‘What would Lois do?’ asks leader of St. Albert’s Vote Yes for the Library campaign at Saturday evening launch event

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PHOTOS: In the foreground, former St. Albert Public Library Board chair Charmaine Brooks, who now leads the Vote Yes for the Library campaign, and mayoral candidate Cathy Heron, a city councillor, at last night’s campaign launch. Below: A band perked things up and Library Director Peter Bailey addressed the crowd of about 200 people at the public library.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

As Charmaine Brooks, chair of the St. Albert Vote Yes for the Library campaign reminded a couple of hundred library supporters at the library’s only facility last night, Lois Hole often spoke about “the essential nature of public libraries and their power to change lives.”

“It’s painfully ironic and somewhat embarrassing that this issue is on the ballot in Lois Hole’s home town,” Dr. Brooks remarked during her kickoff speech for the hastily organized Vote Yes for the Library campaign.

Lois Hole, of course, was the St. Albert businesswoman well known for the city’s gardening centre that bears her family name and her many books on horticulture, who served as the popular Lieutenant Governor of Alberta from 2000 until her death in 2005. Her support for libraries is honoured by the name of a branch of the Edmonton Public Library and an annual award given by the Alberta Library Trustees Association.

Ms. Hole once observed that “libraries are sacred places: they contain the hard-earned lessons of the past and the seeds of a better future.”

St. Albert’s public library, where last night’s gathering took place, is a popular and heavily used public facility in the suburban community northwest of Edmonton, but it has unexpectedly become a key issue in the municipal election campaign that officially begins tomorrow.

Few of the library’s many supporters in St. Albert had expected this turn of events when city council unanimously approved community charter for a new branch library in the city’s under-serviced north in November 2015, unanimously approved funding to build it in December 2016, and unanimously passed first reading of a borrowing bylaw to finance the project in April this year.

But something happened, and in the pre-election period the mayoral campaign of one councillor, Cam MacKay, seems to have hit upon opposition to the branch library as an issue around which a coalition capable of winning could be built.

Likely, in the opinion of this blogger, this is because Mr. MacKay’s planned strategy of attacking Mayor Nolan Crouse collapsed when the mayor decided not to seek reelection. (Full disclosure here: like Dr. Brooks, your blogger is a former chair of the library board. He is also a former candidate for council opposed by the apparently well-funded group that supports Mr. MacKay.)

Later, Councillor MacKay, along with councillors Sheena Hughes and Bob Russell, voted against the funding bylaw on its second and third readings. After a petition organized by a group of citizens supporting Mr. MacKay’s mayoral campaign was ruled invalid by city officials, the trio successfully pushed for inclusion of a plebiscite on the library during the Oct. 16 election.

Which brings us to the present state of affairs. Gobsmacked library branch supporters hurriedly organized the Vote Yes campaign that launched last night – attended by numerous candidates for city council, including most prominently Councillor Cathy Heron, who is running for mayor against Mr. MacKay and who spoke briefly in support of the project.

Dr. Brooks, a PhD education policy specialist employed by the Alberta government, argued in her remarks there is a “disconnect between our core community values” and the increasingly negative campaign being waged against the branch library.

She noted that “the Hole Family has endorsed our campaign and has agreed to let us incorporate their mother’s wisdom in our work.” As a result, she added, “during the next few weeks we will ask St. Albertans to consider the facts, reflect on what they love about this community, and ask themselves, “What would Lois do?”

She reminded her listeners of the connections between poor literacy services and reading difficulties, lack of success in school, dropout rates, and unemployment. “The social and economic costs of this lack of library space are real.”

Yet because of the lack of facilities for the city’s library programs, “in this city, we deny children access to reading programs. This is not who we are, and certainly not in keeping with what we desire for our children!”

Dr. Brooks noted the work already done by the city, all of which points to the branch library as the most cost-effective way to extend library services. She pointed to the city’s low per-capital debt position at the end of 2016, the fact that the northern portions of the city have few nearby city services, and to the results of the public engagement survey done by the city indicating more than 60 per cent of residents approve modest tax increases to improve library services.

“The library has become a central issue for this election and there is significant pressure on each candidate to take a stand,” Dr. Brooks observed. “We have set our sights on an election victory and are equally focused on ensuring the campaign reflects what our community values.

“While our eye is on the prize of a strong Yes vote, we also hope to bring out the largest voter turnout in St. Albert history,” she added.

“We are a kind, generous community of progressive leaders,” Dr. Brooks said. “This is Lois Hole’s town!”

NOTE: In addition to Ms. Heron, declared council candidates noticed by your blogger at last night’s event included Sandayne Beach-McCutcheon, Jan Butler, Craig Cameron, Jacy Eberlein, Jacqui Hansen, Natalie Joly, Mark Kay, Tash Taylor and Ken MacKay – who is no relation to Cam MacKay and doesn’t even pronounce his name the same way! My apologies in advance to anyone I missed, or accidentally included – I’m prepared to update this list upon request. Former mayor Paul Chalifoux, former MLA Steve Khan and St.Albert Public School Board Vice-Chair Cheryl Dumont were also spotted in the crowd of 200 or more. There was a terrific jazz band. Absent were mayoral candidates Cam MacKay and Malcolm Parker.

Categories Alberta Politics St. Albert