By Tim Kalinowski on September 1, 2021.
Mayoral candidate Keean Lehtinen says he would like to see a cleaner Lethbridge and a more people-centred city council if elected this fall.
“I think a lot of the mayoral candidates we have right now are extremely qualified and competent people, but their platforms, I feel, don’t have enough of a human element to them,” he explains. “I figure instead of settling and voting for someone who I feel is not going to represent that interest, I will just go for it myself. That’s why I am here.”
Lehtinen says he would like to work toward a family-friendly Galt Gardens again by addressing some of the underlying problems leading to homelessness and vagrancy in the downtown.
“One of the common stances is heavier enforcement by police on both the mayoral and councillor (candidate) side of things,” he says. “I personally do not think that will solve the underlying problem. While we do do things to provide some people with housing, and we have a functional (OPS) we are not supplementing that with the types of things that will help these people get out of that situation. So functionally, all we are doing is giving them a place to be around a bunch of other businesses, and then not giving them a place to recover. I think we need to divert some of the municipal resources to things like job development and things like training programs specifically for anyone that is interested in working agriculture. Because right now we are having an increasingly large shortage of agricultural workers.”
To this end, Lehtinen, who works in the non-profit sector, is formerly a civilian contractor at CFB Cold Lake and is currently doing extension studies at the U of L, says he would hope to find partnerships within the ag sector to make such a program work.
“Lethbridge has such a huge agricultural industry and they are struggling to find workers in a lot of cases,” he explains. “I think if the municipality provided things like insurance against damages or theft in cases where they are worried about that kind of thing, they would feel a lot more comfortable extending these types of job share and training programs to people currently living in low income situations.”
Lehtinen also says, while he would not defund the Lethbridge Police Service, he would demand more accountability from the police prior to making any future decisions on police budgets if elected.
“The issue isn’t that the police are under or over-funded,” he says, when asked if he thought the current council’s decision to cut $1 million from the police budget was the right one. “I think it’s the amount of support the police generate in Lethbridge is too low for the amount of funding they get. I think the best way to address that is to get better internal auditing for police when it comes to misconduct.
“I don’t think we need to cut more money from the police force. I think we need to redirect the money so the ethics within the police force build public trust to the point we are comfortable giving them the appropriate level of funding.”
Lehtinen says other priorities he would address if elected as mayor would be creating a municipal policy on keeping the Oldman River clean, and providing greater funding for local mental health supports for lower income residents, including students and seniors, within the community.
Lehtinen says the creation of new supportive and low income housing options in Lethbridge is a must if elected.
“I think the housing issue is something we need to prioritize in municipal government,” he states. “Because even if you are looking at it in terms of, ‘Oh, it might slightly raise municipal taxes,’ I think that will pay for itself because currently there is so much loss in revenue to downtown because people feel they can’t be safe here. So we put efforts into making sure these (homeless) people have a place to be genuinely safe and accessible to them, then it would drive a lot of business into downtown. Previous municipal governments have put a ton of funding into things like the arts centre, the Downtown BRZ, and all of the business revitalization efforts, but they are not addressing the issue, in my opinion, which is now people who are in dire straits don’t have anywhere to go.”
Lehtinen also pledges greater transparency on how local taxes are spent if elected.
“I think residential and commercial taxes are not an issue in Lethbridge in terms of rates,” he says. “I think they are an issue in terms of transparency. I think the average person right now they know an approximation of what they are going to pay on their property or on their business in a given year– the issue on that front is they don’t know where their money goes.”
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