Mayor optimistic about 2021

·4 min read

Last year presented many challenges, but Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland is looking at the positives of 2020 and those to come in 2021.

"I think back to some of the things that happened in 2020 that are significant. It's all COVID-related," Ireland said.

"One of the things that happened is our meetings going online. More people can watch (during the meeting), or later on, on Youtube. That has really been a positive outcome to the COVID environment."

With the municipal election slated for Oct. 18, Ireland said the virtual accessibility to meetings gives folks a look at working in public life.

"It's more than just get out and vote. It's also important for people to start thinking about whether they want to run,” he said. "They can review (the) regular and committee of the whole meetings. That was a strong positive for 2020."

He added it provides awareness of public input into local democracy.

"I think it's important because the locally-elected council makes decisions for the local community that affect the community,” he said.

As a result of the hardship caused by COVID, it has been more apparent to residents which policy decisions are important, such as tax reduction, tax deferrals, the use of public spaces in the COVID environment.

Other impactful areas include PDAC, or the planning and development advisory committee, which is appointed by Parks Canada to advise the park superintendent about planning and development issues in Jasper National Park.

"(It) shows those policy-level decisions on the street and on the sidewalk. Paid parking is something (else) that is very important to all of our citizens,” Ireland said.

"There's a couple of other things on the horizon. Utility fees and rates, that will be coming back to the council table. Those discussions will continue and come to resolution in the earlier part of 2021."

Ireland noted the detailed work done by the municipality's administrative team in line with direction from council.

The installation of electric vehicle chargers in the community may be coming.

"It is an energy technology,” Ireland said. "Local people and visitors are interested in green technology. We're getting our community ready for the inevitable. We have an opportunity to get infrastructure in place. We're still optimistic 2021 will be the year that we'll see something concrete."

Also on the horizon, Ireland continued, is "the prospect of some affordable housing, with a capital 'A'." The municipality applied for Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) federal grant and is hoping to hear by the end of January if the application is successful.

The project is the development of a complex with 40 housing units to be constructed west of the Petro Canada gas station on the south side of Connaught Drive.

"Each of them (is) geared toward a... rent/income ration, geared to a young adult lifestyle," Ireland said. “That makes it affordable in a real way, with the prospect in a few years that we can add to it."

The mayor said they hope to see shovels in the ground this year.

While COVID continues to impact the community, Ireland remained optimistic.

"It's exciting to see the decrease in local cases, with the hope by summertime we'll see something approaching the old normal. Hopefully, things are moving in the right direction,” he said.

"It's nice that the vulnerable population in town got their first dose of the vaccine."

Another point of significance is the retirement of Greg Van Tighem, public services director/fire chief with the municipality of Jasper.

"With all the work Greg has done for the community there'll be really big shoes to fill,” Ireland said. “He has been a stalwart in the ECC (Emergency Coordination Centre) and as a community member. That's going to be one of the earlier changes. I want to give him a shout-out. He's been a great asset to the municipality since its inception."

On that note, Ireland said Jasper will celebrate its 20th year as a municipality this year. It was established as a specialized municipality on July 20, 2001, with governance shared between it and Parks Canada.

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh