Healthy Foundations Matter: Political Well-Being

Politics (from Greek: Πολιτικά, politiká, ‘affairs of the cities’) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.

The idea of political well-being may be the hardest one to capture accurately or with certainty. The concept of political well-being is interdisciplinary and often overlaps with other areas like education, the economy, health and making progress.

In many ways, we are all part of the politics of our city, whether we choose to actively participate or not. Political well-being can mean having the ability to participate in the political process. We are a democratic country with democratic principles of governance at all three levels of government.

Debates on the good life and the role of individuals, society and the state, in promoting this date back at least as far as the ancient Greeks.

(Allin and Hand 2014, p3)

At the local level, political well-being means our residents can participate in the political process, have their voices are heard, and feel they’ve been listened to, even when decisions may not go their way. Decisions are made to benefit the collective, not an individual. Council is secular secular- we accepts facts, not just strong opinion. We have healthy debate and conversation. We communicate with our residents.

Erin Stevenson speaking with a local resident at Jubilee Park. Sitting at picnic table discussing.

And we value relationships, understanding we cannot do it alone at the local level. We maintain working relationships with our regional partners, our provincial government and federal government. We don’t accept interference from other levels of government when it’s inappropriate and we’re not afraid to defend that position.

Local council is busier than ever and there is a lot of complexity to the issues before us The committee work is intense but council is at the table to represent Spruce Grove to other levels of government, fellow local governments and associations.

Being a councillor means being politically active but maintaining a non-partisan point of view while representing the city with the best interests of the community in mind.

As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Collaboration and partnership– You believe in collaboration and partnership. You agree that it best to work with all levels of government without prejudice. You respect the city’s administration as subject area experts and to make appropriate choices to run the operations of the city. You believe in working with our regional partners because we are stronger as a region. You believe in partnership with our local associations and organizations like the Rotary, CCBA, the Chamber, our volunteer groups and more.
  2. Keep municipal politics local and non-partisan– You believe in the democracy set out and while local government is a creature of the province, that we must be able to govern without interference. You believe in proper consultation and that local governments understand the local issues best. You understand partisan politics has no place locally and that council members make decisions based on what’s best for the residents, and not party policy. You understand that we are a secular government and are not to be influenced otherwise.
  3. Healthy government– You believe in transparency and accountability.  You believe data should be accessible.  You believe privacy should be respected. You support your local government doing all they can to secure sensitive data from hacking or theft attempts. You respect a government that takes healthy risks and is not risk averse. You understand that not all debt is bad debt and a healthy government makes decisions not just for today’s residents, but those 20 years from now. You believe in public participation. You agree that residents are free to share opinion with their council. You agree decisions should be made publicly, not behind closed doors. You believe in healthy debate and respectful political discourse.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Environmental Well-Being

Climate change is real, and our city needs to be a leader in climate resiliency. Our summers are hotter, our winters colder. The extremes are becoming nearly unbearable. The smoke coming from forest fires throughout western Canada is becoming a common occurrence in the summers. Increasing powerful weather systems are bringing the 1-in-100 year storm more often. We hear of streets and basements flooding in older neighbourhoods that weren’t built to handle these types of storms. Are we a city prepared to deal with climate change in 2021 and 2031 and 2041?

After lengthy consultation with our businesses, a single use plastics ban goes into effect on January 1, 2022. Local businesses understand they too play a part in reducing waste. We have an excellent waste management program with garbage, compost and recycling well established here in the city. We can do more to use our compost bins and we have to work with other levels of government to create more opportunities to decrease our waste.

Currently, our waste is buried in landfills- not an ideal situation. Our recycling is shipped overseas, often creating environmental disasters there rather than truly addressing recycling. Closed-loop recycling needs to be considered. Waste-to-energy for the region needs to be explored further. The provincial government has to implement “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) in the province, putting the costs (physical or monetary) of recycling on those that create the product rather than on the municipalities, who bear the costs now.

Environmental wellness is a process that involves learning about and contributing to the health of the planet. This involves establishing a sustainable lifestyle, protecting natural resources, and eliminating pollutants and excessive waste.  Environmental wellness also includes having respect for and awareness of your surroundings and playing an active role in your community.
Erin Stevenson in the sitting on the edge of a garden in the community gaden

We act now so that we can continue to enjoy the wonders of our natural systems here in Spruce Grove. We have amazing trails that meander through our beautiful parks and neighbourhoods, near storm ponds, through Heritage Park and near environmentally sensitive areas. Our city is green and we want to keep it that way. A lot of effort has gone to creating a city that blends with our natural systems. We don’t want our residents to have to leave the city in order to enjoy nature. We want to live within it.

