The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION
By: Grant Burr
Posted: 07/19/2018 9:00 AM
While other members are leaving the Steinbach city council chamber behind, Michael Zwaagstra says he has continued energy and enthusiasm for his role, as he announced this week he will seek a fourth term on council.
"Things are always changing, especially in a city like Steinbach that continues to grow," Zwaagstra told The Carillon.
"I find there are new challenges that we face as a city and I certainly would be happy to help in addressing those new challenges. It doesn’t get old because things change."
Change is guaranteed with Mayor Chris Goertzen and Councillor Cari Penner stepping down, along with councillors Earl Funk and John Fehr pursuing the mayor’s chair.
Zwaagstra believes that his council experience, and commitment to balancing growth and expansion, with fiscal responsibility, will be an asset in the next term.
He said he didn’t consider a run for mayor himself, noting the challenge of fulfilling that busier role along with his employment as a full-time high school teacher.
As a seasoned council veteran, Zwaagstra says sticking to many key city programs, like upgrading basic infrastructure need to remain a priority.
But, he too would like to see more action on files like recreation, which have lagged in recent years.
"This is an area that not as much has happened on some of these files as I would like to see," Zwaagstra said.
Still, for Zwaagstra, that means feasibility and transparency, to avoid wrangling that has emerged on projects like the failed performing arts centre plan.
"We need to do a better job of identifying our priorities and also putting out as much information as we can, identifying what our options are and also be realistic about what we can actually afford," he said.
He suggested looking to neighboring municipalities for ideas, noting that other proposed arena projects in the region aren’t coming with a $30 million price tag.
Most importantly, the public needs to be brought onside.
"If we can show there’s significant public support, we have buy-in, that shows that the community is behind this," he said.
A better process will serve community fundraisers well too, he suggested. Zwaagstra said timelines created by council, even after the project ballooned to $24.3 million, were unfair to fundraisers who championed the performing arts centre plan.
"When those numbers were first shown to us…I was astounded, because at that level it’s not realistic," he recalled.
"I wish we had been more willing to say at that point, no, rather than make them work for another six months…that’s not fair to people."
While big projects can be pursued, smaller projects shouldn’t be lost sight of either, he argues. The creation of services, like the splash park at the library, offer "bang for the buck" that serves many people, he contends.
Zwaagstra says support for the city’s RCMP and fire department needs to continue as well.
He knows with population increases that police officer staffing increases will need consideration, and suggested an expansion of the detachment’s GIS unit might be warranted too.
According to Zwaagstra, election campaigns are a great time to get people talking about important issues. He said he looks forward to hearing from Steinbach residents when he begins door-knocking in the near future.
He declined to assess the qualities of his two council colleagues, Fehr and Funk, who now vie for the role of mayor.
"I respect the fact the people may select either of them, or someone else, and will work with whoever is elected and go from there."
Southern Health board chair Abe Bergen says he expects an announcement from the province “this fall” regarding long-gestating plans for a 140-bed expansion to Steinbach’s Rest Haven personal care home.
“At the end of the day, we’re waiting for an announcement, ...
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