Four years ago now Coun. Evert Botha announced he was running to fill the Ward 3 seat.
Monday, he marked that anniversary by officially kicking off his re-election campaign.
Botha gathered with a small group of friends and family at Killarney Kastle Monday to formally announce his bid for re-election for Ward 3. Botha said he’s most proud of the community engagement he’s built, and that he has more work to do to ensure the city’s future viability and success.
“The first time I ran for council I had some ideas and some things to say, but four years in the saddle I definitely have learned a lot,” Botha said.
In a press release, Botha listed accomplishments such as the launch of the Midtown Neighbourhood Watch, the annual Ward 3 Community Clean-ups that have since become an annual event, the annual Christmas gift bags for guys campaign and community Christmas Eve celebration and the now-regular Ward 3 Community Coffee Catch-Up meetings.
“The one thing I’m most proud of is the sheer amount of residents who have become more engaged with the ongoings at city hall,” Botha said following his speech.
“Residents who have become connected to their neighbours and really heeded the call towards a safe, cleaner, more secure community. If we have residents that are engaged … we have residents who know what’s going on in the decision making progress and to be able to ask the right questions and provide the right input on any decisions I need to make prior to heading into city council. That to me is the most humbling of everything.”
His speech highlighted neighbourhood wins such as the full roll-out of the new garbage bins, paving and new tennis and basketball courts. He also referenced city-wide achievements in sports and the arts such as the world junior men’s softball championships, the Raiders’ first league title since 1985, the Locals cultural video by LJ Tyson and the inaugural Chesterfest music festival organized by local residents Joel Rohs, Kayanna Wirtz and Julie Watt
Now with lessons learned from his first four years in office, Botha said his priorities for the city are safety, infrastructure, economic development and city finances.
When it comes to economic development, Botha wants to work to create incentives that appeal to more than just construction and service jobs such as bars and restaurants. He’s like to see more industries, such as warehousing or other big employers, move into the city to provide long-term, stable job opportunities.
As for infrastructure, He warned that significant investments will be needed to maintain water and wastewater treatment over the next several years and that the city needs to take a hard look at the budget.
“Some of the decisions and commitments that have been made and those that will need to be made will have vast consequences on residences and businesses in our city for the coming years,” he said.
“2021 and beyond will present its own challenges, and in no means can the budget be another status quo budget. We need to look at every single line item and look at what is adding value to the city as a whole. We need to look at all of our external agencies. We need to see if we have the capacity to distribute some money to other projects.”
Those other projects could include more proactive crime reduction and prevention measures, Botha said. It’s not enough, in his mind, to ask the federal and provincial governments for more help. That applies to funding crunches and budgets too.
“It’s easy for some to grandstand and criticize the federal and provincial governments for some of the decisions that they have made,” Botha said.
He also advocated that the city put aside a few thousand dollars to fund programs such as Str8 Up, a gang intervention program, and other youth, senior and targeted programming, not wait for someone else to step up with funds.
“When I look at the residents and the needs in the community, we have a dire need for youth programs, a dire need for programming for seniors,” he said.
“If we have a gang reduction strategy that should be partly funded but he city, maybe the school divisions can step up. We have to stop talking about it and we have to as a city say yes, let’s make 20, 40 or 50 thousand dollars a year available for that program because any programming that can prevent youth from getting caught up in the lifestyle of gangs and drugs and violence is money well spent and we will see that in long term savings in the police.”
That funding, he suggested, should be reallocated from community services’ programming or from the police’s public outreach budget line.
“I’m very serious about us as a city taking ownership of some of these challenges instead of just saying it’s a provincial issue, or a federal issue or a First Nations, Métis and Inuit health issue —these are community issues and we need to put a stake in the ground and start somewhere. We need to be a lot more proactive and there’s a lot more we can do.”
Botha’s time in office has been far from ordinary. His term began with a judicial recount and continued to court controversy. Embee Diamonds, where Botha serves as a member of senior management, was involved in a protracted court battle with the city over an unpaid tax bill, and Botha was twice reprimanded by council for code of ethics breaches. At one point, he was sued by the mayor for alleged code of ethics breaches, allegations Botha denied.
But Botha doesn’t think those moments will come back to hurt him. He points instead to his record standing up for his ward and for the city, even if it was unpopular. He credited Ward 3 residents with informing his decisions and at times helping him change his mind.
“What’s done is done,” he said. “What’s been said, that’s all behind us. We’ve moved on. It’s nothing but a distant bad memory. We’ve refocused and we’re focused on the future,” he said.
“I’ve been consistent in my duty as a city councillor through all the ups and downs. Sometimes I’ll be the lone man standing on a measure and other times I’ll have unanimous support. I’m here to listen to the residents of Ward 3, to the city as a whole to see how we can grow the city beyond the current tax base.”
He also said he would be happy to work with whoever residents choose when they go to the polls on Nov. 9. So far, no councillors are running contested, but three have put their name forward for mayor: Incumbent Greg Dionne, and challengers Darryl Hickie and current Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky.
While it’s early, Botha encouraged residents, especially women, to put their names forward.
“Female leadership especially is very important,” he said, praising the work of the only two women on the current council, Ward 1 and 2 Couns. Charlene Miller and Terra Lennox-Zepp.
“(They) bring about a balance and insight that the men don’t often get. I respect their questions an comments and I do listen to a lot of what they have to say. The insight they provide is immensely valuable and we need more strong female representation.”
Mostly, though, Botha said he wants to build on what he sees as great momentum from his four years in office so far.
“ We started this four years ago I learned a lot in that period. I don’t shy away from getting my hands dirty and pulling up my sleeves,” he said.
“We have a community engaged and ready to move forward. We still have a lot to do and I look forward to working with future members on council and administration to make sure that nobody gets left behind.”