Over the past 4 years I have done everything I can to fix traffic, slow down development and lower taxes. If you give me another 4 years, I promise you these 3 action items will continue to be my top priorities:
#1 Fix Traffic:
Cochrane has grown way too fast, and the municipal government hasn't done nearly enough to expand our roadways to accommodate the growth. I have been pleading with the current Mayor and Council to make traffic our top priority for years. I have a plan to fix traffic, and if I am re-elected, I will ask the next Mayor and Council to endorse my plan:
1. The first thing the next Mayor and Council will do is meet with the town's senior managers to set priorities for the next 4 years. The Mayor and Council must set traffic as the town's number one priority.
2. The next Mayor and Council needs to stop blaming the provincial government for traffic problems in town. Our entire town bottle-necks on the provincial highway, we must end the highway bottle neck, by providing railroad and river crossings on both the East and West sides of Cochrane.
3. The Eastern solution to end the bottle neck is building a new bridge connecting Spray Lakes Rec Centre to the South side of the Bow River. There are already plans to do this, but it will require continued co-operation with the developers and land owners south of the river. This project cannot be compromised.
4. For the West side of Cochrane, the next Mayor and Council must build a railroad crossing connecting Heartland and Heritage Hills to the rest of town over Horse Creek road. There are currently no plans to do this. We must direct the administration to add this to the 10 Year Financial Strategy.
5. In order to achieve this without significantly raising taxes, we must delay the multi-million dollar Cultural Centre project which will be discussed in the 2018 budget.
This plan will work. It won't be fast and it won't be easy. But it must happen.
What I haven't mentioned in any of this, is alternate access for Sunset.
Ultimately, we will need to find another way to get Sunset connected to the traffic grid, but I think we will have to focus on that later because it is going to be a much larger project. In the long term, I hope Sunset can be connected directly to the top of the Cochrane hill, through land that is currently within Rocky View County. This would provide access to Highway 1A somewhere near the entrance to Gleneagles.
This is going to be a huge project, and likely won't be possible for several years, but the next Mayor and Council should put it on the government's radar for future planning. At this point, it's just an idea.
#2 Slow Down Development:
It’s time for the Mayor and Council to seriously rethink our approach to residential development. Cochrane’s population has been exploding for several years, and there is a long list of negative side effects building up alongside the growth: Our roads are far beyond their capacity. Our schools are overflowing with students. Our RCMP and bylaw officers are overworked. The small town feel that attracted us all to this great little town is being destroyed. And perhaps most concerning is a topic that we haven’t discussed at all, that the value of local property is being eroded with every new home that is built.
With literally thousands of new homes queued up for development, I truly believe that we are flooding Cochrane’s real estate market, and obliterating homeowner equity all across town. I don’t believe the government should regularly pursue protectionist pricing policies, but I believe the magnitude of development in Cochrane warrants consideration in this instance. No matter how I look at it, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that our build-and-spend approach to government is irresponsible.
Most importantly, it’s clear to me that our current approach to residential development is completely unsupported by the people of Cochrane. Every chance residents get to provide feedback, they are telling us to stop approving the never-ending developments.
When land near Glen Eagles was being looked at for development dozens of community members showed up to the Council Chambers to say no. When another big proposal came forward beside Riverview, the Council meeting was packed full of families who want us to say no. When I talk to Cochrane residents, family after family come up to me and ask me to keep on pushing back against the development industry. Months ago, I reached out on a large Cochrane-based Facebook group to ask residents how they feel about development and well over 100 people chimed in to say no. Everytime this topic comes up the message is clear: the people of this town do not want Cochrane to become a big cookie-cutter suburb.
With all that being said, I must be clear that I do believe a responsible amount of growth is a good thing. We should encourage a reasonable number new residents to come to Cochrane every year.
But that does not mean we need to approve every single proposal that comes across our desks. Eventually there comes a point where the Mayor and Council must say that enough is enough; that we have already approved enough new houses for the next few years. I am entirely certain that we have already passed that point.
#3 Lower Taxes:
It’s no secret, there are a lot of struggling families in Alberta. Most families have faced salary cuts, reduced hours or even lay offs. Our municipal government needs to figure out how we can help. I think the best thing we can do to let you keep more of your money. When we were drafting our budgets during the past few years I felt we should be delaying some of the less important capital projects, freezing government salaries, and giving you a big tax cut. Even if Council couldn’t stomach the salary freezes, we had a real opportunity to give you small tax cuts just by pulling out a few silly expenditures, like $70,000 for new chairs. Unfortunately, even those idea were dismissed. Those opposed to cutting taxes argued that a small 0.5% tax cut is basically the same as 0.8% tax hike. It was said that families won’t notice those small amounts of money. Some even suggested that fighting for such an insignificant tax cut was only about looking good politically. I completely disagree.
