The Mountaineer - Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada
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Meet the Candidates - Clearwater County Council - Division 5

Editor’s note: Three candidates are looking to represent Division 5 in Clearwater County. Incumbent Theresa Laing is up against former councillor Bob Bryant, whom she beat by a single vote in the 2013 election. Andrea Garnier Spongberg is seeking a first term on council.



Bob Bryant

 “I still have the passion for Clearwater County to make it the best that it can be.”

Bob Bryant is looking to represent Clearwater County’s Division 5. He served two previous terms between 2007 and 2013.
He had a 33-year teaching career, 25 of those as an administrator, in Caroline, Leslieville and Condor, followed by a three-year stint as a safety hand with a local trucking company.
“I have a knowledge set and a certain set of skills that I think lend themselves to this type of work. I still have the passion for Clearwater County to make it the best that it can be.”

What big budget items should or shouldn’t be funded, and why?
“There are several issues, big ones and many little ones, cropping up in this campaign. One of the ones that I would like to focus on has to do with the cooperation of the Town of Rocky Mountain House and Clearwater County on the north side development. It is my personal belief that Rocky needs this development. Clearwater has been trying to, in the past, provide a place for this to happen. I know there’s some fear in Rocky that it will take business away but I don’t believe that to be true. I think that in the end, if we can grow more industrial and small commercial, it will only add to Rocky, the population and the town. With that you need to share taxes. It can’t all go to Clearwater County, it needs to be shared because all the infrastructure is going to come from Rocky – not all, but a good portion of it.”
“This ag centre that’s being touted about, I believe it needs to go ahead. I don’t believe that the county needs to be the leader – in fact, it shouldn’t be the leader because if the population is not committed to supporting this, the biggest cost is not the development of the building, it’s going to be the running and maintenance of it in the future. If the population is not engaged then they are not going to be engaged in that either and the county will end up with a white elephant on their hands. But I believe it is something we need. If the Town of Rimbey can run something like that successfully because of their ag society I don’t see why we can’t, but the county can certainly help.
“The third one, this big issue about the internet that’s out there and internet provision for residents. It’s an issue that is full of potential pitfalls, mainly because of the cost and uptake of the service. Most people are happy with what they have. Of course, those people are the ones that are closer to the town and can avail themselves of the town and what’s there. Unfortunately the people who need it most will be the hardest to serve. If we’re going to get fibre out there that’s going to be a very expensive proceeding, and what kind of uptake are you going to have? Are the people who need it going to be able to afford it? The other thing that concerns me is the cost, and technology is advancing so quickly. Is [fibre] going to be the answer in four or five years, or will we be stuck with something that’s a huge cost, no uptake, and now is no longer relevant?
“One more thing I want to champion is that Taimi Road needs to be finished and paved from the Airport Road to Hwy. 12. It’s an important link, it allows for a paved route around Rocky that industry would take and use. It’s not without its problems – you’d have to do something where Hwy. 598 meets Taimi Road south and north, but it’s something that needs to be finished.
I found it very interesting in the last campaign that the people who are on the Taimi Road gravel want it finished. Some of them on the Taimi Road pavement say no, that will increase traffic and we’re not interested in having that inconvenience, so it’s a little bit of ‘we have ours but we’re not ready to give you yours.’ But I think it needs to be done. It’s four miles, from Airport Road.
“The demand for services increases and the desire to pay taxes decreases. Two of them are diametrically opposite. You can’t have more services and less taxes. The linear tax which we have the advantage here for a long time, was in the 80 per cent range when I was there, it’s certainly dropping. We don’t have the advantage that our resources used to give us. Maybe after this downswing in the economy – and it looks like it’s coming around, there’s some optimism – will our tax base go back up there? I’m not sure. We’ve got some confusion provincially at this time. What does that mean for us as far as provincial contributions to us as a county?
“And the aging population. How do we attract and retain our young people? One of those ways is to provide internet so they can work from home, but that’s not the only thing that needs to be done. Because of that aging population we’re losing our volunteers. I hear people complain that ‘you councillors are in there for life.’ Well, the same seven people do everything all the time.”

Is there a specific municipal policy you feel will need immediate attention from the incoming council?
 “I think we need to continue with our Stronger Together initiative that they have right now, because we are stronger together and it is my belief that in the end, we will have one municipality here. That will be a trend provincially. There will be one, possibly larger board, running Rocky, Caroline, Clearwater County and the hamlets within the county. That includes Nordegg; we can’t leave out Nordegg as one of the important parts of the county’s upcoming agendas.”

Describe a bad decision made by the previous /current council, and why you believe it was bad.
 “One of the issues that’s a high-ticket item that’s going to have to be readdressed is this new admin building. I believe that the county did not participate with the public as efficiently as they could have over their first attempt to bring this in. It should have been more upfront over the purchase of the land, although I do understand that when you’re making those kinds of purchases you can’t go out and announce because prices will rise, we certainly saw that in adjoining quarters – guys saying ‘oh yeah, the first $2.5 million takes mine.’
“And then, when they had their meeting at Dovercourt, I don’t know what to call it – that circus – something that’s that important, by their own numbers I believe it was $28 million. If you’ve got a $28 million project on the go, why would you cheap out and not hire a moderator/consultant who’s going to look after the meeting? The councillors should have been sitting there and listening, taking their notes, doing whatever they were doing but accepting the input from the public. They should not have tried to chair the meeting, they should not have tried to answer questions. It was an information gathering meeting for the public and they should have listened. They shouldn’t have tried to do it themselves because it just got them in hot water. Certain elements of the crowd were able to take over the meeting and score significant points.”

Describe a good decision made by the previous/current council, and why you believe it was good.
 “Having said all that, I believe it is a good decision that they went ahead and purchased the land that they purchased … In the end, 20 years, 30 years down the road, that will look like a good decision I believe. They have the potential to offer the Ag facility a home, because they now have the land. They got the salt shed out of town which had the potential to be an environmental issue, they’ve now addressed that and moved that out there. It’s not that far from town that employees would have a big commute.”


Andrea Garnier Spongberg

“I would like to see value-added industries using our natural resources. ”

Andrea Garnier Spongberg is a professional historian and archivist. While she’s spent much of her adult life looking back, her vision is now fixed firmly on the future. She works as assistant innkeeper at The Prairie Creek Inn. She believes the county must do more to facilitate development to grow all sectors of the economy.

What big budget items should or shouldn’t be funded, and why?
“What I’m hearing from constituents is that I’m not sure all the information has been coming forward that we need to make well-informed decisions about these projects, and consequently they are running into some opposition. I feel that there needs to be more investigation on some of the issues behind the county building. I’ve never seen a breakdown of how much money do we spend, taxpayers spend in the building that we have now versus how much we would spend on a new building. That’s pretty basic information and I haven’t seen it. I’m a taxpayer and I haven’t seen that breakdown. As far as the Clearwater Broadband Foundation, while I sympathize and feel that internet is an important issue in our county, I don’t know that we have enough information to be able to make a decision about the big amounts of money that are being talked about. Another problem with that initiative is that it’s discouraging private business internet providers from investing in our community because they do not want to compete with the county dollars that could potentially go toward that project. I am not sure it’s the right way to go. The other thing is has this initiative looked down the road at what the implications are for when this system needs upgrades? How much is the taxpayer going to be on the hook for upgrading this system? Things are moving rapidly, technologies are changing, fibre right now would be great but what are we going to be moving to, what are we going to need in the future? Are we going to have to be constantly upgrading this network and having taxpayers on the hook for it?”

Is there a specific municipal policy you feel will need immediate attention from the incoming council?
 “I think that we need to cut red tape for development in the county. My husband and I have experience with developing some industrial lots near the airport. The county’s been very good about it, but I have seen the amount of time and effort and money that developers need to provide for these operations and all of these hoops that need to be jumped through. If we want to grow our economy and have more places for people to live and work in the county, I think we need to address some issues as far as development. I would like to see value-added industries using our natural resources. We could have industrial hemp production, production of our agricultural products such as pea protein, lentil protein – the world needs more plant-based protein – and value-added forestry products such as furniture manufacturing and waste wood power production. Other things for families and tourists to do in the county. We have amazing opportunities for immersive natural experience. People can get so close to nature – we should be doing zip-lineing, tree top experiences, canoe rentals on lakes, really good trail systems.
“Currently there is a moratorium on paving. I think in the Strategic Plan it talks about creating transportation networks. For the county we do need good transportation networks. Because some of our road banned roads and swampy areas are causing some big issues for residents and for industry. We should readdress the paving issue, especially connecting Taimi Road from Hwy. 11 to Hwy. 12.”

