Former city councillor aims to highlight individual voices at State of the City community forum

Herald file photo. Former city councillor Evert Botha listens to a speaker during a council meeting in October 2019.

A Prince Albert business owner and former City Councillor is looking to create an opportunity for residents, businesses, and community-based organizations to advocate for their needs and concerns while pushing for meaningful change at the local, provincial, and federal levels.

In the two years since he left City Hall, former councillor Evert Botha says he has continually heard from Prince Albert residents that an open platform needs to be created for individuals in the community to have their voices heard.

“I said you know what, let’s create an advocacy group where we can all get together, we can lobby for change and really decide where our tax dollars are spent instead of being treated like a bunch of school children where we’re told that Council knows best,” Botha said. “Maybe the residents of the community know best.”

Forum a ‘safe environment where everyone can speak their mind’: Botha

With that idea in mind, the Prince Albert Business & Resident Advocacy Group (PABRAG) was born, and their first State of the City Community Forum will be held at the Prince Albert Exhibition Association at 6 p.m. on Oct. 24. The forum is open to all residents of the Prince Albert community.

Botha said the goal of the advocacy group is “to have a safe environment where everyone can speak their mind and not be subject to any intense interrogation, but rather be able to advocate for their business or themselves or their community or their organization; to effect some meaningful change at the local, provincial, and federal level as it affects us: be it crime, or homelessness, or addictions, or taxation, taxation appeals, decisions made by Council, statements made.”

Botha said the event will be open mic so that everyone can be awarded the opportunity to go on record and be given the chance to communicate their concerns and have their questions forwarded to City Council, the legislative assembly, and parliament.

“We want to make sure residents, businesses, and organizations have a voice. The time is now for our residents and businesses to start standing together and demand change at City Hall, at least in the way the budgets are managed and approached and to get involved in the decision-making processes,” said Botha, who called the process residents must follow for the chance to speak at a City Council meeting cumbersome.

Botha said the main issues that will be discussed at Monday’s forum are crime, taxes, and decision-making.

“As the City of Prince Albert’s City Council heads into Budget 2023 deliberations, it is important that the decisions made as it relates to the taxpayers’ purse are in line with the needs of the whole of the Community and not just select interest groups,” reads a media release from PABRAG. “Businesses, residents, and organizations are often the ones faced with the most difficult decisions during tough economic times such as the present, and it is apparent that City Council and Administration are not always willing to listen, consult or engage-let alone afford every voice the opportunity to be heard though public consultation.”

Botha said it’s time for Prince Albert residents to take change into their own hands.

“We’ve seen a lot of decisions made over the years without any consultation or transparency and we want to make sure that Council and our elected officials in Regina and Ottawa are aware of the needs and concerns in the community. Too often we hear that it’s a provincial issue or it’s a federal issue, we all call BS on it because there is only one taxpayer. We can’t keep saying that it’s the province’s fault, or it’s the federal government’s fault. We want to treat all businesses, or all residents, and all community-based organizations on an equal basis.”

The Herald contacted Mayor Greg Dionne for his thoughts on the advocacy group and was told he had no comment at this time.