The Broader Context of the Herald/Sun Articles of August 1, 2019

I have had the opportunity to review my interview with Olivia Condon of Post Media as well as the comments printed and I believe that what was attributed to me were extracts of the most inflammatory statements and that the broader context of the interview was not included. I did tell the reporter that I knew my comments were strong and I would stand by them, however, I will remind the reader of the emotional state I was in when I granted the interview. I take responsibility for my words but as with all communication, it is imperative to understand the full context and references.

To be totally honest and blunt, my main concern with the petition is the way it was promoted. Notwithstanding the text of the petition, it was promoted with highly inflammatory and incorrect information. While being solicited for their signatures, I know that at least some residents were told that their taxes would go up as a result of the Tiny Homes project. One resident said she was told that her annual taxes would increase by $400, one was told $1000. Per year! A Facebook post (details available if requested) stated that the petition was available and that you had to sign it - failing to do so would result in thousands of dollars of increased taxation. THIS IS BLATANTLY UNTRUE! The money the Town is proposing to contribute is IN THE BANK! No additional incremental taxation is required!

Through sound, future-oriented financial planning, past and current councils have reserves to deal with infrastructure replacement and enhancement. This allows us to respond to changing conditions and be able to meet resident needs! When the basis for collecting signatures is founded on such a fundamental inaccuracy, how can I accept the petition as appropriate and valid? How can I applaud the value of the petition? How can I implement the request of the petition? I want to ensure the utmost integrity in responding to our community - how can I respond when I know (that some of) the petitioners were coerced with false information?

I would like to address the specific quotes attributed to me:

1: The comment: "It's a disgraceful petition . . . this is an exercise of civic responsibility" was actually, "I think it is a disgraceful petition - I think it is a disgraceful exercise of civic responsibility". The 'disgrace' rests in the fundamentally inaccurate promotion as well as the fact that the petition is against AFFORDABLE HOUSING - I mean, what is next? A petition against Mom? Apple Pie? Racial and Gender Diversity? The supporters of the petition will say that they are not against affordable housing (or question whether this project IS affordable housing) but against public investment in affordable housing. In my mind, the petition is AGAINST (blah, blah, blah, associated with) AFFORDABLE HOUSING! It is nit-picking the details! It is blocking the only recent free market attempt to provide affordable housing in Okotoks!

As noted in my letter to residents, "I believe we are all entitled to our own freedom of speech; indeed it is a fundamental cornerstone of our western democracies! I believe in your rights to challenge Council, especially when you believe your own taxpayer money is being expended in a way you feel is unfair or inappropriate. This petition is an act of having your voice brought forward, along with the voice of many others - it is your right! And I can assure you that Council will carefully consider the petition when it comes before us."

As a representative of our Town and citizens, my job is to ensure that the relevant facts are communicated and considered before any decision is made, and a petition to change Town decisions must be carefully assessed!

2: The comment: "This is a community that can bloody well afford to contribute" actually started out as: ". . . we can bloody well afford to do some subsidy - some minor subsidy - toward starting to solve some affordability issues". (I did re-iterate it pretty much as quoted later in the interview.) This is a complex context! Also, it is a bit of a red-herring! At a first level, "We" refers to the Town as a corporate entity - the Town CAN afford to contribute, because we have the money in the bank! Councils, past and present, have planned for the costs of infrastructure replacement and enhancement and the money is in the bank. NO INCREASES IN ANNUAL TAXES ARE REQUIRED!

On another level, as noted in the Post Media articles, Statistics Canada shows that Okotoks has the highest (after removal of the statistical outlier of Wood Buffalo) family after-tax income in the Province. This has two implications:
1: if you were a 'free market' builder, what product would you promote in Okotoks? Entry level, low margin, small housing? Or high end, higher margin, estate housing? A drive through Cimarron Estates, the Air Ranch and Mountainview will show you which choice the marketplace has chosen and why there is a paucity of affordable housing in Okotoks.

2: if government subsidy for affordable housing could be done in any community in Alberta, could it be afforded here or in the community with the lowest family-after-tax income?

And, as noted, since we have the money in the bank, we are not asking anyone to 'afford to contribute'! I understand that while Okotokians overall have a higher than average household income, this does not represent all of our community. I was not directing my comment to any one person or family in the community - the comment was directed to the community as a collective. Our community has a history of showing tremendous generosity and incredible social responsibility to our fellow citizens and this is why I believe that we are a town in the right mindset and financial position to help more of our community. For this enviable financial circumstance and kindness of heart, we are indeed fortunate and I believe that this project can lead to further benefits and opportunities for grants for our community as the marketplace sees the success of affordable and attainable housing options developed.
We CAN afford it, and we can see return from this investment; we can be proud of the commitment to provision of housing for our young adults, our seniors, among other demographics.

Maclean's magazine published a ranking of Canada's Best Communities, based on measures such as affordability, demographics, taxes, etc. Okotoks ranked #205, with a top feature of demographics, second - culture and community and third - taxes! Ours certainly is a community that I would expect would welcome a Tiny Home community!

3: The comment: "People are just way too entitled". This statement was in the context of Facebook threads that stated that "the people who would live in the Tiny Homes are not the kind of people we want in Okotoks - that we would start to see blue tarps and cars with no tires on them." I was upset with that attitude and felt that it was this attitude that was a driver behind both the creation of the petition as well as those who signed. I admit that I was on a roll and getting worked up in the interview. It was an unjustified and inappropriate comment as it does not represent the attitude of Okotokians in general. For that, I apologize!

I hope this can clarify that my intention was not to vilify the petitioners or Okotoks residents - I was offering my opinion to a reporter as one side of an issue. Please understand that I can - and do - understand both sides of this issue - indeed I try to take a very 'big picture' perspective on all issues that I face on Council. When this issue is brought before Council, I pledge that this controversy will not impair my ability to make an impartial decision, which will consider the best interests of the community as a whole.

Please click on the link below to read the fact sheet prepared by the Town which responds to all aspects of the petition:

Finally, I encourage you to read the following article from 'Stronger Towns'. It is an American context, however the principles of the need for government investment in affordable housing are evident.

Edward Sands