Politicos string successes, failures in 2010

by Bryan Alary
St. Albert Gazette
Dec 29, 2010

So long, 2010. It was nice while it lasted, for some more than others.

The past year was a rollercoaster affair for the newsmakers on St. Albert’s political scene. There were some clear winners and some losers, and I’m not just talking about the October election results. Here’s a rundown of who stood tall and who stumbled over the past 12 months.

Winners

Nolan Crouse. OK, it’s an obvious choice for a mayor coming off his second straight election victory but election aside, 2010 was far from easy-breezy for St. Albert’s hardest-working politician. It produced its share of political hurdles with the complexity surrounding smart growth, acrimony over 70 Arlington Dr., and issues like the downtown area redevelopment plan (DARP).

It was a lot of ground for a council to cover, especially in an election year when the hot-button issues taper off in the spring. Much of that pace can be attributed to the no-nonsense leadership style of Crouse, who pushed when others’ political instincts would have been to play it safe until after the vote. Decisions on DARP and Arlington, both of which Crouse voted for both amid cries of “council doesn’t listen,” cost him some votes – heck it played a direct role in a challenger coming forward.

Despite the hard work, there are areas that need improvement, starting with how council communicates with the public. Crouse recognizes problems, but has offered few ideas thus far. That’s one area to watch in 2011.

Cam MacKay. He has the potential to be a polarizing politician. Either you like his man of the people fiscal conservatism or you see him as a threat to St. Albert’s tax, spend and service status quo. Even if you’re not a fan it’s hard to deny that MacKay is exactly as billed: a straight shooter who, if given enough time with a budget, will find ways to save.

MacKay took this folksy charm on the road during the election, knocking on enough doors to gain serious momentum that parlayed into a second place finish among council candidates. Not bad for a former budget officer and small business owner running his first political campaign.

It’s still early into the term, however during budget hearings MacKay proved he has a solid attention to detail and can find a balance between fiscal restraint without threatening services.

Doug Horner. When you’re already a well-respected MLA and one of the most senior cabinet ministers in government there’s more opportunity to fall from grace than move up. But Horner has proved time and again he’s a capable performer, handling portfolios like advanced education and technology and agriculture.

Ed Stelmach rewarded Horner for his steady work and strong support by making him deputy premier, a position that has the Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert MLA speak for government on occasions when the premier is away. In addition to his advanced education portfolio, Horner chairs several committees including the agenda and priorities committee. It’s all in a day’s work and could be a sign of better things to come in the future.

Elke Blodgett. Years of passionate environmentalism culminated with Blodgett’s name permanently linked to a peninsula at Riel Pond. It’s quite the honour for someone used to being ignored and dismissed as a “usual suspect,” as critics of city hall are sometimes labelled.

To say Blodgett has been a thorn in the side of successive councils and administrations would be an understatement. She played a prominent role in the petition against Ray Gibbon Drive that led to 10,000 signatures and one of the most rigorous environmental impact studies required for a road. Add in her discovery of leachate at the old Riel sewage lagoons and it’s no wonder why some critics are angry at her for heaping costs onto St. Albert taxpayers.

But there’s no disputing the environmental positives gained through her actions. Just don’t get used to council rolling out the red carpet for Blodgett. Future councils are sure to ignore her ongoing pleas to do something about the AltaLink powerline set in an avian migratory route, salt contamination at the former public works yard or the construction of some two-dozen hydrocarbon grit interceptors needed to prevent further pollution of the Sturgeon River.

Council might not listen, but at least you know Blodgett will make herself heard.

Losers

James Burrows and Gareth Jones. These two local politicians took it on the chin when they lost their council seats in the election.

It was an unexpected fate for a pair of incumbents, Burrows in particular, who was one election removed from finishing third and this time missed out by just 14 votes. While it wasn’t a resounding door slam from voters, the margin of defeat is a lesson to any incumbent that playing it safe can backfire and that door knocking still trumps an online presence, social media or even lengthy ad campaigns.

To the casual observer Jones’ loss is less surprising given he only served one council term after several unsuccessful attempts. But in the last three years he was consistently among the hardest working and informed councillors, who never shied from tough questions or sticking to his guns, which he did all the way through votes on Arlington, DARP and smart growth. Jones didn’t win the election, but it was St. Albert taxpayers who lost.

Len Bracko. Consistently among the top voter getters at election time, Bracko saw 1,462 votes evaporate in October while falling to fourth place.

While most councillors would be thrilled with such a finish, the results reflected a less than brilliant campaign that included an election forum disaster where Bracko was soundly booed for an ill conceived comparison between preventative cancer treatment and keeping taxes in check (he later apologized in a newspaper ad).

That forum performance wasn’t the only misstep for a councillor who flopped on his election promise of capping property taxes at 1.5 per cent, tried in vain to resurrect a dead-horse issue like multi-year budgeting, and whose oratory on smart growth was spectacularly long-winded, curiously touching on issues from federal debt levels to incidences of dementia in Canada.

Our advice for 2011? Stop asking questions that can be easily answered by thumbing through council agendas.

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Elke Blodgett