Dennis Nowoselsky promised transparency, accountability and financial stability as he launched his campaign for mayor of Prince Albert on Wednesday.
Nowoselsky, who first hinted more than two years ago that he may run for mayor, wasted little time taking aim at how incumbent Mayor Greg Dionne conducted council business over the last four years.
“It’s probably been the hardest four years as far as being treated unfairly,” said Nowoselsky, who won a four-way race for the vacant Ward 7 council seat in 2016. “When I stress I’m going to have transparency and accountability, (it means) everybody will get a chance to have more input and not be crucified. If you’ve been there (in council meetings) you know some nights how certain people get crucified.”
For Nowoselsky, that transparency starts with big infrastructure projects like the new $60-million recreation complex, which will be built in the southeast corner of Prince Albert. The City is on the hook for $16-million, with the provincial and federal governments contributing the rest.
He thinks the public should have more input on projects with that kind of price tag, and believes residents aren’t getting enough information about the deteriorating state of City infrastructure.
If they did, he believes residents would choose a new waste water treatment plant or raw water pump house over a pair of rinks and an indoor pool.
An October 2018 report on the raw water pumphouse showed “significant signs of deterioration and distress, with some immediate emergency conditions.” The City has made federal grant applications and consulted with the provincial government about sharing part of the estimated $15-million cost to replace it.
“The wall 30 feet down is collapsing. They had to reinforce it with a steel bar. It’s 90 years old and it’s collapsing,” he said. “That plant needs urgent fixing.”
Nowoselsky said too many decisions are being made during in-camera meetings, where the public can’t hear about them. He declined to give specific examples on the record, citing confidentially requirements, but vowed to as open as possible with his agenda if elected mayor.
He also promised to give councillors more opportunity to make their voices heard.
“The mayor is the quarterback of the team,” he said. “But, if he has no good lineman, or no good receivers, we go nowhere. It’s a team effort. There’s been moments where we’ve had a little bit of that (with this council), but it’s not the best.”
Besides infrastructure projects, Nowoselsky vowed to cut spending on the police department and change the department’s hiring practices. The latter would force recruits to have a degree or diploma in a related field, like education, phycology or justice studies, before they can be hired. The former could lead to a restructuring of the police department, and the cutting of some positions.
Police service applicants must have a minimum Grade 12 to apply for a job, according to the department’s officer recruitment guidelines. However, the guidelines say many candidates have at least some post-secondary education.
Prince Albert spent roughly $21.4-million on policing in 2019, according to the most recent PAPS annual report. More than $18.9-million of that goes towards salaries, wages and benefits.
“Back in 2015 and 2016 and 2017 we were going in the hole, and it hasn’t got any better,” Nowoselsky said. “How long can that go on?”
As far as generating revenue, Nowoselsky said the City has relied on taxpayers to pick up too much of the burden. He worries low-income residents and seniors are barely able to make ends meet, and said Prince Albert needs new revenue streams to help reduce those costs.
He views the recently created Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance is a good start, but added it’s too soon to know how successful it will be.
He also vowed to continue revitalising Prince Albert’s downtown core, which he called the heart of the City. The University of Saskatchewan will open its Prince Albert campus downtown this fall, and discussions have already begun on transforming the downtown waterfront. However, a three phase Central Avenue streetscape redesign has stalled due to lack of funding. The first phase alone will cost roughly $1.3-million.
Nowoselsky said it’s a matter of priorities, and council needs to prioritize the downtown.
“If you want to keep a city alive, you can’t just move out just to Cornerstone and expect the city to do well,” he said. “A quality downtown is vital for the vibrant life of a city.”
The most recent term was Nowoselsky’s fourth in Prince Albert municipal politics. He was a frequent critic of council’s spending, voting against almost every city budget, and even skipping budget meetings entirely in 2018.
At the time, Nowoselsky told the Daily Herald there was no point in debating small budget items when council needed to cut millions to keep city finances under control.
He didn’t back down from that stance when opening his campaign on Wednesday, saying the City needed to learn to live within its financial means.
Although he sought to cut big budget items, like police salaries, Nowoselsky often advocated for increases in other areas. The biggest was a plan to increase the amount of street sweeping and cleaning performed during the summer. He said having a clean city would help increase tourism, and lead to more civic pride.
He made headlines in 2003 when he asked then mayor Prince Albert Mayor Don Cody to step down following an impaired driving charge, telling the CBC it would be the honourable thing to do.
Nowoselsky comes from a family of politicians, the most notable being his sister, Beverly Desjarlais, who served as an NDP MP in the Manitoba constituency of Churchill. He said his parents taught him the importance of public service, and he’s tried to continue that legacy with his own family.
“My parents always said, ‘give back to your community,’ and I think that’s had a good influence on my kids, because they’re quite involved, and I’m pretty proud of them,” he explained.
Nowoselsky and incumbent Greg Dionne are the only two candidates who have joined the race for mayor. The 2020 municipal election is scheduled for Nov. 9. Nominations close on Oct. 7 at 4 p.m.