The sanctioning of Rocky View County (RVC) Couns. Samanntha Wright, Crystal Kissel and Kevin Hanson cast a shadow over much of 2019.
The ordeal began after the trio questioned “irregularities” in the hiring process of CAO Al Hoggan, and shared confidential documents with a lawyer without council’s approval. Following the removal of a subsequent notice of motion from an April council agenda, the three submitted a letter to Rocky View Weekly.
After formal complaints under council’s Code of Conduct bylaw were made against the three, council appointed an investigator and, on June 11, the councillors were sanctioned. As a result, they were removed from County boards and committees, restricted from travelling on behalf of the municipality, slapped with a 30 per cent reduction in pay and directed to issue apologies, among other impacts.
Hanson, Wright and Kissel have vigorously and vocally questioned the sanctions, and in August, filed an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta seeking an order to set them aside.
“Hanson, Kissel and Wright believe the sanctions are an attempt to silence voices that are known for opposing the council majority,” the councillors said via a Sept. 5 press release.
“I haven’t been there, so I’m not sure – what I’m getting is hearsay,” said Reeve Greg Boehlke. “The hearsay I’m getting sounds like…it is just to garner some sympathy.”
The open houses also served as a forum for concerned residents to launch a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs requesting an inspection of the County. The petition ultimately failed to gather the required number of signatures.
The councillors’ court battle is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2020.
In September, reports of a shooting at CrossIron Mills mall drew a heavy police presence and left one man with serious injuries.
Airdrie RCMP and Calgary Police Service responded to a report of an active shooter at the shopping centre around 7 p.m. Sept. 16. Upon arriving at the scene, police found one man had been shot in the parking lot near the mall’s food court. The victim was transported to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Following the shooting, the mall was secured store by store. Around 600 employees and several thousand patrons were evacuated, and the facility was cleared shortly before 1 a.m. The investigation was subsequently handed off to the Southern Alberta District Crime Reduction Unit.
On Nov. 10, three suspects – Calgarians Dakota Brandon Bolton, 25; Carle James Schuyler, 35; and Jari Erkki Manner, 37 – were taken into custody and charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, among other charges. A press release Nov. 12 announcing the arrests indicated the shooting was a targeted incident.
Another arrest warrant was issued Nov. 14 for Michael Keith Caseley, 42, in connection with the shooting. He was later apprehended following assistance from the Central Alberta District Crime Reduction Unit (CAD CRU).
“Information was shared amongst the two crime reduction units, and the CAD CRU was able to locate Caseley in the company of two other males,” an RCMP press release stated. “All three were arrested without incident in downtown Edmonton.”
Stop Our Stench
Residents east of Airdrie celebrated in June after a controversial compost facility, Thorlakson Nature’s Call Inc. (TNC), was refused a development permit by RVC council.
“I never, ever expected to see it shut down but, in my personal belief, that was the thing to do,” said Dennis Gieck, an organizer of Stop the Stench – a grassroots group opposed to the facility.
Council had previously granted a redesignation to TNC Dec. 11, 2018, despite heavy opposition from neighbouring residents. As a compromise, the bylaw included several conditions that had to be met before a development permit would be granted.
Problems with the facility persisted – a stench carried by wind into Airdrie Jan. 10 bore a resemblance to the odour described by the facility’s opponents, prompting TNC to hold an open house Jan. 18 to address concerns. After the operation failed to meet one of the requirements – mandating a development permit application be submitted by Jan. 31 – RVC announced in March enforcement compliance actions were being undertaken, and the municipality began fining TNC $1,500 per day.
After council refused to grant the facility a development permit in June, TNC was instructed to immediately cease receiving compost material and completely clean up the site. The decision has resulted in some strain on compost programs for both RVC and Airdrie, which previously sent organic material to the facility.
County Plan Rewrite
This year, council chose to embark on a rewrite of the County’s highest statutory plan. In January, administration was directed to undertake a targeted review of the County Plan – a high-level master plan approved in 2013 to guide development for the next decade – before subsequently carrying a more comprehensive review.
