SUNDRE — Confident the town is currently experiencing a period of growth, a candidate who is for the first time running for a councillor's seat wants to be involved in helping to plot a course for a sustainable future.
“We’re getting into this big moment of growth, I think — a boom, if you will. Some might not see that, but I see it,” said Owen Petersen, a married father of two and local business owner.
The 38-year-old who has set roots in Sundre with his family has for almost as long as he can remember been interested in municipal politics. Even back in high school, he recalls his first work experience at the municipality’s office, which largely involved pushing paper.
“But I still learned a bit about the functions of municipal politics,” which he said have “always been on my radar. It’s always really appealed to me because it’s not party politics, which is a very different beast.”
As opposed to being whipped into towing a party line, Petersen aspires not only to represent the community to the best of his abilities, but also to be involved in the local decision-making process to help pave the path to grow the local economy.
A key to economic prosperity, he says, is tourism, which has increased over the last couple of years, probably in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But Sundre has been ready to accept that tourism,” Petersen said, adding he favours a deliberate and measured approach as opposed to rushed schemes.
“I am supportive of tourism in Sundre. I also want to come at it very cautiously and thoughtfully. Because tourism, as beneficial as it can be economically, it can also have some real detriments to the local population.”
That leads to his next priority, which he identified as sustainable growth.
“We’re growing fast in the business world. There’s developments happening and I really want that to be tempered with a long-term plan of sustainability, and not just a cash grab that growth can be sometimes,” he said.
“Crazy urban expansion is this weird Ponzi scheme that lots of municipalities fall into,” he said.
“I don’t have all of the answers, but I definitely want to come at the next term — if I’m elected — with ideas of sustainable growth for Sundre.”
That means factoring into all future plans considerations to ensure continued protection of the community’s pristine natural resources that should not be taken for granted, he said.
“We have a lot to protect in Sundre. And I would say the first and foremost thing is water,” he said, referring to the municipality’s position as the first to tap into the Red Deer River.
“That needs to continue to be fiercely protected. I think previous councils have done a really good job of protecting that, and I think that needs to continue,” he said.
Expressing enthusiasm for the new expansion to the wastewater treatment facility, Petersen said the new, breaking-edge technology offers “the potential to help us be really good stewards of our water.”
The third priority that ranks near the top of his mind is continued efforts to develop recreation opportunities and improved access for residents of all ages and walks of life, regardless of their mobility. Whether parents with strollers or seniors with scooters or wheelchairs, Petersen said he would support efforts to enhance recreation in the community.
“Recreation is really important to me. The more Sundre folk move their bodies, the healthier we’re going to be and the happier we’re going to be — that’s important,” he said.
Originally getting his first business started in 2008, Petersen said he’s been involved in several ventures over the years and brings that experience with him.
“I also bring a lot of enthusiasm to the table, which is I think important for councillors. Because you bring hope to situations, and it also helps me to be a creative problem solver,” he said.
Furthermore, having previously served on a few farmers' market boards as well as a non-profit organization when he lived in Edmonton provided him with additional experience.
“I would say I cut my teeth on how boards function. So, I do have a little bit of governance experience just sitting on a few boards over the years,” he said, adding he, as a father of a young family, also brings that perspective with him.
Somewhat reluctant to dive too deep into provincial affairs on issues that have prompted many municipalities to officially express opposition, Petersen said municipal politicians should primarily be preoccupied with governing within their mandated jurisdiction.
“There are some big issues on a provincial level, but there’s actually not many of them that municipal politicians — in my opinion — should speak up about.”
That being said, when it comes to matters that stand to directly impact towns like Sundre, such as the Alberta government’s proposed provincial police force, “that’s something that we can have a say in.”
The council hopeful expressed outright skepticism about the premier’s claim that a provincial police force would not cost more than the RCMP currently does.
“There’s no way,” he said. “A provincial police force would be an extraordinary cost, and it would trickle right down to your property tax.”
Petersen said he likes the RCMP reforms that are being worked on, and that while there remains a long way to go, the focus should be on continuing those conversations to build upon and improve what is already in place as opposed to starting from scratch.
“Any time a service gets into the spotlight, and people want it to be better, is a great thing in my mind. But you are not going to solve the current policing problems by just making another organization.”