Town of Strathmore's Manager of Recreation and Culture Mark Pretzlaff spoke at last week's town council meeting about potentially purchasing two flag poles for the Strathmore Municipal Building. One of these poles would be in front of the building, while the other would be by the amphitheatre in Kinsmen Park, and these poles would cost a total of $20 000.
The purpose of these flags would be to display special flags for special cultural events, while the other flag would display Siksika Nation's flag. This sparked debate among town council, particularly regarding the idea of displaying special flags at specific times of the year.
Councillor Brent Wiley expressed concerns that the town would be paying $20 000 for what could potentially become problematic in the future, as he believes the town could create division. He gave a hypothetical scenario, where June is Indigenous History Month, and it's also the Sacred Heart of Jesus month. If both apply for a flag, who do they choose?
"I think for every group that we recognize we exclude other groups, and I think it's just going to become a hassle. When I saw the municipal building originally built before I was a Council member, I was pleased to see that we had three flags for Federal, Provincial and local government. It was simple and it was clear and there needed to be no policy and no confusion. And I think you're using taxpayer money to create division within our community," Wiley said.
He added it could become a political tool, and he believes the town should not take sides on issues.
"It becomes a political tool, when I think a municipality should just get down to the business of running the municipality and not trying to take sides on different issues. We're creating division and I don't think you can create a policy that can rectify that."
However, Deputy Mayor Denise Peterson was strongly in favor of the idea, as she believes highlighting different groups creates a positive community.
"It is a real good opportunity to highlight some groups that have specific needs or interests that lends itself very much to education. I was thinking about Calgary flying the autism flag and I know that they did a bunch of media comms around that and how positive it was. So I think that it has to be mindful, it has to have parameters. And I think that when we move forward on that, it is a process of inclusion, not exclusion," she said.
Councillor Melissa Langmaid shared a similar stance.
"It's not council as a whole deciding which flags will be flown, it's members of our community asking to be represented in an area of town and because their acknowledgment of being a portion and a member of our community is important to them, and they want to demonstrate that they're here and that they're proud to be here." And I think that's something really important that we as a council can do to promote."
Langmaid continued sharing the importance of showcasing the diversity in the community, "We do have a variety of cultures and groups that will want to feel like their town is proud of them too. I'm in support of the idea that residents of our town deserve to have some say in who gets represented as a member of our community and who gets to stand out and say, hey, I'm here and we're really proud to be here."
Ultimately, these arguments weren't enough to sway Councillor Jason Montgomery, who shares a stance similar to Wiley. He said Town Council should be focused on the business side of running the municipality, not social aspects. He believes spending $20 000 on what he calls a social cause isn't a good use of taxpayer money, and added that council would then need to take time to create policies around what flags would be raised, taking time away from other issues.
"We're opening ourselves to having to take a political stance and say, 'your ideology or what you want to demonstrate support for, we don't agree with and therefore, using your tax dollars, we're not going to support this."
Councillor Debbie Mitzner was also against the idea, saying groups that want to celebrate can use banners instead, while Councillor Richard Wegener said he could go either way, but was in support of the flag for Siksika Nation.
At the end of the discussion, the council voted against spending $20 000 for two flags, but a separate motion to put aside $12 000 to put one flag pole up in front of the municipal building was passed. This pole is expected to fly the Siksika Nation flag.
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