Months later, after concerns were raised about the budget associated with the two reviews, council voted to scrap the projects and instead initiated the creation of a new Municipal Development Plan (MDP) using $400,000 from the tax stabilization reserve.
“We discovered, after six years, the County had basically outgrown the text of [the County Plan],” Boehlke said.
In September, O2 Planning + Design – a consulting group retained by the municipality to complete the new MDP – began its first round of public engagement with several open houses in RVC. A second, more in-depth round of engagement kicked off in late November, with additional open houses held through early December. According to Matthew Wilson, RVC’s manager of Planning and Development Services, a draft of the new plan is anticipated in March 2020.
Rural crime became a hot topic provincially after the UCP was elected to power, with Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer travelling throughout Alberta for a Rural Crime Tour.
Schweitzer heard from County residents in September during a stop in Airdrie and Bragg Creek, where locals articulated their concerns about rural crime.
“We have seen, since building the hotel, an active criminal presence in our area,” said Elise Shorting, general manager of Days Inn Calgary North Balzac, at the town hall. “In sharing comments with our business community there…we are actively talking about the crime that happens in our area.”
Following the tour, the provincial government announced new measures Nov. 6 aimed at combating rural crime, which included, among other things, expanding the roles of 400 peace officers and changing the Occupiers’ Liability Act to “eliminate the liability of law-abiding property owners who are protecting their property against trespassers.”
“All the ideas in the announcement that we made…came directly from Albertans at the town halls,” Schweitzer said. “They voiced their concerns, they voiced their frustrations, and their concerns are legitimate.”
The province also announced changes to the funding model for rural policing Dec. 4 with small and rural communities expected to contribute more than $286 million over the next five years.
The change was not without detractors – during the province’s consultation and following its implementation, the NDP opposition routinely decried the new model as “cost downloading” onto rural municipalities. There were concerns locally, as well – in November, RVC initiated a resolution asking the Rural Municipalities of Alberta Association (RMA) to advocate for additional consultation.
Resident outcry played a significant role in Beiseker Village council’s decision to refuse a land redesignation application to a controversial biomedical waste incinerator in November.
The application was first considered at a public hearing Oct. 15, attracting heavy opposition from residents of not only the village, but neighbouring communities as well.
“Although this is obviously in Beiseker, the communities affected are not just Beiseker,” said Jennifer Ladrillo Green, a concerned resident of Irricana who helped organize the opposition. “It’s all the farms and acreages around in RVC [and] Irricana.”
The incinerator, proposed by G-M Pearson, would have employed 22 people and disposed of approximately 8,000 tonnes of biomedical and other non-hazardous waste per year.
However, Ladrillo Green and others were concerned about potential health effects on residents, livestock and crops due to the incinerator’s emissions, as well as G-M Pearson’s past track record, which they found unsatisfactory.
After tabling the application to gather information from Alberta Health and Alberta Environment and Parks, council unanimously defeated the redesignation request Nov. 13.
“There’s been a great uproar, and there’s been very little, if any, support for it in the public,” Mayor Warren Wise said. “Obviously, we’re swayed by that.”
Chestermere Rec Centre
The future of the Chestermere Regional Recreation Centre (CRRC) was in question after Rocky View County (RVC) voted to close the facility Sept. 24 due to safety concerns.
“This is a sad day for me,” said Coun. Jerry Gautreau. “I’ve been advocating for this facility for a very, very long time.”
CRRC, Chestermere’s primary recreation facility, is situated within the City’s boundaries and is primarily used by residents of Chestermere and Calgary. However, RVC owns both the land and the building and has leased the facility to the Chestermere Regional Community Association (CRCA), which operates the centre, for decades at no charge.
The decision was prompted by a structural analysis that indicated a portion of the facility’s roof was at risk of failure if subjected to a heavy load of snow. Reeve Greg Boehlke said at the time the County didn’t “have any other choice for the protection of the people that use that facility.”
