The front cover of the Times in 2014, when I launched a petition requesting the Mayor and Council to hold a public vote on the Wave Pool and Curling Rink project.
Here is an overview of my major achievements from my first term as a Town Councillor:
Kept every election promise:
In the last election, I was crystal clear with the families of Cochrane where I stood on a number of issues, and over the past 4 years I stood true to every single promise I made.
I was clear that I was a strong fiscal conservative who would say no to unessential government expenses. I promised to protect Cochrane's small town charm, by standing up to the development industry and defending our western cultural heritage. I promised Cochrane that I would stand against borrowing millions of dollars for the massively expensive wave pool and curling rink. I told community organizers that I would do everything I could to empower grassroots volunteers when they organized events and led community initiatives. I promised that I would work hard to serve the best interests of our community, no matter how much time it took. The list goes on, but I want to be clear today, that I kept every single promise that I made. I am proud of my track record, and I hope Cochrane will continue to trust me in the future.
I have always been an idealist when it comes to Canadian democracy. I believe it is absolutely critical that the government never forgets who we work for: you.
During my time as a Councillor, I was committed to always speaking my mind, and asking tough questions that some people didn't want to answer. Most notably, I spearheaded 2 changes to our town's bylaws which will increase government transparency forever.
1) Firstly, I sponsored a successful bylaw amendment which requires the municipal government to publish how the Mayor and each individual Councillor votes on every issue. Prior to my bylaw, all votes were only recorded as "Passed" or "Not Passed". Now there is a historical record of how everyone voted on issue. This simple change forces elected officials to take individual responsibility for their decisions and will increase the accountability of all future elected officials in Cochrane.
2) Secondly, Cochrane's elected officials have very large expense accounts which allow for several thousand dollars in personal expenses each year. When I first became a Councillor, there was no public record of how the Mayor and Council were using these expense accounts. Again, I took action and sponsored a successful bylaw change which requires the municipal government to publish the details of our expenses on a regular basis. As long as that bylaw is in place, the public will know exactly how our Mayor and Council are spending your money.
Challenged government waste:
It's no secret that governments of all levels, all across the world, systematically waste tons of money. That's why I believe that the government should never seek to do things that the private sector is already doing efficiently.
While there will always be a role for the government to play in filling the gaps where the private sector doesn't provide solutions, we must strive to do our best to do so in a fiscally responsible manner to keep the cost of government at an absolute minimum.
That's why during my time as a Councillor, I fought to pinch every last penny. All too often I felt that the attitude in the Council chambers was, "oh it's just a couple thousand dollars". Every time a financial decision came up, I tried to remind my colleagues that even a few thousand dollars was important, and I did my best to say no to expenses that weren't absolutely necessary to the primary functions of our municipal government. Things like new chairs for the Ranche House, an ineffective Visitors Centre, and brand new work trucks were among the top of my "no" list.
While fighting for lower taxes several thousand dollars at a time filled a big part of my role on Council, the truth is that those issues were dwarfed in comparison to a few of the irresponsible multi-million dollar projects that this Mayor and Council approved. If a Mayor and Council want to get serious about protecting tax payers, they have to get serious about restraint when it comes to building multi-million dollar recreation facilities. Basic projects such as sewage, roads, police, fire fighters, garbage delivery, etc., will inevitably be approved eventually. The most effective way to reduce taxes and let you keep more of your money is reduce the size of recreation projects that are not essential to every day life in our town. That's why was against the Wave Pool and Curling Rink, suggesting that we built a new, but modest swimming pool, and instead prioritizing our basic infrastructure first. That's also why I have consistently stood against planning for a multi-million dollar Cultural Centre.
We all want these nice things, but the reality is that cutting back on these fancy facilities is the best way for us to save you money.
Led by example:
I believe that if the Mayor and Council expect our Town managers and employees to take financial responsibility seriously, we have to lead by example. That's why I was sure to have the lowest personal expenses among all the Councillors during our term, and it's also why I froze my own salary until Alberta's recession is over.
I have been clear the our staff that I will not advocate for layoffs or even salary cuts, however, for the past 3 years I have refused to support giving our staff raises. The families working in the private sector to pay our salaries, have been making less on average than they used to. This isn't an economic or budgetary issue for me, but an ethical one. It's simply wrong for us to be taking MORE money from you while you are making LESS.
If I am re-elected I won't be taking an annual raise until Alberta's GDP starts to increase again, and I hope the Mayor and other Councillors consider doing the same.
Defended personal freedom:
I live by a moderately libertarian philosophy. I believe that every Canadian adult should be free to their life how he or she pleases, so long as they aren't harming other people. When you get into the hot issues in municipal politics, this fundamental principal is actually extremely relevant.
Unfortunately, I found that our Mayor and Council were comfortable with passing bylaws to ban things, just because they kind of annoy some people. I always did my best to stand up for personal freedom, unless I was convinced that the actions of individuals were materially impacting others. Here's a few of the bans that I opposed:
1) Putting a garburator in your house
2) Idling your vehicle
3) Smoking/Vaping in public parks and parking lots
4) Selling Shark Fin soup
I know you are probably doubting whether or not those things are actually banned in Cochrane. I assure you: this isn't a joke. Those things have been banned, and I certainly didn't vote in favour of it, because I believe you are all adults and can take care of yourselves.
Fought for roads and infrastructure:
My political battle for roads and infrastructure started the first day I became a Councillor. Whenever a new Mayor and Council take office in Cochrane they have an initial meeting the Town's senior managers to establish their top priorities for their 4 year term.
On day one, our Mayor and Council were abundantly clear that the mandate of this government was to build a luxurious Wave Pool and Curling Rink. They set the multi-million dollar project as their formal number one priority, and I immediately protested their decision. When Council publicly voted on their priorities thereafter, I was the only one who voted against it, pleading with them all the make other infrastructure a priority in town.
The Wave Pool and Curling Rink was the most expensive project in our town's history, and it's total cost was more than our entire annual budgets. In order to pay for the project, we had to commit all of our provincial grant funding for years to come, we had to borrow tens of millions of dollars, and we had an outlandish fundraising goal of $10m, which the town still has not even fulfilled half of.
Every time the issue came up during the following months, I continued to vote against their plans and said we needed to be thinking about other infrastructure, instead of maxing out our credit card for one project.
When it became clear to me that the Mayor and Council were going to recklessly barge ahead with this vanity project, without taking care of any of our fundamental needs, I decided to go to the public by launching a petition demanding that the government put the subject to a town-wide vote.
The premise of my "Rock the Roads" petition was that the town should be spending the money on traffic infrastructure (namely a new bridge and a railroad crossing), instead of the "Rock the Waves" project. As soon as I launched the petition on social media a huge group of passionate residents reached out to me and dozens of people were volunteering to collect signatures. By the end of the campaign I collected about 1000 unique signatures of Cochrane residents who wanted the project to be decided by a public referendum.
The Mayor and Council said that my entire petition was based on a false premise. They said they had a plan to build the wave pool AND the traffic projects. According to them, since the whole campaign was allegedly based on lies, the signatures were invalid and they refused our request to put it to a public vote.
Here we are today with a new wave pool and no new major traffic projects.
I am 100% committed to fixing traffic in this town, and I have been fighting for this issue for years. If I am re-elected, I promise that fixing traffic will remain my top priority.
Stood up to the development industry:
Perhaps the biggest failing of our current municipal government has been our relationship with the development industry. I think growth is a good thing when it happens in a responsible and sustainable manner. Unfortunately, what we have seen in Cochrane has been absolutely irresponsible. The developers have come to Cochrane and have been allowed to build whatever they want, as fast as they want.
In the past 4 years, our population has increased 50%. The small town charm that Cochrane once had and our families all loved, has been nearly destroyed. We are now a small city, but the real problem is that we are a small city that is totally lacking on basic infrastructure. Due to our massive population explosion, Cochrane is short on roads, schools, police, fire service, health care and even sewage treatment.
During my 4 years on Council, I did everything I could to push for fewer, larger homes with more green space in the neighbourhoods. My policy on this area was driven by an understanding that if we asked the developers to build a higher quality product in Cochrane, it would sell at a more reasonable speed, and the nice neighbourhoods would drive up the value of the existing homes in town. It would have been a win for both Cochrane and the industry.
Unfortunately, the Mayor and the majority of Council remained intent on pursuing a high-density agenda, in hopes of battling global warming by reducing urban sprawl. A policy which I believe is incredibly out of touch with what the people of our town want.
When it became increasingly clear to me that our rapid high-density developments were causing major traffic problems, I formally requested that Council put a temporary freeze on approvals of new development plans until we had a solid plan in place for a new bridge, and the province approved funding for a highway expansion through town. Had my proposal been approved, there were still thousands of unbuilt homes which would had already been approved and would have still been built and sold. Development would not have stopped over night. Instead, it would have slowed to a more reasonable rate until we had a better hold on the traffic situation.
Unfortunately, my proposal was laughed out of the Council Chambers for being too radical and "irresponsbile". To this day, I think our Mayor and Council made an absolutely critical mistake in being so lax with the development industry. If I am re-elected for another 4 years, I will continue to hold the industry accountable to the residents of this community.
Supported our local economy:
Based on my financial education and economics background, I have been absolutely convinced that the best thing the government can do for the economy is stay the heck out of it. It's no accident that western capitalism took over the global market place, and in doing so increased technological innovation at a rate never before seen in human history.
Economic freedom works. Capitalism is a good thing.
That's why I always tried to be supportive of business' having final control of their own decisions. While I have always been tough on residential development, I took the complete opposite approach to commercial and industrial development. In Council meetings and through my work on the Cochrane Planning Committee, I nearly always voted to reduce regulations and relax bylaws, which prevented businesses from building or expanding their operations. Just to name a few:
1) I opposed the ridiculous Food Truck Registry program, and supported ease of operation for food trucks in Cochrane.
2) I supported relaxations on unreasonable parking requirements for multiple day cares and preschools, which now help several families with their kids.
3) I supported the construction of drive thru's for fast food restaurants, which were considering cancelling their projects because drive thru's weren't part of the government's "pedestrian-oriented vision". Enjoy your Wendy's burgers this fall. :)
4) I supported regulatory relaxations for a new local micro-brewery, which was having troubles working our bylaws into their business plan.
5) I sponsored a bylaw, which would allow local retailers to sell clothing and merchandise branded with Cochrane's trademarked logo.
6) I supported the mini-golf course construction when some people were concerned about increased activity in River View.
... The list goes on, but my message is this: as far as I am concerned, Cochrane is open for business.