Estevan voters will be going to the polls Oct. 24 for the municipal election and for the first time since 2005, they will have the chance to vote for a mayor.
Roy Ludwig, Lynn Chipley and Jim Halladay are all vying to replace outgoing Mayor Gary St. Onge. To help voters get to know their candidates and what they stand for a little better, Mercury co-editor Chad Saxon is conducting an interview with each person.
This week is current Councillor Roy Ludwig who is the longest serving member of council with 18 years of experience. In the interview, Ludwig speaks about his time on council, the issues facing Estevan and whether his experience might be a hindrance to him taking over as mayor.
Estevan Mercury: What is the number one issue that concerns you the most in this election?
Roy Ludwig: I believe there are quite a few issues, but on my list, the highest is affordable housing. As you know, we have gone through tremendous growth and with that comes a lot of short term pain and probably one of the biggest issues we have in our city at this point in time is affordable housing.
We’ve got companies coming in looking for employees and I would say their biggest problem is they can’t get them housed in a proper fashion.
EM: Housing is generally a provincial matter so is there a lot that can be done on the local level to solve this problem?
RL: We have been working closely with the province for a while. We’ve got a few programs now that are coming out — Headstart has been out for a while — and there are two or three programs that are fairly fresh on the cutting room table that we are discussing right now. Some programs are so much a door and we are working with the province to get more apartments. What we would like to see right now is more single-family homes.
So many people with a young family, they can’t afford a home right now, it’s out of their reach. So, they don’t have a yard, they have to walk to the park; it’s just an inconvenience to them. I am hoping that we can work with the province so that we can get more single dwelling affordable housing. Maybe the yard isn’t as big as some of the lots we have right now. Maybe it’s a little smaller, but at least it would give the opportunity for younger families to have a yard with their kids which I think is important.
EM: Aside from housing, the two things that people seem to be talking about is the roads and the future of Estevan in terms of growth and is the city ready for growth. Touching on the roads, there is obviously a lot of work that needs to be done. Can it be done in a quick fashion without having to raise taxes to such a stage where it maybe starts turning people away?
RL: That’s another one of my bullets; a balanced sustainable approach to growth. We have been doing watermain and sewer replacements with the pavement for eight years now out of a 20-year program and we are making progress. We are seven to 10 blocks and it is crucial that we continue down that path because unfortunately when I got on council, the thought was that you don’t raise taxes, you keep everything the same.
There has to be a balance because to do the needed repairs as far as infrastructure and moving the city forward and helping out with green spaces and parks, you have to raise taxes incrementally and you have to deal with the infrastructure.
Part of the issue that I saw when I got involved was that we were so zeroed in on never raising taxes that we were very limited in scope as far as growth and doing the needed repairs to move the city forward. Since then we have changed focus, we are spending a good portion of our dollar that we take in on infrastructure, on beautification. Spectra Place has been huge, I can’t talk enough about that, we are just so proud of that and that is something that you can do when you get the right people and the right focus. We have to do more of that and that is one of the issues I am looking at.
EM: Do you think the City is doing enough yearly to catch up or is it doing as much as it can right now?
RL: I believe we are doing as much as we can. Part of the problem that we face is that when we put tenders out, all of our cities, Saskatoon and Regina who used to come to the table, now they are so busy because Saskatchewan is such a growing province, you can’t get a lot of outside contractors in because they are busy and not interested in going outside of their community.
We have got good local contractors but given that fact that we are limited to basically the contractors that we have in our community, we are doing as much as we can. We have one local paving contractor and he can physically only do so much and although we feel the Spectra Place parking lot will be done this fall, it has been a struggle to get it done because we are not the only place that needs pavement. We don’t have them as a captive market so it has been a struggle to get even all of the paving done that we wanted to get done this year, and unfortunately there will be areas we talked about in the spring that will not get done unless we have an open winter.
EM: Do you think the City needs to start looking outside of the box for solutions? Let’s throw out the idea of the City beginning its own construction company.
RL: We have talked about that on council, the fact that maybe we should look at our own paving crew that could do a lot of the smaller jobs and that we could get more done by doing that. At this point we have decided to not do that but I am sure with the new council that will be a discussion.
EM: Do you think that Estevan is ready to continue growing and be what everybody seems to think the city can become in the next few years?
RL: I believe that we can continue to grow and we will continue to grow. For a long time, Estevan was stuck at the 10,000 level; we went up a bit we went down a bit, a lot like the province. But now the province is growing, we are having positive growth in the province and I believe that we will have positive growth within our city and we will be moving forward with the population, with businesses and expansion.
EM: Do you think the City is doing enough to facilitate growth and to set the table for the city to move forward?
