By Trevor Busch
Clarification: In the article “DeVlieger confirms re-election bid” by Trevor Busch on Page B3 of the January 11 edition of The Taber Times, in the 17th paragraph Mayor Henk DeVlieger (speaking in reference to improving the town’s relationship with the Municipal of District of Taber) is quoted as saying, “And maybe for that improvement we have to wait and see if there’s different people going on to council”, which was incorrectly interpreted as a reference to seeing turnover on both town and M.D. of Taber councils in the 2017 municipal election.
In a follow up, Mayor DeVlieger confirmed he was only speaking specifically about a desire to see turnover on M.D. of Taber council in the 2017 municipal election.
The Times apologizes for any confusion.
Henk DeVlieger has officially announced his intention to seek re-election as the incumbent for the position of mayor in the upcoming 2017 Alberta municipal election.
First elected to the mayoral position in October 2013, throughout his term in office DeVlieger has pushed attempts to enhance the community’s attractiveness as a business environment.
“I like to stay progressive and aggressive to make this town grow, and in order to make it grow, we have to probably make some changes. How do we attract new business? How do we attract people to make Taber the first option to come and live here? There have to be some changes made in order to keep up with the rest of the world.”
In Alberta, municipal elections are now held every four years on the third Monday of October for all municipalities, excluding summer villages. The 2017 Alberta municipal election will be held Oct. 16.
“I still think this town has a lot of potential. I spend a lot of time behind the scenes,” said DeVlieger. “I’ve built up a lot of relationships in the last couple of years with government, federally and provincially. I think it paid off in a few grants that we got. That’s also why I want to run one more time, because it takes a couple of years to build up those relationships. And now the town in the next couple of years could actually benefit from those relationships I’ve built up. That’s one of the reasons I want to run again.”
In 2013, DeVlieger garnered 1,041 votes, taking 59.7 per cent of the mayoral vote to defeat then-incumbent Ray Bryant, who received 40.3 per cent of the vote with 704 cast ballots.
According to statistical information compiled by Alberta Municipal Affairs, 2,108 eligible Taber voters cast a ballot in the 2013 municipal election.
“I’m going to retire from Venture Holdings in October, which is around the same time — it’s coincidental that it’s the same time (as the 2017 municipal election),” said DeVlieger, addressing conflict of interest concerns that have circulated in the community. “If I were to be re-elected, I won’t be part of Venture Holdings anymore, just so I can dedicate some more time if they want me back as mayor.”
Held on Oct. 21, 2013, the previous municipal election was also a tight race for councillors, with only 66 votes separating two incumbents from being ousted in Garth Bekkering and John Papp from the number five and six seats on council, according to a cumulative vote count. But as the dust settled, Randy Sparks and Rick Popadynetz were the only incumbents left standing, as four new councillors made their way to council chambers in Jack Brewin, Joe Strojwas, Laura Ross-Giroux and Andrew Prokop.
“I’m fairly happy with what we achieved,” said DeVlieger, commenting on the record of the current council and some of its more controversial actions and decisions. “There was some hiccups here and there, and some of those were blown out of proportion. Look at the nuisance bylaw, it became a little bit of a hot topic for a while. It died down, and it’s functioning very well. Sometimes you have to stick to your guns. The same with the three bin waste system. It took quite a while to get enough people convinced to go for it. I’m the type of person, I don’t want to give up right away, especially if I feel like it’s for the betterment of the community. That’s one thing I always tell myself — I’m in this job for the betterment of the community as a whole, and not for my own personal gain.”
Often facing a degree of public opposition to the actions and direction of his council, DeVlieger defended taking an “aggressive” approach to municipal politics in achieving his vision for the community.
“I know there’s a certain segment in society that likes you to be aggressive, and I think we’ve been partly aggressive in moving ahead. I went in the previous election to make positive change, and that’s really what we worked on. I know there’s a certain segment in society that has a hard time with change, and that we’re too aggressive. So that could be a political issue, that some other people might want to put the breaks on a little bit more, as that part has been happening now. I could see that as an issue.”
Pushing forward with a three-cart municipal solid waste program has been a key initiative for DeVlieger, and he hopes to see Taber capitalize further on environmental practices in future.
“I would wish to achieve that we become even more of an environmental recycling hub for southern Alberta. We’re still working on this MRF (materials recovery facility) for the whole region of southern Alberta, because that’s the only way it will pay. I see, as Taber, we have a strength because of our location, we can become an environmental hub for southern Alberta. That’s one of my main things I like to work on, because that also can create a lot of jobs.”
Alluding to the often strained relationship between the Municipal District of Taber and Town of Taber council throughout his mandate, DeVlieger suggested improvement of this relationship may be difficult without significant turnover on either council in the coming election.
“The nuisance bylaw was not quite unanimous, but pretty well. I just stuck with it, and it’s working out. 50th Street, that’s still a sore spot. I still think that — sure, an anonymous donor came up and gave some money for it — but I still hope that down the road we can discuss this with the M.D. council. Right now, I don’t think the relationship between the M.D. and Taber council is the greatest. In the next election, I hope that will improve. And maybe for that improvement we have to wait and see if there’s different people going on to council.”
Voicing the opinion that M.D. of Taber council had been “pre-meditated” in moving to cut ties with the shared fire service between the two municipalities, DeVlieger shared his continued displeasure over the decision.
“With the fire department, it’s very sad to see that this happened. I’m still of the opinion that this was all pre-meditated already from even before we started negotiations — they had this in mind to go this route. It would have been very nice if they would have informed us, or invited us to look at a regional approach to include the Town of Taber. That’s never been brought up to the table at all. So right now we just leave that issue alone, who knows, maybe a new council might have a different approach. That is one sad part I’ve seen, that we cannot work together. There was other issues, like the composting facility.”
Continuing on the theme of the deteriorating relations between the two municipalities since both councils were elected in 2013, DeVlieger vowed to work toward reconciliation if re-elected in 2017.
“It seems like we could not work together, and I find that very sad, because that was in my mandate when I ran the first time to improve relationships. I still want to do that, because I think collaboration and working together is so much better to get ahead for everybody, to use each other’s strength. I will emphasize that in my next election, too.”
Outlining some of the goals he wishes to achieve for Taber citizens should he be successful in an election campaign in late 2017, DeVlieger stressed a focus on recreation and entertainment as a gateway to improved economic development and population growth.
“I think the quality of life, and the quality of life is sports, that’s a very important part. But also culture, that’s why I think a theatre might be helpful for a lot of different functions, from a play to movies, to get bands or orchestras, or you name it — to have more things for people to do in Taber instead of always going down the highway. Because people have a lot of free time, free time is very important. People work 35, 38, 40 hours per week, and the rest of the time is recreation. People have the money to spend on that, so we have to play into that, and become more attractive in this town.”