One of the joys of running for public office in St. Albert, win or lose, is the opportunity to talk with our fellow citizens about what matters to them.
It can be pretty scary. Voters ask tough questions.
I’ve been quizzed rigorously and in depth, for example, by a voter who wanted to know what I thought about Adlai Stevenson – that is, No. 2 of the four U.S. public figures with that name, and the last U.S. presidential candidate to regularly wear a bow tie on the campaign trail, in case you were wondering which Adlai. I had the feeling a vote might hang on what my answer was. (For the record: I approve.)
Yesterday, I received an email from a St. Albertan who took the time to ask several serious questions that not only deserve responses, but wider discussion in our community. Here are the questions and my answers, edited for brevity, clarity and to protect my interlocutor’s identity:
Q: For the size of St. Albert (and it is growing all the time) I cannot understand why the transit system is so terrible. After the peak times for buses, the system is terrible for the size of St. Albert. Why are buses not offered all day every 15 or 20 minutes like most cities? As for dial-a-bus, it is not that great. Sometimes they never show up. Not everyone has a car. St. Albert citizens need a better system.
A: I am a strong supporter and defender of public transportation. As I stated in a recent blog post, “if you vote for me, you are voting for a candidate that believes in, values and will fight to defend public transit, recreational, cultural and library services, winter and summer road maintenance, trees and parks. All of these services can be defended while being responsible with taxpayers’ dollars.” I back public transportation because it saves money on infrastructure over the very long term, is environmentally responsible, and serves all citizens, including citizens who may have no alternatives. It is interesting to note that all the great urban regions of the developed world, virtually without exception, have efficient and inexpensive-to-use public transit systems. My wife and younger daughter both use St. Albert Transit to get downtown and to the U of Alberta area, and at time both have had complaints about the service. I believe that with the right strategies we can improve both service and ridership.
Q: Every September when the yellow school buses are taking our precious children to and from school, we as drivers are allowed to pass the bus. This is ridiculous. Never have I passed a school bus and I cannot understand why it is allowed. I have been told numerous times it is to keep traffic moving. This needs to change. Please address this very serious matter. Unfortunately, as I write about this a small child had been killed in St. Albert by a school bus. So very sad. Please, we need to really look at the reasoning behind this issue.
A: I agree with you that traffic should be required to stop for school buses in urban areas. Like you, I have seen unsafe practices in St. Albert – including cars whizzing past school buses that are picking up or dropping off children.
That said, I’m not certain there is much St. Albert councillors can do about this because I am pretty sure it comes under provincial legislation. (There’s nothing a Canadian politician loves to tell a voter more than “it’s not my jurisdiction,” and I don’t want to just blow off your question, though.)
As I understand the rules, if school buses use their red flashers, traffic is required to stop. So the question becomes: Why don’t they use their flashers within urban areas? Are they prevented by local bylaws or provincial law, or is it optional? Right now, I don’t know the answer, but I will make this pledge to you – win or lose the election, I’ll try to find out and write about it.
One other point, if council were to try to implement such a policy, expect a strong and hostile reaction from many drivers, both from within our community and travelling through it – probably in some cases the very ones you worry about. So do not count on any council to ignore the wishes of those voters. Rob Fordism, if you know what I mean, runs strong in Canadian municipalities!
Q: We pay very high taxes to live in St. Albert, and that is why I cannot understand why we have to shovel our sidewalks. I never heard of this until we moved here from the east. Why should we the homeowners who pay large taxes have to do a job that should be in the city budget? This makes no sense to me at all.
A: Since attending university in Ottawa for a spell in the 1980s, I have thought clearing sidewalks of snow should be a municipal responsibility. Good luck to both of us making this happen, however!
I did a very quick Google search just now on what this would cost and came across a figure on a 2010 news story that said the City of Waterloo, Ont., with a population of about 100,000, estimates the cost of having city workers clear all sidewalks within 24 hours of a major storm to be $1.5 million. While the story is not clear on this point, based on the same activity in Ottawa, this is likely an annual cost. A City of Edmonton report a decade ago estimated the cost to Ottawa (population 880,000) of clearing 1,500 kilometres of sidewalks at $6 million to $7 million a year, depending on the snowfall. This is far lower than I had assumed the cost would be – although, accounting for inflation and Alberta prices, not to mention the fact we would have to purchase appropriate equipment that I assume Waterloo and Ottawa already own, we can be sure it would cost more here.
In fairness, I think our current council has been trying hard to keep the rate of tax increases under control, so all of the tax revenues collected will find their way to legitimate programs and funds. Moreover, I am sure many St. Albertans would react to this idea with horror, because they would see it as likely to increase taxes again.
Still, it’s worth exploring and I may take the recent example of certain Edmonton politicians and raise it in an election forum if the opportunity presents itself. I do think that if we offered more visible quality public services, the hostility of many Albertans to the idea of public service might be eased.
As an aside, another municipal issue I have written about in the past is the environmental and public safety benefits of just having sidewalks, period, in all parts of every city.
It has bugged me for years that most Canadian municipalities allow neighbourhoods to be built with sidewalks on only one side of the street and industrial areas with no sidewalks at all. This makes walking a dangerous activity, even in the summer.
If we were really committed to environmental responsibility, as all politicians nowadays say they are, wouldn’t we be considering a simple measure like this to make it easier for people to walk to and from work or public transit, not to mention to walk safely in their own neighbourhoods?
Surely installing adequate sidewalks would be a reasonable request to make of developers when they build a new neighbourhood? Even if we didn’t clear the sidewalks in the winter, we’d still get six or eight months of environmental and safety benefits – not to mention the long-term cost savings of having a healthier population!
If you’d like to ask me a question, especially if you’re a St. Albert resident, send it to AlbertaDiary@gmail.com and I’ll try to answer it in a future post.