In the Mayor’s Words

My dear Red Deerians, I am thrilled to welcome you to "In the Mayor’s Words – My Perspectives".

My hope is for this to become a platform where we'll share important updates, stories, and insights directly from City Hall. This blog will serve as a bridge between us, the government, and you, our valued residents.

This will be a great place to find my viewpoint on city projects, upcoming events, community initiatives, and much more.

I hope you join me regularly as I embark on this journey of discovery, empowerment, and connection. Your input and participation are vital as we work together to build a brighter future for Red Deer. If you have topics, current events, or items you would like me to discuss here on the blog, please use the form below and I will do my best to respond to the items you want to hear about.

Tell me your ideas

June 2024: The Vision of a One-Million City

Greetings my dear Red Deerians, and welcome back to the Mayor’s Blog. I want to talk to you today about our growth prospects, where I believe opportunity presents itself and where, once again, Red Deer’s spirit of collaboration and innovation can set us apart as a chosen destination.

No doubt, you may have heard Premier Smith speak of her vision for Red Deer being Alberta’s next city of a million people. When I first heard this, I began to reflect on what that might look like, what impact it would have, and how we might set out to accomplish the task. Being a former banker, I calculated that at our current population of 110,000 people, at a growth rate of 5 per cent every year, it would take 44 years to get to a million.

Keeping pace with the wants and needs of a growing population will require much planning, much collaboration and much focus for all levels of government and all facets of our community. All our social, health, economic and culture sectors will need to be fully engaged. Growth brings many challenges making many of us uneasy that our quality of life may be reduced. My experience with the growth in Alberta these past 44 years encourages me, as it should you, that success is achievable.

Alternatively, if you consider our trading area of 250,000 people, it would take 28 years for the region to reach one million. Seems like a lot of years but depending on your age, you could certainly be a part of that milestone. After all, when I came to Calgary in 1981, it had a population of 594,000.  Today, it has 1,665,000, an increase of over a million people in 43 years – it can be done!

Just as oil and gas provided the catalyst for the growth of Calgary and all Alberta, Red Deer will need it’s own catalysts to accomplish the same. And the great news is, they are emerging and developing today. I speak firstly of the new Regional Hospital which will be breaking ground, I believe, in 2025. This two-billion-dollar project will bring an immense wave of employment, capital and economic activity to the city and the region. As it builds out, it will attract all levels of health care professionals, developers, post secondary expansions, retailers, food services, social and finance infrastructure, investors and the list goes on. It will transform Capstone and the downtown. It will propel 11A annexation and North of 11A.

Once completed, we will have a world class medical facility, unmatched by any in the province. In combination with the Sheldon Kennedy Centre for Excellence, the Justice Centre and the technology, trades and medical programming at the Red Deer Polytechnic, we are positioned to become a central hub in the province for research, innovation, and training excellence.

I mentioned energy as a catalyst for growth in Alberta. Our traditional energy resources of oil and gas remain vital and are now complimented by advances in wind, solar, hydrogen and carbon capture technologies. Red Deer and the region are very well positioned to become a provincial leader in these technologies.

The future of the Red Deer Regional Airport is bright, which will also be a contributor in the province. Our natural environment will become an even greater attractant for people who want to connect and reconnect with nature. We have a uniqueness in our work/life balance. More people are seeing and wanting to be part of the Red Deer scene. I haven’t even mentioned our sports amenities, our vibrant cultural landscape and our tourism sector, all poised to carry us forward.

The greatest opportunity lies, I believe, in the development of a high-speed rail corridor. The Edmonton/Calgary corridor is one of the fastest growing and wealthiest regions in Canada. A high-speed rail linkage with a stop in Red Deer, as has been proposed, would transform Red Deer’s economic and social future. It would be possible to work in the metro centers and live in Red Deer.  A shorter commute time to work from 150 kilometers, than from 30 kilometers – yes it will happen! The supply chain impact will be monumental for Alberta and Red Deer will be its prime beneficiary.

Growth brings opportunity, it brings collaboration, creativity and enterprise. Managed well, it fosters community and generational success. A million-person city? I believe it can be done and will be done by the Red Deer we are, and yet to be.

Until next time,
Mayor Ken Johnston

May 2024: The Vision of a Recovery City

My dear Red Deerians.

