boys but to grown men is admired. He knows that it does not make us weak to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help. We could use more people like him in this world, as his quiet demeanor means he listens and sometimes that is all someone needs, someone to listen.

We both know how blessed we are every minute of every day, and that some people aren’t so fortunate for a variety of reasons, including possibly not having the loving support of friends and family. It is important to both my son and I to give back and to use our experiences to bring people together, to give them strength to speak their truth.

I am proud to stand beside my son, sharing our story and speaking without shame.

May we all have the courage to open our eyes and our hearts a little wider. Not this week. Not today. But everyday.

Jodee Prouse and her son Ryan are advocates to help eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction. Jodee is the author of the powerful memoir, The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame and Addiction and How I Broke Free. To contact them for a speaking engagement from a loving family perspective on mental health, addiction, childhood trauma and other topics email- jodeeprouse@gmail.com


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