Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is sitting in her sunlit, second-story City Hall office which gazes over downtown Red Deer. She considers her term and some of the signature moments that have taken place in the City. A lot has happened.
“Sometimes in our day-to-day, things might not always move as quickly as we want them to. You don’t always see progress in the day-to-day,” said Veer. “But when you look back, both in the past year and the past couple of years, you see the big picture and you remind yourself that there have been substantial initiatives, both in terms of the City as an organization but also our community in terms of moving Red Deer forward.”
There have been some key plans approved by council this year that will impact Red Deer’s future.
Most recently, the Riverlands Area Redevelopment Plan will serve as a road map to creating a downtown riverfront neighbourhood. As well, the North of 11A Major Area Structure Plan ensures the City is ready to grow north of the highway once the population starts to climb again.
The City also had some victories to celebrate in its dealings with higher levels of government. Construction on the QEII interchange is already underway after the project was approved by the province in April. When complete, there will be separate roadways for highway and local traffic along Gaetz Avenue, resolving longstanding safety concerns.
That’s some of the serious business but the City also had some fun in 2016. The Rebels hosted the Memorial Cup, which concluded with the London Knights hoisting the CHL trophy at the Enmax Centrium. The tournament generated an estimated $14 million economic impact, Veer said.
And as Red Deer awaits the 2019 Canada Winter Games, the City, host society and public school district struck a deal to repurpose Central Elementary School into the event’s headquarters.
When she takes a step back from the routine operations of the City, Veer can see that things are changing.
“I think one of the great parts of Red Deer’s identity is, we work together to make possibilities become reality. I think we’re very fortunate that we recognize that together, we’re better,” she said.
“Because of that attitude and that willingness to make things happen, as much as we have faced challenges, and will no doubt continue to face challenges, I think we remain very confident that we will see them all through together and come out the better for it.”
Red Deer has been tested. People left. The City’s unemployment rate reached 10%.
The economy is projected to shrink by another 0.8% before 2016 is over, according to the Conference Board of Canada.
Through these hard times, which can strain the unity that Veer talks about, it’s important to focus on aspirations.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our community in terms of the fact that when challenging times have hit us, instead of dividing, we have pulled together and collaborated to still insist that we move Red Deer forward,” she said.
“Sometimes we have to adjust the pace in which we can fulfill our visions and desires for a better City. Obviously when there are economic realities, we need to adjust our expectations. But (we need to) keep our eye on the big picture, always.”
To that end, Veer said she loves municipal politics for its non-partisan environment because it means that elected officials are accountable to the people alone. The expectations are clear: “To make the best possible decisions that we can, for the most amount of people, given the information and resources that we have.”
This year’s citizen satisfaction survey conducted by Ipsos saw 98% of those polled responding that qualify of life in Red Deer is either “good” or “very good.”
“We remain very grateful that most Red Deerians continually tell us they value the quality of life that they have in Red Deer,” Veer said.
“Our job then is to be responsive to that. Over the last couple of years, what we’ve really tried to do is celebrate our successes but when our citizens have identified for us areas of challenge, we focused our efforts on making improvements to those services.”
Heading into an election year, Veer said it’s too early to declare whether she will run in 2017, that now is the time for leaders to focus on working hard for citizens, not campaigning.
“The people have given me four years to govern. And every day, we can effect change,” she said.
She laughs. “I appreciate that you need to ask it. Everybody asks it.”