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Candidate Q&A: Giving volunteers a hand in Morinville

Council candidates discuss how to energize civil society

Morinville town council spent many hours last term debating how to improve civic engagement. Councillors wanted better ways than Facebook and open houses to get residents involved in decision-making, and sought solutions to the space and volunteer shortages faced by the town’s many non-profit groups. 

This week, The Gazette asked Morinville’s council candidates via email what steps they would take to support volunteerism and improve civic engagement if they were elected. 

White, Vollick, St. Denis 

Ray White said each volunteer group in Morinville should have a specific councillor assigned to them as a resource and spokesperson who would report on any issues faced by that group and give them a voice at the council table.  

“This would also help civic engagement by having volunteers know that they are not only listened to but supported in the amazing work that they do.” 

Erin Vollick said she has been volunteering since she was a teen, having seen her parents volunteering throughout her community. 

“It was just one of those things you did — you participated in and for your community. I definitely wasn’t doing it because the government [municipal or otherwise] told or incentivized me to.” 

Vollick said society needs less government intervention and that council should not use tax dollars to promote family values. Still, she said Morinville might see more civic engagement if people had more dances, barbecues, and other events to participate in. 

As a mental-health professional, Maurice St. Denis said it is imperative that council support the collective healing associated with the trauma caused by COVID-19 and the truth and reconciliation process.  

“We are personally and collectively grieving the loss of loved ones, connection, traditions, and our church,” he said. Despite this, many residents continue to demonstrate selflessness through volunteerism and random acts of kindness. 

St. Denis said he would move to create a youth council, community leagues, and intergenerational volunteer opportunities if elected.

Richardson, Otway, Gatza 

Scott Richardson said council has to find free or affordable space for its volunteer groups, many of which struggle to afford room rentals. It also needs a direct line of communication between volunteers and administration. 

“We need to make it easy for volunteer groups to operate, and remove barriers, not create them.” 

While there isn’t a silver bullet for civic engagement, Richardson said simply being active in the community works for him. He said council needs to find more opportunities to be part of the community. 

Alan Otway called on council to give volunteer groups bigger discounts on town facility rentals and to keep the contact information for those groups it posts online updated. The town could also give non-profits space on town signs and calendars. 

Wayne Gatza said resident engagement is extremely important and must be a priority as the community grows.  

“Our community organizations play a vital role in the wellbeing of our community, many providing hours of their time to ensure programs run smoothly. Thus, we need to ensure we show appreciation for their works plus provide various levels of support to them.” 

Gatza said regular open forums, social media updates, and other accessible platforms could all enhance civic engagement.  

Dafoe, Boutestein, Balanko, Anheliger  

Stephen Dafoe said council must make “sense of community” a priority next term.  

“When residents feel [like] a part of the community, all other aspects of life become easier,” he said, including volunteerism, community engagement, and business support. 

Dafoe said council should follow the lead of the Roseridge Waste Management Services Commission (of which he is a member) and combine engagement with community events. In Fall 2020, for example, the commission not only held online surveys and sessions about its expansion plans, but also spoke to residents about them at an in-person electronics recycling event.  

Nicole Boutestein said council should provide clubs and organizations with a platform through which to communicate their volunteer requirements, the discussions of which would provide more opportunities for collaboration.  

Boutestein called for council to host in-neighbourhood meetings twice a year throughout Morinville to hear from residents what is important to them. 

“I am a strong believer [in the idea] that face-to-face conversation is truly the best way to hear and see what we are missing,” she said. 

Rebecca Balanko said she feels the town needs to do a better job with its community services department and its support of service groups. A directory, an online volunteer event calendar, and supports around volunteer management would be great places to start. 

“We have wonderful volunteers, but need to support further recruitment attempts by our non-profits.” 

Jenn Anheliger said council should establish a standardized consultation process that brings in diverse voices and leaves residents feeling heard and valued. She also suggested getting volunteers engaged through focus groups and workshops.

“It is crucial that residential input is strongly considered when making decisions, and that volunteers are kept informed as to how their input was used.” 

Anheliger said she also hopes to review the town’s recruitment process for external boards and committees to see if there are any gaps that keep residents from participating in them. 

Sarah Hall did not submit a response by deadline. 

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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