I wanted to share my vision with you today on what we can become as a recovery community in the years ahead. As you know, Council recently passed a motion asking the Government of Alberta to transition our Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) out of our community. This resolution was reached after an extensive amount of debate, research, discussion, tours of facilities, input from experts on every side of the issue, and, of course, much public input from our citizens from every part of our community.

I understand that some of us may be hurt, angry, confused, or in fear of what this could potentially mean for our city. I also understand that this is a divisive and emotional issue, striking at the heart of our beliefs and our compassion. At the core of this motion is the deep concern for the health and well-being of every Red Deerian but especially those who are afflicted with the disease of addiction.

My dear Red Deerians, Red Deer is not alone in its struggles in this tragic escalation of opioid addiction. Cities throughout Canada and North America, indeed throughout the world, are struggling to combat and overcome this disease in the face of ever-increasing toxic additives, organized crime, and the oppression of those most directly affected. Those directly affected people include our neighbours, our sons and daughters, our fellow employees and coworkers, the homeless, those in poverty, those suffering from mental health issues, those that are desperate.

It’s time for a full-on approach to this disease. It’s time to say as a city there is a better way, a far more compassionate and effective way, to restore the health and dignity of not only our effected citizens but all relationships affected by addiction, and by extension the health of our city and cities. Sadly, but so very tragically, there are only two routes through addiction, death or recovery.

Addiction is brutal, it is all consuming, it annihilates the individuals mind, body and soul and it annihilates relationships. It destroys hope and cripples’ communities. That is why I introduced the Alberta Model of Wellness to our Council in 2022 and asked them to endorse it as a way forward for Red Deer. I have been encouraged these past few years by the operational and capital investments made by the Government of Alberta in striving toward a recovery-oriented system of care.

Our recovery community at the north end of the city is fully operational now, providing treatment beds for over 70 people. The province is planning, in total, 11 recovery centres over the next few years to provide people a way towards restoration in a clinical and structured setting. Opioid agonist therapies are providing the much needed and much required harm reduction therapy. Locally, that clinic is now treating over 200 people and integrating them back into meaningful purpose. Our Dream Centre is operational and providing care for those affected by addictions. Therapeutic living units - the first ever in Alberta - are in operation at the Remand Centre providing recovery opportunity for those incarcerated.

Council’s motion did not simply call for a transition or closure of the OPS by the end of 2025. Far more importantly, and far more urgently, it called for a significant increase in mental health supports, in detox, in the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VOPD), in agonist therapy, supports in housing, and in police enforcement. This is the full measure response that I have communicated both in writing, and in person to the Ministry of Addictions and Mental Health.

Human life, all human life, is precious. We need, and must, come to the aid of our citizens who find themselves trapped. Shortly after Council passed this motion, I wrote a letter to Minister Dan Williams, Mental Health and Addictions with the Government of Alberta. I made it very clear, my dear Red Deerians, that those full measures are needed to effectively and sustainably bring health, safety and restoration to all who suffer from the disease of addiction. All the supports that I have outlined above and more as determined by the Health Ministry will be needed.

I am convinced that if supports are available in full measure and fully accessible to everyone they will be accessed and they will be effective in bringing people into recovery. The Minister and I had an excellent first meeting on March 12, 2024. He will shortly be sharing his preliminary strategies on the way forward with your Council. I was encouraged by his wisdom as he indicated that this will be a thoughtful, time framed, careful, strategic, and fully resourced response to our motion.

But to be truly successful, and to be truly transformational as a city, we will need to involve all our community. And most especially this includes our citizens, who may be fearful or angry, or doubtful that this is the way to approach this most critical issue. For that reason, I will be meeting over the next several months with members of the substance use coalition, with physicians, and other government and non-government agencies. The broader goal of our recovery vision is to be a full community of recovery. This means all our systems of care, our education, legal, correctional, judicial, housing, employment, and social supports, etcetera, will be focused on community wellness. To get this done, to get this restoration, and this renewal, it will require all of us to keep always, the suffering, the desperate, the addicted and oppressed at the heart of our conversations.

I am learning from everyone and am looking for their ideas, for their hearts, and for their energies. I will have more to report on this over the next few months, but for now, my dear Red Deerians I wanted to inform you, invite you, and engage you as we go forward in the journey of recovery.

Hope to see you shortly in this beautiful city we call home.

Mayor Ken Johnston