And opportunities abound. More community gardens, orchards, edible fruit trees planted around the city (free food), naturalization processes around storm ponds and ditches and more. The city has a responsibility to maintain a system that works for all of us. New developments can change the way a wet area of the city drains so we have to consider all the impacts development, and the types of development we allow, so we are not exacerbating existing concerns or creating new ones. Development and the environment is a very complex issue.

The environment is a key pillar to what we do and how we do it going forward. Environmental well-being is one of give aspects that make up our community’s well-being. As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. Climate Resiliency– You believe in climate change and understand the impacts human activity has had on the environment. You are committed to doing your part, even if it’s just small change at a time. You conserve water and energy. You recycle and compost.  You minimize your waste.
  2. Natural systems- You understand the use of storm ponds but appreciate the nature it attracts. You see the impact climate change is having on our systems and agree with maintaining a system rather than fixing broken ones. You see the complexity that is our storm system— sewers, ponds and ditches and the work it takes to maintain them. You understand the number one natural disaster threat to us is fire. You understand why we don’t use harsh chemicals on fields to fight weed as we learn to change our way of thinking of lawns, and plants and naturalization efforts.
  3. Delight and enjoyment- You love our parks and trail systems and enjoy the beauty found amongst our neighbourhoods. You’re impressed with the community garden and would like to see more. You understand that planting edible fruit trees means free food for those who might not be able to afford it. You love trees- all the trees! You delight in nature and appreciate the work gone in to creating and maintaining these natural areas. It bring you joy knowing this is in the city you live in.

Healthy Foundations Matter: Community Well-Being

Community well-being matters. We all have our values, ethics, principles and tenets we tend to adhere to. They are guideposts on how we act, react and make decisions. They’re all foundations for who we are as an individual.

When you represent your community, healthy foundations are as essential. Healthy foundations provide us with the basis for which we create our policies and bylaws.

To have excellent policies and bylaws that reflect the needs and wants of the City of Spruce Grove, it should be clear how those elected form their decisions.

I am a fan of informed opinion. I want to know what our residents want, what they think, what their vision for the city is. I follow the facts and forms my baseline for decision-making. The decision I makes impacts an entire City, so I take my role very seriously.

But I have a lens that I choose to see our community through and it is the concept of community well-being.

Community well-being is the combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfill their potential.” … We can explore each of these attributes for factors that contribute to community wellbeing.

(Wiseman and Brasher, 2008: 358)
Community Well-being framework
Image credit: Dialog

The running of any city is a complex one, with issues intersecting each other all the time. It is difficult to look at one issue on its own. You have to consider many factors and what effects certain decisions have. Some times all the facts are known, sometimes they’re not. But if you have a consistent lens of which to base your decision-making on, the decision is defendable and done with the right intentions.

Community well-being is the overall concept when you look at what makes a community live up to its potential. It’s the middle of the circle if you will. Dialog created this wonderful image to illustrate just that.

There are five areas of well-being that make up community well-being:

  1. Social
  2. Economic
  3. Environmental
  4. Cultural
  5. Political

My goal is to show you how I analyze ideas, policies, bylaws and other concerns that arise for council. I’ll explore each one a bit further and try to encapsulate the main points of each. It doesn’t capture everything as each area is a complex idea of itself, but hopefully enough that you appreciate my approach.

As a councillor seeking re-election, I can describe myself as a caretaker of our community. There are very few others jobs that I can think of where you have power and influence and you’ve been entrusted to make the best decisions with that power and influence by your community.

If we want a happier society, we have got to approach our own lives in a way that prioritizes the things that really matter-including happiness of those around us’.

(Wilkinson, 2011)
Erin Stevenson standing in front of Jubilee Park Spray ark

In 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to encourage member countries to consider happiness and wellbeing in their measurement of social and economic development with a view to guiding public policy. This non-binding resolution further asserted that the ‘pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’.

As a resident and a member of council, consider the following:

  1. A sense of pride- You love this city, you feel you belong to a community, you’re happy and flourishing regardless of your social or marital or income status etc.  You feel represented. You know belong here because you matter.
  2. Feeling safe- There is low crime, you know your neighbours, you feel the city is adequately equipped for any emergency- fire, police, ambulance and enforcement, you can enjoy the outdoors and what the city has to offer without worry.
  3. Supporting local- You support local businesses, schools, and organizations to keep the community healthy and thriving. You appreciate those who take a chance and open up a business here to bring jobs and new opportunities here. You find ways to explore the different restaurants, shops and areas to experience what makes Spruce Grove truly unique.

The five other healthy foundations of community well-being are important and I hope you take a moment to read about them. Together, they will make our community healthy and happy and resilient. Community well-being is the heart of them all. Just like our city centre revitalization project, the heart of any community has to be strong and purposeful. Just like the city centre, we’re not starting new, we are building upon what was already there. We have an amazing community, and we will continue to build upon its amazingness as we prioritize well-being for each and every one of you. What well-being means to you might differ slightly from mine, and that’s okay. We’ll find a lot of crossover and intersectionality between our ideas. More ideas make better opportunities which in turn create a healthier community.

