Vicarious Experiences and Words of Wisdom

In a letter dated November 3, 2011, the new Premier of Alberta outlined her and the Alberta government’s mandate along with their expectations for the new Minister of Municipal Affairs, Doug Griffiths: 

“… Innovative approaches will be needed to deliver results for Albertans. This has been started through a reorganization of government to better align with the priorities of Albertans and what we need to accomplish as a team. While innovation and fresh ways of thinking are vital, this does not alter Ministerial Responsibility. You are fully accountable for all matters under your purview.” 

The reorganization of government reduced the 23 ministries to 21 ministries. The decrease was the result of amalgamating the Ministries of Children Services, Housing, Employment and Aboriginal Affairs into the Ministry of Human Service, all other ministries remained unaltered except having a new Minister. 

While being the new Minister of Municipal Affairs, Doug Griffiths (MLA Battle River Wainwright) certainly is not new to government. First elected in 2002, over the past 9 years Griffiths has served on and chaired numerous committees, such as: Rural Development Strategies Task Force and the Committee on Agriculture and Municipal Affairs. In addition, Griffiths served as parliamentary assistant for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Finance and Enterprise. 

As the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Griffiths responsibility is to ensure that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs assists municipalities in providing well-managed, collaborative, and accountable local government to Albertans. The Ministry’s responsibility includes the oversight and the administration of several government boards, organizations, and provincial statutes, for example, the Municipal Government Board and the Municipal Government Act.

Passionate about the well-being of Canada’s prairie communities, Griffiths has co-authored Rural Alberta: the Land of Opportunity report (2004) and 13 Ways to Kill a Community (2008). Griffiths has visited most of the 422 communities in the province and has learned first hand about the special challenges that confront small and not-so-small communities across Alberta. The Rural Alberta: the Land of Opportunity report (2004) is a government report prepared for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. The report identifies the unique challenges and suggests some recommendations to expand rural community and economic development. In 13 Ways to Kill a Community, Griffiths summarizes his years of experience in intense involvement with all types of rural towns and communities across the province. 

While Griffiths brings his “boots on the ground experience”, his co-author Kelly Clemmer, a prize-winning journalist with The Wainwright Review and The Wainwright Star Chronicle, is also widely recognized for his contributions to enhancing the quality of life in rural communities. 13 Ways to Kill a Community employs the use of reverse psychology to impart words of wisdom through the vicarious experiences shared by the authors through the many Albertans and rural communities they have visited. The lessons expressed in the book are “what not to do” if a community wishes to promote growth, prosperity, and build for the future. 

Griffiths and Clemmer set out 13 “fatal” community practices that will ensure harming your community’s future, they include: having poor water quality, don’t attract business, don’t involve the community youth, don’t assess the needs of the community, shop elsewhere, don’t paint, don’t cooperate, live in the past, ignore your seniors, don’t have any new ideas, ignore immigrants and newcomers, as a community takes no risks, and as a community do not take responsibility. 

Don’t Assess the needs of the Community describes a situation where a small community does not address what services it needs or continues to ignore issues that may

exist, this may include such things as: lack of daycare services, lack of certain retail services, traffic issues, etc. Griffiths and Clemmer advise that the needs and issues of a community are always changing and continually require close attention. 

Don’t cooperate, refers to the lack of community cohesion amongst the varying organizations, businesses, and local government. Griffiths and Clemmer advise that a community will fail and die if these different interest groups do not cooperate to monitor and provide solutions to the changing needs within the community. 

Live in the past, Griffiths and Clemmer refer to living in the past as a community whose attitude constantly dwells on past problems, mistakes, or failures. This negative attitude will eventually infest the local community and organizations, new and old community members. 

Take no risks, refers to a community attitude of play-it-safe, keep to things we know, and do not plan big. Griffiths and Clemmer are referring to a community attitude that quashes the very pioneering spirit that built the communities around Alberta. By not taking risks, a community falls into a state of complacency which stagnants growth. 

Community that does not take responsibility. Griffiths and Clemmer point out that many of the experiences they have had in dealing with members of small rural communities have always involved some community members constantly attributing the continual problems of the community to someone else. Whether it is the lack of business or lack of volunteers, some members of the community are just not prepared to take the initiative change the situation. Griffiths and Clemmer explain there are two types of attitudes amongst community members: a negative thinking attitude that sees challenges as too tough and impossible to overcome and concentrating only on what is wrong and not on how to make it right; and a positive attitude that sees problems as opportunities to grow and prosper. 

Interestingly, the administration of the Municipal Government Act falls under the purview of ministerial responsibilities. According to section 81 of the Municipal Government

Act, a town may be formed where a majority of the buildings are on parcels of land smaller than 1850 square meters and the population is 1000 or more. A town may be formed in three different ways: (a) by the Minister’s initiative, (b) by request to form a town from the council of the municipality, (c) by petition from at least 30% of the population and electors within the boundaries of the proposed town. 

As Langdon continues to grow in population and size, our community would be wise to heed to the words of wisdom from our new Municipal Affairs Minister, so we can continue to grow and thrive.

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