A longtime local business manager says Prince Albert will face serious financial challenges over the next four years as it recovers from the COVID-19 shutdown, and he’s eager to jump in and help solve them.
Dana Dirks, an operations manager with Hatchet Lake Economic Development Corporation and Caribou Transport, said Prince Albert residents are looking for a common sense approach to city management. He’s hoping to bring that to city council after announcing his candidacy in Ward 2.
“I speak a lot about politics away from work, and it just kind of felt like the right time (to run),” Dirks said during an interview on Friday. “Right now, it seems like there’s a lot of uncertainty around us, and financially challenging times ahead with COVID.
“I think that we’ve got a long process ahead with some financial struggles, and I thought a common sense business-like approach would be something that could be of some use on city council. I’m no longer involved in some of the sporting activities that I was, so I’ve got some free time and family life is good, so I felt like now was the right opportunity.”
Dirks first moved to Prince Albert in 1989, and has lived in the Hazeldell neighbourhood for more than 20 years. He said residents in the area are frustrated with how little service they receive when compared to how much they pay in taxes.
If elected, Dirks said he would support policies to help residents north of the river feel less alienated, while also working towards lowering crime and addictions rates across the city.
He said Prince Albert police officers are extremely overworked, but he doesn’t believe spending more on policing is the right solution to the problem. Instead, he’d rather see council support community projects and organizations, like the Bernice Sayese Centre.
“We need proper programs in place,” he said. “A lot of this stuff has to be stopped at the root. We can’t deal with it after. We need to be proactive, rather than reactive.”
“We need to come up with a legitimate plan,” he added. “It doesn’t always mean throwing more money at the police to fix our problems.”
On the business development front, Dirks said Prince Albert has been stagnant for far too long, but is encouraged a number of recent developments. He said negotiations to build a new manufacturing production facility to boost Prince Albert’s forestry sector is good news, and was happy to see the creation of a local economic development board PAREDA.
However, he also said the city needs to attract more than just retail stores. If tax incentives are what helps bring those jobs in, Dirks will support them.
“I’ve heard the flip side of that too, where people don’t think the businesses should get the free ride,” he said. “If they’re going to be providing the jobs, which broadens our tax base, which increases our economic value, which then in turn attracts more businesses, then I think it’s a worthwhile venture for us to get into.”
Dirks said he’d also like to see more development in Prince Albert’s downtown core and along the riverfront.
As a long-time member of the local hockey community, and former scout with the Prince Albert Raiders, Dirks said he’s excited to see the development of a new $60-million arenas and aquatics centre. He said there’s no doubt the new facility is needed, and believes it will help attract more events to Prince Albert.
Despite that, Dirks said he wasn’t happy with the political process. He believes residents want to see more openness when big budget infrastructure projects are up for a vote, and doesn’t like the fact that city council purchased land from a private developer to build on. Still, he said the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“I haven’t heard anybody say that they don’t think that’s a good thing for Prince Albert, which I think is the most important thing,” he explained.
Dirks said solid financial management will be the most important thing to focus on over the next four years. He’s confident his background in business will be a benefit in the council chambers.
“Maybe just a fresh set of eyes looking at the books and some of the projects might help us save a few pennies going forward,” he said. “That’s always been my job and that’s what I look forward to doing.”
Dirks is one of four nominees running for the Ward 2 council seat. He’s up against incumbent Terra Lennox-Zepp, teacher Kim Conarroe and chiropractor Devin Gorder.