The problems and concerns related to today’s city council aren’t terribly unique, city alderman from 1962-66 James Sanderson said.
As past alderman and a resident of the city since 1926, he has a long history of experience to draw from in making this assessment.
This year’s batch of city council candidates are raising the same issues they were in the ’60s. Transparency issues in city hall, voter representation, attracting developers, creating employment and trouble with city administration are all of concern. It’s all the same stuff, different day, Sanderson said.
At 87 years of age, Sanderson still has his eyes glued to the daily newspaper to see what city council is up to — an interest that runs in his family. His grandfather represented the Town of Prince Albert as an alderman, and his father spent 12 years on city council as an alderman.
“I still have the lifelong interest with the city and its advancement,” Sanderson said, adding that he’s already decided whom he’s voting for on Oct. 24.
Asked what he looks for in a candidate, he answers with a story about his past as a Liberal supporter, even going as far as to run on the provincial Liberal ticket in 1958, losing by only 300 votes.
His support of the Liberal party died with the release of the Red Book in 1993.
“It was the first time when I’ve ever had put before me what a political party was saying they’d achieve, and the major things that I would be interested in seeing that they would achieve were dismissed,” he said.
In addition to his advice that residents seek candidates’ platforms to see if they’re in keeping with their own, he has advice and insight on many other subjects.
The ward system
Prince Albert’s ward system is something Sanderson did not support in the ’60s, though it was ultimately implemented.
As such, the city divided into eight wards, with eight city councillors and one mayor, with each ward’s residents limited to voting for their ward representative.
“When I was on city council, the whole city voted on the aldermen, there were no wards, so you were free on that,” Sanderson said. “Everybody would be looking at what is the position for the entire city.
“I’m pretty sure that everybody elected was very mindful that they were looking after the people in their city, but once the ward system went, things changed.”
Now, it’s interesting to see councillors represent their wards, and potentially only their wards, he said.
“I don’t think you would find a (councillor) in any of the eight wards that would go out to determine what the constituents (outside his ward) wish.”
If a question comes before council, which if passed may benefit the city but would be detrimental to the citizens of a ward, would the councillor in that ward pass the motion? This is a key question to ask candidates, Sanderson said.
Although the City of Prince Albert’s elected officials were elected to represent the views of the public, Sanderson notes an overly influential city administration during his time as alderman.
“We only got the information from our employees that supported their views,” Sanderson said. “We didn’t get anything on it … and they’re selling it to you, and you’re getting only the facts to sell it.”
I still have the lifelong interest with the city and its advancement. - James Sanderson
In 1966, he opted to not seek re-election because his work would take him outside of the country for long periods of time, allowing him little time for council duties.
“The city manager at that time asked me to run for mayor — he would run the city and I wouldn’t have to do anything, and it wouldn’t matter if I was here or away,” he said. “That’s how things worked.”
This, Sanderson added, was of no interest to him.
The public was often with little insight into the goings on of city council, Sanderson said of his time as alderman.
Most council deliberations took place in a non-public setting, with only items previously discussed in private coming forth in a public forum.
“It would be almost unusual if the approval wasn’t basically achieved before it came before council and then gets passed,” he said. “The public doesn’t see that end of the determination of questions. They’re not invited, and they can’t be there.”
This, he said, is where the prodding of the media is important, in making sure these otherwise hidden conversations come forth to the public.
Prince Albert’s history is full of movers and shakers who devoted their lives and influence toward attracting development to the area.
These people, Sanderson said, played a much larger role in attracting development than the city’s elected officials did.
An example is with the Eaton’s department store. With Eaton’s unable to find satisfactory accommodation in Prince Albert, a group of movers and shakers banded together to finance the construction of a storefront.
“Ultimately, they got their investment back, but then we got one major retailer in Prince Albert, and without that involvement of individuals, they’d never have come here,” Sanderson said.
Local businessman Alexander Aaron is one who sticks out in Sanderson’s mind, having owned several businesses around Central Avenue, in downtown Prince Albert.
“He’s the one that wanted to, from city hall north to the fire hall, he wanted to enclose the street there with a roof overtop of it,” Sanderson said.
“He did the pitch on it and was willing to finance a big portion of it, but the city back then turned it down.
“He was one of those people that would go out and convince people to come to P.A. for a business. He would be looking for people to rent the stores that he owned, but in doing so he brought additional business into Prince Albert.”
Edward Rawlinson, Fredrick Hadley and Peter Mahon also come to mind, Sanderson said.
“They would control that council because the local people wouldn’t contest things with them,” he said.
“Do we have people like that now that would be aggressive enough to find what was required and provide it?”