Cutting your taxes isn’t just about letting everyone keep a little extra money for blue jeans and groceries. It’s also about stimulating real growth in our private sector. Most politicians seem to have forgotten that the best way to sustainably grow the economy is to expand the private sector, not the government. Every dollar the government doesn’t take from you stays in the economy to be used shopping, saving and investing. All of these things generate profit, and that profit gets reinvested in our community. On the flip side, when the government takes your money, we spend it on profitless projects like Wave Pools and a Visitor’s Centre. Instead of generating profits each year, these projects always need more tax dollars to stay operational. That’s why government spending usually doesn’t create wealth, it destroys it.
It's important that families and businesses get to keep more of their money, even if it's only a small amount. If we can just cut taxes ever so slightly each year, the economic growth will compound annually. The private sector will firstly benefit from the small percentage of a direct tax cut, plus it will grow by the exponential private spending and reinvestment that will occur. With this compounding effect, even small consistent tax cuts over a long period of time can create tremendous opportunities in our economy.
Cutting taxes isn’t just about politics. Continually raising taxes every single year isn’t sustainable. The government simply cannot demand a bigger slice of pie every year, because eventually we are going to run out of pie. That’s why I won’t vote for tax hikes.
If you give me another 4 years in Council, I promise I will continue to be your voice for lower taxes.
Those are my top priorities, but there are a lot of other very important issues in Cochrane. Here is where I stand on some of them:
It's absolutely critical that the government never forgets who we work for: you. Being honest with the public starts with speaking the truth, but it also means asking tough questions and speaking up when no one else will. I believe that respectful, honest debate is the heart of Canadian democracy. That's why I always do my best to speak up and say things how they are.
Cochrane's growth has been far too focused on residential development. I believe we must start insisting on zoning certain regions of towns for commercial and industrial development, even though the development industry wants to cash in by building high-density housing. For me, this starts with the Greystone development application beside River View. This part of town is the last undeveloped portion of our downtown core. We must insist that a large majority of this land is reserved for job creation and economic development.
Developing our Tech Industry
In the coming decades, the entire global economy is going to be computerized. The automation of essential services in our lives is not a matter of if, but when. Eventually, most high value careers will be based around software and hardware development and implementation. A hundred years ago, our country was built around the railroad. I believe the internet is the railroad of the 21st century. We already have several notable technology employers. Cochrane should do everything in it's power to get ahead of the curve in the tech industry. I hope that by the end of the next term, the municipal government can help Cochrane businesses get access to the fastest internet technology in the world. We've already started researching this topic, but this decision is far from concluded.
Keeping Cochrane Safe
I believe public safety is the primary role of government in society. With the economic downturn in Alberta, communities everywhere have experienced a sharp increase in criminal activity. As some families are unfortunately aware, Cochrane has not escaped this unfortunate reality. Our RCMP and Bylaw officers both need additional resources to help keep Cochrane safe, and I will stand behind them. This means adding new staff, and building them a station large enough for the larger team.
Protecting our Natural Environment
Canada's great outdoors are the trademark of what makes this country awesome. I believe it's critical for Cochrane to protect our natural habitats within town borders, instead of just bulldozing everything to build condos. I always encourage developers to maximize the amount of parks and green space included in their development plans, and I am very supportive of the municipal government using it's resources to develop and maintain public parks, pathways and dog parks.
Planning for Local & Regional Transit
Getting a regular bus service in Cochrane is something that has been talked about in Cochrane for several years. The primary function of the local service is to help seniors and youth who cannot drive. Regional transit however, would be intended to assist with commuters who would rather ride a bus than drive into Calgary. I think both local and regional transit will be good for Cochrane someday. However, due to the immediate need of the other major infrastructure and public safety projects, transit is something that I think Cochrane should wait on, until we have caught up on the town's other needs. I am in favour of transit someday, but not right now.
Delay the Cultural Centre
Unfortunately, nothing is free in this world. I have already detailed a long list of priorities for Cochrane, and if I intend to protect your wallet, (I do), I simply cannot promise everything. For me, the fancy recreation projects must be the first projects to be cut from budgets. The current Mayor and Council already invested tens of millions of dollars in a luxurious Wave Pool and Curling Rink, and it's time for us to get back to the basics. I believe the multi-million dollar Cultural Centre must be delayed for a few years, until we are caught up on other projects in town, while keeping your taxes down.