With Prince Albert boasting higher unemployment rate and a lower rate of growth than the province as a whole, development is the solution.
But how can the city attract developers, and which mayoral candidate is the best fit for the job?
The Daily Herald asked all three mayoral candidates the same open-ended series of questions about attracting development to the city, and this is what they had to say.
The first step, mayoral candidate Dean Link said, is to cut the unnecessary red tape that currently hinders developers.
“The developers have told us it’s a continuing cycle of roadblocks at city hall,” Link said, citing two “major” developers in Prince Albert who he claimed told him they would leave if nothing changed.
“Cut through the red tape and we would welcome industry,” he said.
Council plays an important role in defining what the city will do to attract developers. A key component Link would like to see this package include is a commission-based travelling spokesperson.
“I’ve imaged us getting an employee on a commission bases for a trial period of a year to see if they can go out and attract people — a company from Edmonton, Regina or Calgary — hit the road! You’re not going to attract anyone by sitting here,” he said.
“I’m not saying this is going to be the answer to everything, but perhaps try that!”
With commercial and industrial growth will come additional families, and therefore additional housing development to meet the growing demand, he said.
“I think we have to just make it easy for people to come here and get set up,” Link said.
“We have to have the land (and) we have to have the people at city hall to assist them through the process in a very timely manner.
“We’ve got a tremendous city here, we just have to sell it! I’m in sales — I know what’s got to be done.”
Developers are on the verge of leaving Prince Albert, Dionne alleged, because there’s too much red tape for them to forge through.
“You go to a meeting with the city about the development permits … and you walk to a room and you’re dealing with eight people!” he exclaimed.
“It’s like you’re on trial, and there are too many hoops for them to go through for new developments in the city.”
What Dionne would like to see Prince Albert mirror is the inviting model that Melfort has implemented, and seems to have had success with.
“We should be encouraging business and we should have the same attitude as other cities. ‘What does it take for you to build in our city?’ — that should be our attitude,” Dionne said.
“Maybe not build — that’s not the right word. Invest in our community — that’s the way to put it. At the end of the day, that’s a very good thing.
An important step toward this end will be arranging meetings between various stakeholders, to put together proposed bylaw changes to council.
“I would review those bylaws with the developers, because at the end of the day I want our city open for business — that’s the goal. You want to be friendly,” he said.
I think that the mayor is pivotal in terms of being able to meet with all business people regardless of size, and certainly in terms of attracting major institutions, such as the pulp mill. - Mayoral incumbent hopeful Jim Scarrow
Past bylaw amendments council has approved have come as a result of administration recommendations.
“I think we’ve failed as a council,” Dionne said. “I’ve been part of that process, and I voted because someone asked them if they met with the developers, and they said ‘yes.’”
Although administration met with the developers, the developers didn’t necessarily agree with them.
“In lots of cases, we only hear administration, and to me that’s wrong.”
Reporting record years in terms of business licences, industrial growth and new home construction, mayoral incumbent Jim Scarrow said that the proof is in the pudding.
“In addition to that, strong support for non-profit organizations, resulting in a significant number of … quality, affordable rental housing for our community,” he said.
Being a full-time, and as he says, an overtime mayor, Scarrow said that he’s played an important role in this growth.
“I think that the mayor is pivotal in terms of being able to meet with all business people regardless of size, and certainly in terms of attracting major institutions, such as the pulp mill,” he said.
“I didn’t sign the papers or make the deal, but we certainly promoted Prince Albert and the opportunity of the pulp mill, and we had to negotiate very strongly with Paper Excellence, at the time.”
Scarrow cites a few recent examples of his playing an important role in streamlining the process when it comes to developments coming in, due, in part, to his full-time status.
“I can’t go around anyone’s professional designations and signoffs,” he noted. “There are many bylaws and regulations and codes that the city must follow … What I’m prepared to do for one I’m prepared to do for everybody.
“We have the rules, and if someone wants to challenge it there is a process for that. It does take time.”
When it comes to changing these bylaws to adhere to the needs of developers, Scarrow said that he’s made some important headway.
“When I became mayor, I instituted meetings with the developers, builders and real estate,” he said.
“We meet twice yearly and we compare notes. I also discovered early on that we were selling our lots for less than developers, and we were actually taking a loss on them, so we agreed that we would be close to if not equal to developers’ lots.”
The Cornerstone Shopping District will continue to grow, Scarrow said, with another big development recently lined up.
But, he said, the biggest industrial opportunity on the horizon will be related to the Prince Albert Pulp Mill’s re-opening.
Although the mill is estimated to employ about 250 people by the time it fully opens up, a “cluster of forest-related industries” will join them, with an estimated 600-700 jobs created.
“There’s lots going on,” Scarrow said. “The community’s really strong.”