Times Associate Editor
Weeks of conflicting debates and persuasive arguments regarding the renewal of a Canadian Badlands membership were put to rest last week, when the majority of town council voted in favour of continuing to support Canada’s largest municipal partnership.
The 63-member organization had billed the town at the end of last year with an invoice for the 2016 annual shareholder levy of $6,423 for membership renewal. The action sparked debate among councillors, some of whom felt the services provided by the Canadian Badlands failed to follow through on former promises and flopped in providing value for Strathmore’s dollar. In turn, administration was tasked to reach out to the Canadian Badlands, and councillors received clarification and explanation from the organization.
Following discussions at the Jan. 27 regular council meeting, a number of local officials were convinced by the organization’s pledges to address the council’s previous concerns regarding proper signage, Strathmore’s poor representation, the Canadian Badlands’ involvement, and lack of communication.
“I’ve come to see that there’s a huge value added,” said Councillor Denise Peterson. “The support for Canadian Badlands holds tremendous potential for our community and I think it’d be extremely short-sighted for us to not jump on board to do everything we could to nurture our own self interest and the interest of all the other communities that partner in the Canadian Badlands Tourism.”
Peterson also referred to the estimated value of $160,000 brought into the community by the Canadian Badlands Tourism Conference, and the support provided to some local businesses, stating that Strathmore was one of five member communities equipped to handle the capacity to host the event.
The Canadian Badlands also offered matching grant funding to the maximum of $5,000 for signage on the periphery of the community to indicate their partnership with the Canadian Badlands, and vowed to assist in creating a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) to find Strathmore’s tourism niche.
“I don’t always engage in the discussions but I’m going to tonight, because I do support belonging to the Canadian Badlands and I think it’s important that we as a community be engaged with the Canadian Badlands Tourism,” said Mayor Michael Ell.
“It really comes down to us making sure that we also engage with them. There are approximately four million tourist visitors that come to this area each year and they spend in the area in excess of $55 million. If we want a bigger share of that tourism dollar we have to also be engaged and go out there and grab it. If we’re not a member, we can’t grab it.”
Yet some councillors remained unconvinced. Councillor Bob Sobol addressed the Canadian Badlands website stating that Strathmore’s amenities and hospitality sectors were not acknowledged.
“I love the premise, I love the concept … and I can assure council that I have the utmost respect for the board and their vision and what they want to put together,” said Councillor Bob Sobol.
“Unfortunately I don’t always see that followed up by the, and with respect, with the staff that they had working for them. We’ve had promises before. I’m looking for more than that and that’s been promised for years, and I’m disappointed with what has not been provided, more than what has been provided by the Badlands.”
Councillor Rocky Blokland agreed, adding that he felt he was given an ultimatum last year to renew the membership in order to ensure the conference would remain in Strathmore.
However, other councillors felt some of the onus reverted back to council and the notion of effective communication.
“I’m right on the fence on this one, right on the fence,” said Councillor Brad Walls.
“Maybe some of it is for us to take blame, maybe it’s not. But one thing [president Barry Morishita] said to me was that he is committed to communication better with us. Whatever happens here maybe we take a little more of an administration approach and work harder trying to get this to where we want.”
According to some council members, the $6,423 is a small price to pay to remain in a partnership with 63 other communities, grow Strathmore’s tourism industry and identity, work closely together with the organization, and gain the support for local businesses. In the end council voted in favour of approving the Canadian Badlands requisition for the full amount. Councillor Bob Sobol and Councillor Rocky Blokland opposed the motion. Councillor Steve Grajczyk was absent during the Jan. 27 council meeting.