Erin Stevenson on swing

Because You Matter: Councillor Erin Stevenson announces re-election campaign

Councillor Erin Stevenson announces her re-election campaign for Spruce Grove City Council

Because You Matter

“The past four years as a Councillor, representing the City of Spruce Grove, has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Four years flies by and while my time on council was effective, there is more to do. I’m just getting started. I would be honoured to serve this city as a councillor for the next four years.”

During her first term, Stevenson (she/her) brought many ideas forward including more transparency at council with recorded votes in the meeting minutes and posting council expenses online. “Transparency and accountability are key tenets of what I believe council should be doing at all times. We are stewards of a $100 million-dollar budget and our tax payers have every right to know where those dollars are being spent and how. Residents and local businesses should not only know how we voted, but how we support the vision council has for the city and what we’re doing to contribute in a meaningful way to get there.”

Stevenson was (and still is) passionate about making an inclusive and welcoming city, recognizing the diversity that already exists but also creating the space to be even more inclusive. “We changed our titles from alderman to a more inclusive and gender neutral title of councillor- literally five minutes after being sworn in. We celebrate Pride. Our pride crosswalk has been in front of City Hall now for 3 years. We put up the pride flags and participate in the GSA’s car parade. I brought the motion forward to ban the practice of conversion therapy in our city and had strong council support to get it passed. We have been encouraging more women to apply on our local boards and committees. We are the first city to run a recruitment drive for all women firefighters and it was so successful, we’re doing it again. We’ve worked with our Indigenous communities to begin the process and take seriously our role in Truth and Reconciliation. We must not wait any longer. We fly the Treaty 6 and Metis flags proudly at Jubilee Park. Yet we can do more.”

Erin Stevenson is running her campaign this year under the “Because you Matter” theme, describing her foundations for good decision-making and pushing ideas through, ideas that matter to the residents and businesses in Spruce Grove. “Local government is complex and the decisions we make affect residents and businesses directly and almost instantly. You may not feel the effects of a federal or provincial initiative right away, but the second your garbage is missed, or changes are made to your utility bill, you notice it and we hear about it!”

“We have many constituents to consider when we make our decisions at the council table. So many different groups, of which most of you belong to many, matter to us and we, as Council, attempt to find the balance to make decisions that will benefit not just an individual, but a collective.  It can anger some, but we do our best to ensure the decisions made are what’s in the best interest of keeping this city growing and progressing forward.”

Erin Stevenson strongly supported the initiatives taken to keep property tax increases affordable, moving away from proposed 10 years of 3.9% tax increases to manageable increases during the last term: 2018- 3.08%, 2019- 3.27%, 2020- 0%, 2021- 1%. Stevenson was also supportive of the unanimous decision to freeze council salaries in both 2020 and 2021 to 2019 levels.

“The pandemic was not on anyone’s bingo card when I ran in 2017. Facing a global crisis like we did made us come together not just as a council but as a community to work together and do the best we could to do what we could to keep everyone safe and businesses alive. Very tough decisions were made. A mask bylaw was brought in, the way we did business out of city hall had to change and our businesses did amazing things to adapt to the circumstance. We had many people step up and ensure we supported our local businesses and non-profits. I was and am still so proud of this community because we really did pull together and rally. The residents here are resilient, responsible and did the right thing to keep each other safe.”

Over the next few weeks and the course of the campaign, Erin Stevenson will be releasing her “Because You Matter” platform which is two-fold—focus on community well-being through healthy foundations and actionable ideas to make this city even better and attractive to new businesses and residents. “It’s important as a Councillor to understand the role we’ve been elected to do. We are governors and we create smart policy that drives the vision and goals for the city. Administration operationalizes our policy and bylaws. With good policy comes great ideas, and I have a few. I’ve heard from many residents and businesses over the last four years and I’ve taken notes- lots of them! I’m not short on ideas and I’m happy to continue to bring them forward and see them come to fruition. I had many ideas when I ran in ’17 and am so happy to see so many completed or in progress including a community garden, more support for the arts like the new mural on McLeod, a revitalized City Centre (shovels are in the ground), Smart City initiatives that start with the laying of broadband, and a broader scoped but less expensive civic centre. I’m listening and want to hear from you, because you matter. It’s that simple.”

“We have a beautiful city, a great city to live and work and play. Cliché as it sounds, it’s true. And what a great and enviable position to be in- to build off all the positive aspects we have going for us. There’s always more to do, but let’s be proud of what we already have, who we already and build upon that. As a Councillor, I intend to keep doing just that.”