By Tim Kalinowski on June 11, 2021.
Twice elected city councillor Blaine Hyggen became the first incumbent to confirm his candidacy for this coming fall election, but Hyggen has his sights set on a much larger role in the community this time around. Hyggen formally declared on Thursday what many anticipated all along: that he was running to become Mayor of the City of Lethbridge.
“This morning I wish to formally declare my candidacy for the role of Mayor of Lethbridge,” Hyggen stated to assembled well wishers, supporters and local media representatives at Honkers Pub. “I do so with a great deal of excitement, but it is also a humbling moment. When I first ran for a council seat, I did not dare dream one day I would be running for mayor. This decision was made after much consultation with key stakeholders throughout our community. Their support and encouragement helped seal my decision.
“I truly believe my track record speaks for itself,” he added. “I have been a fighter for the people of Lethbridge both fiscally and socially. The kind of guy not afraid to use common sense as a benchmark for decision.”
Hyggen chose Honkers to kick off his campaign to underline two of his key priorities in the coming election: support for local business and community safety. Honkers Pub was the site of a high profile crash and dash heist earlier this year.
“Number one has always been safety,” he told reporters. “Safety for our community. It has been a concern of mine, and a concern of many citizens. It’s probably the number one concern I hear about on a regular basis is the safety within our community. As all you know, we were rated pretty high on the (national) crime index for safety concerns. That is definitely number one, and leaps and bounds above a lot of other things.”
Keeping with that safety theme, Hyggen said last year’s decision to reduce the police budget is definitely one he wants to revisit.
“It’s frustrating to see how we are trying to do more with less,” he said. “In order to serve our community the best, we need the policing. We don’t need to cut the police budget. We need to add to the police budget. So many community members have reached out to me and said, ‘That is something if I am spending $10 or $15 more a year, and I have extra officers in my area, I am totally fine with that.’ It’s something I have never had a concern from people saying: ‘we spend too much on policing.'”
Over the last four years on council, Hyggen has increasingly become the main minority voice of opposition to many of his colleague’s decisions. Hyggen adamantly opposed the Supervised Consumption Site, voted no to a local masking bylaw because he felt it was beyond the city’s jurisdiction and expertise to adopt one, voted against supporting a local advertising ban on conversion therapy as the issue, in his mind, is a provincial and federal matter, and voted against transitional and permanent supportive housing rezoning decisions for both Streets Alive and the Mustard Seed. Hyggen also voted against providing capital funding for a new Indigenous friendship centre in Lethbridge.
Hyggen did address that issue during his remarks on Thursday.
“I know there has been comments coming out: ‘While gosh Blaine, if anything comes forward to council when it comes to truth and reconciliation, you seem to be not in favour,'” he explained. “It’s all about getting the information. I want to be able to get the educated decision on what’s brought forward. It’s not that I have not supported these projects going forward, but I want to make sure I have all the information we need.”
On the other hand, Hyggen has also been a stalwart supporter of local business in Lethbridge and demanded accountability for taxpayer dollars on various issues. As a legislator, Hyggen has driven much of city council’s agenda over the past four years by taking strong positions either in favour or in opposition, despite the challenges presented by the underlying issues– even when the votes did not go his way.
When asked about his plans to deal with the social problems facing the city if elected mayor, Hyggen said his priority is increasing the affordable housing stock in Lethbridge and working closely with the provincial and federal governments to address the drug crisis issue.
“We do need addiction treatment,” he stated. “We do need those centres to open sooner rather than later, and it is something where again that collaboration with our provincial government and federal government will get us to that point.”
Hyggen admitted his own frustrations with how slow the various levels of government seem to move on providing Lethbridge with the resources it needs to make a dent in these serious social problems.
“Honestly, sometimes, it is like pushing a wet noodle,” he said.
As for his main capital spending priority, Hyggen said he would like to see a much needed third bridge built in Lethbridge before other things.
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