By Tim Kalinowski on July 9, 2021.
Lethbridge’s latest mayoral candidate says it is time for Lethbridge to roll up its sleeves to get to work on the city’s pressing social problems, and to address all the problems stemming from economic inequality in the city.
Mixed Martial Arts fighter Kolton “The Maniac” Menzak is a lifetime Lethbridge resident with blue collar roots who began working for his grandfather’s local construction company when he was just 15-years-old. Since that time he has worked on an oil rig drilling crew, as a security guard in downtown Lethbridge, and is currently a sheet metal worker for a local heating company.
“I have lived here my whole life and seen a lot of these problems get worse every year, and it doesn’t seem for as much money as we throw at it that it matters,” he says. “Issues with downtown and the homelessness keep getting worse, and it doesn’t seem anybody knows what general direction to put those people in, or how to set up systems of success for people at the bottom. And that’s why I wanted to get involved; so I could help set up systems of success for people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.”
Menzak says the problem with city leadership is it has become disconnected from the social realities many lower income Lethbridge residents face, and too few among them are willing to dig down into the problems festering in the city and get their hands dirty.
“I have always liked to lead by example,” he says. “I am not afraid to do the hard work. If someone doesn’t want to take out the garbage, I will. If you make a mess, I don’t mind. I will clean up the mess. I don’t mind. I will do whatever work needs to be done.
“Being a leader also means being honest with people,” he adds. “Don’t tell people they want to hear, because sometimes that comes round to get you. Just be honest and tell people what you are going to do. And try to help everyone, and try to help the people at the bottom. Because right now it seems like the people that have money, things are more benefiting them, and people at the bottom just kind of get in this cycle of perpetual destruction without too many avenues for success.”
One example Menzak gives of how a blue collar worker like himself would approach the social problems facing the downtown such as homelessness and addiction would be to reach down and give the city’s poor a hand up and a purpose.
“I think we need to give those people some sort of purpose,” Menzak says. “They need purpose and pride. You’ve got to give them something to do during the day, some incentive for good behaviour, and then let them have a nice place to stay. It would be great if they had some place to go, and a job they could do throughout the day.
“Maybe not downtown,” he quickly adds, “but maybe on the outskirts of town would be a better idea.”
But, Menzak says, purpose most often starts with gainful employment.
“We need more opportunities for people who maybe haven’t gone to school or don’t have the resources, or money, or you need a vehicle, or a phone, or you got to sign up for this- you need a credit card,” he explains. “You got to get on the app, you know. It’s pretty hard. If we have a place for them to come, they have some work to do, they did the work, we didn’t make them sign too many papers, or ask too many questions, to make it easier for them. Get paid to do your job. You got to do something, right? You have got to start somewhere. What will hold your life together? A job.”
Menzak says he would like to see more local dollars allocated from the City’s budget to help fund these types of work programs. He says it would likely start with casual City jobs where people who are able can help with mowing lawns, shovelling sidewalks, garbage collection, or various other jobs of this type, but he is hoping it would eventually catch on with private industry in Lethbridge as well.
“I would just try to allocate money differently,” explains Menzak when asked where the money for these types of initiatives would come from. “I wouldn’t try to take more money, but I would try to take the money we are using already more efficiently and effectively.”
“I want to lower taxes,” he adds. “That’s my number one issue. I think taxes should go down.”
Menzak says funding such programs would ultimately benefit every taxpayer.
“If we fix the homeless and the people downtown,” he explains, “then your property value will increase, right? So it really affects everyone. Property values go down the more thefts that happen (in a neighbourhood). That’s just how it is.”
At the end of the day, says Menzak, city governments should be about giving their people a better shot at life.
“White, black or blue, I will fight for you,” he says. “We are going to make meaningful change that’s gonna affect the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder positively. We are going to give opportunity to everyone.”
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