BARRHEAD- It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the reasons why Shannon Harris decided to run for Town of Barrhead councillor is that she dislikes politics.
That is what Harris told the Leader last week after announcing her candidacy for Town of Barrhead councillor.
Harris, a program coordinator at the Blue Heron Support Services Association (BHSSA), came to Barrhead 14 years ago.
"I am originally from a little town called Bruce. At the time, it had a population of 150 living things, including household pets," she said,
Harris added that as a joke, the residents of Bruce decided to include the furry members of their households when filling out their census reports.
Like many newcomers, Harris came to Barrhead because of employment when she took a job at the McCullough Centre.
The McCullough Centre, in Gunn, is a provincially-run addiction and mental health facility for men. After seven years, she decided to take a position with the BHSSA.
In addition to working with BHSSA, Harris also sits on the board of the Barrhead Ripple Connection Support Centre (RCSC) as well as Alberta Health Services (AHS)' Tamarack Health Advisory Council.
Harris said one of the reasons she decided to run for council is partly because at the urging of her friends and coworkers, who believed her skills gained advocating people of various ages and abilities at the McCullough Centre, BHSSA, RCSC and the health advisory council would be a benefit to the community.
"The other, ironically, is I don't like politics. I have heard so many people in the community, and I have also felt this way, who feel let down, or unheard ... they are unhappy with the way things are going and believe there needs to be a change. That is the thing that made me step up," she said.
One of the issues or concerns Harris has heard from the community, and one she hopes to address, is the people's perception that this is not a safe community.
"A lot of people are feeling unsafe. People have told me that they feel uncomfortable walking to the walking paths or that they feel generally unsafe for their person or their property," she said, adding people have also told her they are upset or have questions about bylaw enforcement.
On a similar topic, although Harris chose not to weigh in directly when asked whether the province should replace the RCMP with an Alberta police force, she said she had great respect for local police officers.
"I can't speak about the RCMP, but in our local detachment, the members work hard. They do a lot and in my experience, both professionally and personally, is that they work hard and every day, go over and above the call of duty in their efforts to serve the community," she said. "They deserve a lot more support than they are given."
Another issue Harris hopes to bring more attention to at the local level is affordable housing.
"It is an issue in our community. Finding rental accommodations can be difficult and not everyone has the option or ability to own," she said.
Harris said she understands that there are not a lot of levers municipalities can pull to get more housing at least for a small rural community, but that does not mean they don't exist.
"There are a lot of provincial programs that can be accessed, for example, the Housing First model used in Calgary, Edmonton and some other larger centres," she said. "There is no reason why we could not access that funding to enhance our community."
Harris said council needs to continue to look for ways to help local small businesses.
She also noted that municipalities can be effective advocates on federal and provincial issues where municipalities do not have jurisdiction but that still impact them.
"Throughout my career, I learned how to build relationships and I have made connections in the provincial government to make things move," Harris said.
She also realizes that in the coming years, as a part of provincial cuts and downloading of other responsibilities or costs, municipalities will be challenged to continue to provide the services residents expect.
However, Harris said these challenges can be often overcome by thinking outside the box and using untapped resources.
"We need to harness the untapped resources that we have in the community, look to our residents to build and enhance what we already have in place. I am confident that if we do this and look hard enough, we can overcome any barrier that gets put in place," she said. "I really see the potential our community has and if they are willing to take a chance on me ... and I will put every ounce of being I have to make it the very best it can be."
For more information about Harris' campaign, contact her at 780-305-3456 or e-mail her at email@example.com.