Red Deer mayor Tara Veer admits the past 12 month were among the most difficult of her political career.
"2018, in looking back, it was a tough year," Veer said during her annual year-end interview with rdnewsNOW.
"We had tough issues to deal with, we had a recession and social division on some issues and trying to pull together in the same direction. So it was a challenge and there were issues that kept us awake at night."
"But having said that, when you look back at the year, as well, there were significant milestones that will serve the interests of Red Deerians for generations to come."
While Alberta has been through recessions before, Veer says the latest one to hammer the province has been deeper and has resulted in a longer road to recovery.
“Certainly the challenges that Alberta is faced with in terms of not being able to get energy to market has had a trickle-down effect on our whole economy,” she lamented. “We see it manifesting itself in terms of the financial and economic consequences, but it also has socio consequences. And we see that in terms of some of the challenging issues we’ve dealt with, and some of the social division on those issues.”
No issue was more divisive among Red Deerians in 2018 than supervised consumption. After months of council debate and impassioned public discussion, a building on 54 Avenue was designated as the new permanent home of supervised consumption services in Red Deer.
“Red Deer, in particular, has been challenged with gaps in health and social infrastructure,” said Veer.
“Going through those debates, there was a lot of polarity with respect to supervised consumption – both in terms of principle, where people stood on supervised consumption as a practice – but also on location."
“While I personally had some reservations about that particular location because of the long-term vision for Railyards, I do respect that the will of council prevailed on that. The development conditions will hopefully help to mitigate against some of the safety concerns that adjacent organizations and businesses have.”
On the flip side, Red Deerians are united when it comes to two other front burning issues – crime and hospital expansion.
Veer recognizes that crime and public safety have long been the top priorities residents want to see addressed, but is confident things are heading in the right direction.
“When people are victimized it becomes very personal for them,” Veer recognized before noting the addition of 10 new RCMP officers in 2018, including four specifically assigned to the downtown core.
“The more proactive our police can be in terms of enforcement, the better our enforcement is because we are getting ahead of the curve."
“Some of the latest numbers out of Q3 and Q4 in 2018 are showing improvement. But I think we have to approach that with the sense that we’re trending in the right direction, but we certainly haven’t arrived yet.”
When it comes to hospital expansion, Veer says improved infrastructure will continue to be The City’s top priority when it comes to lobbying the provincial government in 2019.
“The hospital isn’t just about a building; it’s about our loved ones. It really does resonate with people,” she noted.
“I think that there are very strong expectations, on our community’s part, that the provincial government will fund that long-awaited and much-needed infrastructure expansion at the hospital.”
With all the challenges Red Deer had to deal with in 2018, Veer says there were also several milestones worth celebrating. Most significantly, she notes, is Red Deer College being granted university status.
Several new recreation facilities opened in Red Deer this year including the Servus Arena, Setters Place at Great Chief Park, River Bend Recreation Area upgrades and the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre.
“We started to see the real pragmatic, tangible benefit of being a Canada Games host city,” she highlighted. “All of those are new or modernized long-standing community amenities that had it not been for the Canada Winter Games, we wouldn’t have been able to, through the property tax base, afford those projects. Those projects came to us through provincial or federal dollars that we otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
And Red Deer continued to establish itself as a major sporting event tourism destination, noting the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Hlinka Gretzky Cup and recent World Junior Hockey Championships announcement as prime examples.
“We have a proud sports excellence history; it’s in our local DNA. We’ve held major in the events in the past and realized success from that. But really over the past two years, and the past year in particular, the more momentum we’ve gotten.”
A provincial election in the spring and federal election next fall will, by default, make for an eventful 2019 for Red Deer.
While she plans to make sure Red Deer’s voice is heard throughout both campaigns, Veer insists she’ll be doing so only as Red Deer’s mayor, not an election candidate. “Over the years people have asked me what my intentions are. But my intentions are to govern. I’ve been given a mandate by the people of Red Deer to serve as mayor,” Veer said.
“There may come a time in the future, but that time is not now. I have a mandate as mayor until 2021. I love our community. I’m honoured to serve in this capacity. I made commitments and look forward to following through on them and building a community that we love.”
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