Longtime city councillor seeks to reclaim old seat in Ward 3

A former Prince Albert city councillor is looking to reclaim his old seat when Prince Albert voters head to the polls in November.

Lee Atkinson represented Ward 3 from 2000 to 2016, when he lost a close race to businessman Evert Botha. Four years later, Atkinson has decided to run again. He said the lack of positive change in Ward 3 is a big reason why.

“It was always my intention to want to go to council (and) try to make the place I live in a better place,” Atkinson said during an interview on Tuesday. “Currently, I see it’s not happening. I think … it’s not becoming a better place. It’s seemingly going in the opposite direction.”

Crime, financial management, community development and civility on council are Atkinson’s biggest concerns. He said many of the policies introduced over the last four years haven’t made lives noticeably better for Prince Albert residents.

He cited Prince Albert’s Back Alley Curfew Bylaw as a primary example. While Atkinson supports patrolling back alleys on a regular basis, he said other safety measures—like more exterior lighting on streets and parking lots—are needed to make residents feel safe.

He also wants provincial help in rooting out drug houses plaguing the City. Ideally, he’d like to have one full time position dedicated to removing them.

Having a neighbourhood watch group in the area has helped too, he added, but Atkinson still believes more should be done to address the problem.

“If you ask a person on the street, ‘are we having any effect on reducing crime?’ I think generally the answer would be no, especially lately,” he said. “Now we’re at the point where I think people are afraid to come out of their homes in the evening. The question is, obviously, are we getting better, and if we’re not getting better, what are some of the solutions?”

He said the new arenas and aquatics centre is also a concern. Atkinson worries council hasn’t considered how much it will cost to hire staff and operate the facility once it’s completed. He said there’s too much ambiguity about the investment, and believes it should have received more scrutiny.

Atkinson said he’s also concerned with the lack of civility at council debates. He said he’s never seen council as polarized as it was the last four years.

He believes a lack of concern for other viewpoints is a part of the problem. He said the city’s elected officials pushed through too many projects without taking time to evaluate other proposals or hear other points of view. That’s something he promised to change if he’s elected.

“The rationale for having a municipal council is to get input from those you represent,” he said.

From a policy standpoint, Atkinson wants the City to focus more on revitalizing the downtown. He’s concerned council is focusing too much on Central Avenue, and not enough on the surrounding area.

His biggest focus is the waterfront. Atkinson said he wants the City to create a Riverbank Authority, which would discuss options with cultural organizations and private business owners. The City’s planning department has already hosted a forum for residents to discuss a reimagined riverfront, with the help of Regional and Urban Planning students at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I think we have potential, whether it be events or festivals or other things, that could utilize the riverbank,” he said. “We have to make it safe, first of all, but then I think we have to partner with people to produce things that might attract people down there.”

Atkinson also wants city council to make the Central Avenue Streetscape Redesign a priority. He said downtown businesses have been hit hard due to COVID-19, and revitalizing the area could help draw more people back downtown.

Ideally, he’d like the work to start before the COVID-19 public health restrictions end. He’s worried too many businesses won’t be able recover from the lockdown if the City closes Central Avenue for repairs as soon as the restrictions are lifted.

The City of Prince Albert tried to apply for federal funding for the project in April 2019. It was one of 10 projects submitted to the Government of Canada. The aquatics and arenas complex was the only one of the 10 to receive federal approval.

Infill lots were a major priority for Atkinson when he last sat on council, and nothing has changed four years later. In 2016, he said the City needed to offer developers and homeowners more incentive to build on empty infill lots in older neighbourhoods. He still supports that plan in 2020, and said it would be a great way to kickstart the local economy one the public health emergency ends.

Atikinson first moved to Prince Albert with his wife in 1979. He’s lived in Ward 3 since then. After his wife passed away in 2019, Atkinson talked with friends, relatives and neighbours about getting back into politics. He said their support convinced him to seek another term.

Atkinson is one of three candidates seeking election in Ward 3. He’s up against Tony Head, and incumbent Evert Botha. The election is scheduled for Nov. 9.

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