OLDS — Newly-elected councillors say while COVID-19 restrictions and future of O-NET, the community owned internet, TV and phone service were are two of the biggest issues they plan to address, they also want to focus on other issues raised by voters.
Other issues included spurring growth and jobs, improving traffic flow, cutting crime and getting to the bottom of whether Olds needs more doctors and ensuring that all doctors here have hospital privileges.
Earlier this year, the previous council voted to turn Olds Fibre Ltd., which oversaw O-NET into a municipally-controlled corporation.
Darren Wilson wants to do more research to find out exactly what its financial situation is, but believes the best solution for it is some kind of partnership or joint venture with some other private entity.
But he has other goals as well.
Wilson said a major focus for him will be finding ways to retain and attract new business in order to spur the town’s economy.
Energy will be another area of interest.
“I’m really keen on what the town can do around energy and energy alternatives. We know in the paper that the cost of energy is going up, whether it’s at the fuel pump, whether it’s natural gas, whether it’s electricity,” he said.
He said as a result of the O-NET/MCC matter, Olds Institute which served as a kind of umbrella organization for many things, including O-NET and volunteerism, is in “limbo.”
“We need to look at finding ways to support the volunteer group and committees in town that previously relied on Olds Institute for support,” Wilson said.
During the election campaign, concern was expressed that there may not be enough doctors in town. Wilson wants to find out what the situation is.
Daniel Daley, another newcomer to council, wants to work with other members of council to heal the wounds created by the divide over the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“It’s about bringing our community back together again and getting rid of that ‘them and us’ that seems to be taking place right now,” he said.
"The mayor and council, we need to sit down and kind of figure out what we can do to support people on both sides of the opinion.”
Daley is looking forward to being a town councillor.
"I am excited for the opportunity to be able to represent the citizens of Olds and I’m excited to look at the challenges and come up with solutions to make Olds a better place to live,” he said.
James Cummings, also new to council, said the future of O-NET was by far the biggest issue he encountered during the election campaign.
Cummings believes he can help calm people down as they debate its future because he hasn’t been on the board.
“There has to be a voice of reason amongst that group of emotional people. I think that’s my role in that case,” he said, adding he believes at least one other councillor may fit that role too.
Cummings also wants to spur the economy in Olds.
“COVID has really messed with it. The (volatile) oil and gas (prices) have really messed with it,” he said.
He likes the fact the Town of Olds has worked hard to diversify the economy, but also questions whether the current Economic Development Secretariat is the best way to achieve that goal. He’d like to see more representation from local business people in that group.
“We need to involve more than the people who are already involved in the economy in Olds: the Uptowne Olds Association, the chamber of commerce,” he said.
Cummings said he supports retaining O-NET in some way.
“I don’t want it to see disappear. I certainly don’t want to see it become Bell or Shaw or anything like that, so that’s important,” he said.
Cummings wants to find out whether or not Olds has a doctor shortage, an issue that was raised during the campaign.
“I had no problem finding a family doctor. I know there’s a wait list right now. But I don’t know if our wait list is any different that any other town’s wait list,” he said.
He wonders if as some have said, the town does theoretically have enough doctors for the population but maybe not enough are serving as family doctors, because they’re serving as specialists.
Wanda Blatz and Heather Ryan were returned for a second, four-year term on council.
In an email, Blatz said while COVID restrictions were an issue during the campaign, “believe it or not, COVID will pass.”
She noted that COVID restrictions were mandated by the provincial government.
“As a councillor we are elected to represent all residents in our community, equally and fairly,” she wrote.
“The next four years are going to present many challenges for this council. Council will have to focus on business retention and recovery,” Blatz wrote.
“Council will have to work closely with our partners and the Economic Development Secretariat to ensure that our businesses have supports to continue operate and the ability to grow, attract businesses in retail, commercial and industry.”
She said council needs to work with developers to build “attainable and affordable” housing and lobby for more funding for education and health care.
“The town of Olds is on the cusp of becoming a small city, we need to look to the future and plan for increasing the capacity of our hospitals, schools and recreation facilities, find efficiencies to maintain service levels and infrastructure while being fiscally responsible,” she wrote.
Ryan also wants to focus on retaining and attracting businesses.
She listed other issues as well, the fire services agreement with Mountain View County and improving communication and transparency between council and the public.
During the past term, Ryan sat on the Olds Policing Advisory Committee (OPAC). She would like to do so again.
Ryan not only served as council's rep on the Mountain View Seniors' Housing board, she chaired it last year. She’d like to do that again as well.
“I’m just looking forward to working with this new council,” she said.
Harvey Walsh is back on council after being defeated during the 2017 election.
Before that, he had served five terms on council.
In an email, Harvey Walsh said he had no plans to run for council this time, but concern over the future of O-NET spurred him to seek office again.
“The biggest challenge facing council is to restore the trust of our community volunteers and leaders in council,” he wrote.
Like others, Walsh believes community development is “integral to the success and growth of Olds,” but added that citizen engagement is “key.”
Walsh said COVID restrictions damaged businesses and the community as a whole.
"There needs to be some pushback from municipalities so that the province realize(s) their single focused mandates of one size-fits-all is damaging to our society,” he wrote.