Describe a bad decision made by the previous /current council, and why you believe it was bad.
“The North Area Structure Plan has spent a lot of money looking at providing a development area when there were serious underlying issues that weren’t addressed before they went ahead with the whole concept such as the splint in revenue – taxes- between the town and the county, the issues with the sewage lagoon that county has been dumping leachate into the sewage lagoon which compromised the ability of the lagoon to be expanded, to accept more development. We need to take a step back to address important infrastructure requirements for our town and county before we start making plans for development. I think it’s a poor time for the county to be in the role of developer because you are pouring cold water on more developers coming into our area. Developers are not going to want to come in and compete with the county for development.”

Describe a Good decision made by the previous/current council, and why you believe it was good.
 “It was a good decision to put in a new fire hall in Nordegg and to support the infrastructure in Nordegg. I think there needs to be more of an understanding of what the constituents want out there, and need. I’m not sure if the decisions that have been made in Nordegg currently have all been great. There’s been a lot of money spent out there. Nordegg could be a great source of tourism traffic and economic driver, but it has got to be done right.”


Theresa Laing

“We need to diversify our economy and create something that will attract and retain families and new business.”

Theresa Laing says having lived in a hamlet, acreage and farm as well as operating a small business, she has a broad sense of what’s important in Clearwater County.
“I have a good idea of what’s needed to make our county diverse and successful now and for future generations.”
This year Laing completed the Alberta Elected Officials Education Program through the AAMDC and AUMA. Laing was first elected to represent Division 5 in 2013, and is looking for a second term on county council.

What big budget items should or shouldn’t be funded, and why?
“Infrastructure certainly needs to be funded. Bridges and roads, because residents and industry need access. We need to support budget items that will create a sustainable economy. I think we relied too much for too long on the oil industry; we need to diversify our economy and create something that will attract and retain families and new business, and create a positive environment for the youth. Areas we should consider are tourism, better internet service, agri-tourism, just ways to diversify our economy.”

Is there a specific municipal policy you feel will need immediate attention from the incoming council?
 “We need to readdress the timeliness of when the agenda is released. We are only getting one working day to review the agenda, and it can be up to a couple hundred pages and sometimes even more. I don’t think it gives adequate time to give deep thought to the important items presented. I would like to see the agenda released a week ahead of time – which is what Lacombe County does – and I think this would be a good way to increase citizen engagement. It gets released Friday afternoon between 4 and 4:30 p.m., and we’re in council on Tuesday morning.

Describe a bad decision made by the previous /current council, and why you believe it was bad.
 “It is common knowledge from the Dovercourt meeting in May of 2016 that I was not in favour of  a new administration building for $30 million. I think the need for building and a solution to space issues need to be explored further. Spending $30 million equates to spending almost $350,000 per employee. Municipal sustainability initiative dollars were put away for that building, and we have a $90 million bridge deficit. I disagreed with the budget decision at that time because we have huge costs out there coming up. Our tax assessment has decreased because of the recession and with the the provincial deficit, we could lose our grant dollars. Putting money aside for a building makes no sense to me at this time.”

Describe a good decision made by the previous/current council, and why you believe it was good.
 “We have supported some recreation activities such as the arena in Rocky in partnership with the Town of Rocky and trail development in the west country. We’ve supported the Leslieville skating rink and improvements to community halls. We partnered with the Nordegg community association and the provincial government in order to get the funds for the discovery park. It’s busy – every time I’ve gone out there it’s full of families and kids. I think that was money well spent. That’s what I want to see – tax dollars spent in a way that benefits residents directly, and in the case of trails it helps diversify the economy for tourism dollars.”