RL: I think there are some areas that we have to look at and as stewards of the city we have to continue to look at. That is do we have areas within our city that are maybe obstacles to growth. Do we have silos? Do we have some areas that we maybe have to open up so it will help our growth happen more quickly and that is something the new council will have to look at and address because there is always areas that we can improve.
We are human beings, sometimes we get locked in the day to day and we lose the vision. But we have to have the vision for the long term planning for the growth and we have to meet those needs on what we can do to make that happen and along with that, what can we do as council to improve our outlook and make sure that we are doing the very best for growth and to have people want to come in the city, not only at the council level, but also the business divisions to make sure that every area is doing their very best to be open and friendly and have a clear, transparent vision for growth.
EM: There seems to be a sense in the community that I’ve gotten that there are some changes needed in the way the City does business for one reason or another. Do you feel that is fair and do you feel with yourself, being on council for 18 years, that the necessary changes would be made were you to become mayor to move things forward?
RL: That’s a fair question because with the amount of time I have been on council, the positive is the experience, but some may say that I might be more unwilling for change. I’m happy to address that and say that change is constant, change is needed and it happens all the time and it has to continue to happen. We need change to move forward. If you don’t change, you don’t move forward.
I am aware of certain areas that we can do better in. Some of that is dealing with personnel issues that I will not go public with. At any given time, you have personnel issues simply because of the fact that we run the City like a business and you always have issues because you are dealing with people and people, God bless them, they all have their ideas on where things should be going.
I will be an advocate of, number one, the team approach and working with our council because you can’t go anywhere without the majority of council, so I will be looking at the team approach of getting council together, getting them on the same page and getting them up to speed because that is one advantage I have as well with my history.
EM: You have been part of some councils that some might have described as dysfunctional and lately, some that have worked very well together. How do you take the good experiences and the bad experiences and mould them into what you would like to see were you to be elected?
RL: Having been involved with many different mayors, many different ideologies, many different personalities … it gives me the opportunity to look at what is important to move the city forward.
Although we do have some negative people in the city, which you have in any given city, I think it is important to look at the positives and how we can turn our citizens to a more positive overall view of the city and stand shoulder to shoulder and say ‘absolutely, Estevan is the best city in the province’ and how do we make it better, how do we move forward with that positive vision?
We have had some negative people in the past and I would like to address that by turning their negative issues into positives and let’s move forward together and make this city a better place. Instead of just complaining about it, let’s actually get together and do it. That is how I got on council. I was complaining to Mr. Bernie Collins and he said ‘Roy, if you really feel that way, why don’t you get involved?’ I did and the rest is history.
EM: Do you feel as mayor that there is something that you can do to turn that around and start getting more pride and more positivity about the community?
RL: Some of the issues that we have, maybe we could deal with in a quicker fashion. What I find is some of our day-to-day issues bog us down. We are so concentrated on some of the bigger issues that we have on our plate because they are very costly. But sometimes we fall down in the smaller day-to-day issues and that is what really upsets our citizens. I think that we may have to have more people dedicated to looking at how do we address those issues in a proper fashion so that they are dealt with fairly quickly and that those individuals that are concerned are taken care of.
That is a little bit of my frustration some days. The people on the street, they have a valid concern — maybe it’s their sidewalk, maybe it’s their driveway — and sometimes we are going out on the bigger projects and we can’t get to those smaller issues in a timely fashion and it is very upsetting for our citizens and before you know it, you get a few of them upset and the word spreads and builds and you end up getting a fair amount of people upset.
EM: In four years, what is your vision of what Estevan will look like in the whole broad picture?
RL: Well, again, infrastructure, our roads. I know we have taken a lot of criticism, but I believe a lot of our people are very busy and these are busy times all over the province. For example, I don’t know how many people realize that we have already done 100 blocks and there is much more to do.
We do have a balanced approach; we have to continue with that. We have to continue with our infrastructure. We have to continue to improve our play parks for the kids and our parks for everybody. We have to continue on the recreation side, now that we’ve got Spectra Place, let’s not stop there.
During my hustings, I have heard a lot of people that have come to me and said what can we do for the young people. Even the people in schools, where can they gather in a safe environment? What about an outdoor pool? We’ve got a beautiful pool at Spectra Place but it’s not the same. In the summer time people would like an outdoor pool.
We have to look at young families coming in, how do you make it attractive for them? I think on that front, we have to look at recreational development, infrastructure, beautification, green spaces … we can’t be focused on any one of those areas, but again with a balanced approach we have to make sure that we touch on all of those to continue to improve that to make our city even nicer than it is right now.
We have to take a broad approach to how we move our city forward and with the new council, I see a lot of great people with their names in, hopefully we can make that happen.