The decision received immediate pushback from both the City of Chestermere and CRCA. RVC held an emergency meeting Sept. 27, where council reversed the decision and kept the facility open, with CRCA implementing a snow monitoring and removal program.
The City of Chestermere has since expressed an interest in purchasing the facility, with council passing a resolution Nov. 5 to explore options to that effect.
“The City of Chestermere sees significant benefits in owning these lands in order to facilitate effective long-range planning for recreation amenities, and to develop recreation opportunities in our community,” Mayor Marshall Chalmers said.
Despite continued opposition and a change in government, the controversial Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir (SR1) project saw some progress in 2019.
In February, the province announced it had reached an agreement to purchase land from Ryan Robinson, a one-time vocal advocate against the reservoir who had been a driving force behind Don’t Damn Springbank, a grassroots group of landowners, residents and concerned citizens.
According to then-Minister of Transportation Brian Mason, the Robinson family’s land comprised 12 per cent of the land required for the project, bringing the total land acquired by the government to 20 per cent.
The project then benefited from $168.5 million in federal funding, announced March 13, and, after taking control of the provincial government, the UCP announced May 3 it had appointed a lawyer to find ways to expedite the project.
Over the summer, however, several groups – including the Springbank Community Association, the Bragg Creek Community Association and Tsuut’ina First Nation – formalized their opposition to the project.
“This is not a constructive project,” said Lee Crowchild, then-chief of Tsuut’ina First Nation. “It is a destructive one. SR1 demands the destruction of one community to protect another.”
Meanwhile, RVC – which, in late 2018, formalized its opposition to the project – decided to engage a lobbyist to advocate its position. RVC did, however, praise the UCP government for opening up the lines of communication after a June 14 update on the project.
“For the first time in this project’s long history, the Government of Alberta actually updated RVC on what was happening before we found out through the media,” said Reeve Greg Boehlke.
Residents of RVC went to the polls twice in 2019, casting votes in Alberta’s provincial election April 16 and marking their ballots for Canada’s federal election in October.
In April, Alberta went blue with the United Conservative Party claiming 63 of 87 seats in the Legislature to form a majority government. RVC was no exception – five UCP MLAs were elected to represent parts of the County. Incumbent Angela Pitt was elected to represent the new Airdrie-East riding with 67.3 per cent of the vote, while Leela Aheer and Nathan Cooper were also re-elected in Chestermere-Strathmore and Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, respectively. Meanwhile, Peter Guthrie won his first election with 66.2 per cent of the votes in the newly formed Airdrie-Cochrane riding. Miranda Rosin’s path to representing Banff-Kananaskis was rockier – on election night, only 672 votes separated her and incumbent Cameron Westhead, although Westhead conceded defeat April 19.
“It’s humbling,” Richards said after defeating four candidates with 71.3 per cent of his riding’s popular vote. “It’s something I don’t take lightly. It’s an honour to be that voice and I will be a strong voice for them.”
In July, council decided to end a project to create a list of RVC voters. The initiative was launched with a Jan. 23, 2018 notice of motion by Wright, and council voted 7-2 Feb. 13, 2018 to proceed with the project.
“I just can’t see how this is going to help with voter fraud,” Deputy Reeve Al Schule said at council’s regular meeting July 9, where council voted 6-3 to halt the project. “[If] people are going to be fraudulent, they’re going to find another way.”
Schule, who had supported the project in February 2018, was not the only councillor to withdraw his support. Couns. Gautreau and Kim McKylor both said they’d arrived at the belief that the cost of the project – somewhere between $250,000 and $366,600, according to Municipal Clerk Charlotte Satink, depending on its scope – outweighed its benefits.
McKylor further said a list of electors would offer a “false sense of security.”
“I’m not saying voter fraud doesn’t happen, I just don’t believe it’s happening to the tune of…$366,000,” she said.
Wright continued to advocate for the voters list project, saying it aligned with the core values of integrity, leadership and accountability outlined in council’s strategic plan.
In a press release following the decision, RVC stated, “the County will maintain the existing process where each voter provides identification and signs a legal voter registration form on election day.”