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Websites and GoFundMe set up on both sides of issues days before Westlock's flag and crosswalk plebiscite

Westlock residents will vote on crosswalk and flagpole bylaw
Town of Westlock residents will vote on a bylaw which would require the removal of the town's rainbow crosswalk Thursday (Feb. 22).

Both sides on the issue of a proposed bylaw that could see Pride flags and crosswalks banned in Westlock have been busy promoting their respective campaigns and spelling out why Westlock residents should vote yes or vote no a week before a plebiscite will be held.

Last fall councillors chose to go take the bylaw to a public vote on Thursday, Feb. 22. The bylaw restricts the town to flying flags representative of only the municipal, provincial, or federal governments and would also see crosswalks painted only in a traditional white laddered pattern. Westlock resident Stephanie Bakker first presented the idea of a petition to create a ‘neutrality bylaw’ to town councillors last August and later submitted the petition to the town with more than 700 signatures in September.  

The Vote Yes and Vote No campaigns have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks, posting messages, videos and information on social media in addition to speaking with residents about the plebiscite and the potential outcome.

Vote yes

The Westlock Neutrality team posted a video in January entitled: “Vote YES: a Message from Stephanie Bakker” on the website, where Bakker highlighted her message of equality over equity and spoke about the need for neutral government.  

“I think (the Vote No campaign) shows why it’s so important that we can have mayors and councillors and politicians that are neutral,” said Bakker, noting she feels that “most people’s minds are fairly made up” on the issue, especially if they have been following events over the past several weeks. “I don’t know how much difference it will make, as long as people have been paying attention then they can make up their own minds on this,” she added. “We just want neutrality.”  

In her video, Bakker noted the main point of her message in voting yes to the bylaw.

“The crux of the matter is that they believe in equity and we believe in equality. Equality means everyone is treated the same way. Equity means those who are seen as disadvantaged are to be given special treatment. The trouble is democracy is founded on the ideas of equality.”

Bakker also pointed out the four points they originally presented in the petition and questioned some of the changes the town made when developing the plebiscite wording, which was finalized in January.  

“We do take some issue actually with the way they have written up the bylaw vote,” said Bakker. “We feel that it is a bit pointed and they didn’t follow the wording of our petition exactly and I do feel that was perhaps deliberate.”

She said the first two points noted in the wording “spell out the bylaw sufficiently,” adding there was no need to add the third point, referring to the removal of the Pride crosswalk, which she feels was (council’s) attempt “to incite people and stir up emotion on this issue.”

“The lack of neutral wording tends to misrepresent what the proposed bylaw is really about,” explained Bakker. “They have definitely shown their bias on the issue, but it would be nice if they would act professionally.”

With the plebiscite wording finalized just weeks before the vote, Bakker said there isn’t a lot they could do about the proposed bylaw wording and added that legal recourse is not an option she is prepared to pursue at this time.

Immediate removal of the existing rainbow crosswalk is also not necessary, she said.  

“I don’t think they should go and blow a bunch of taxpayer money on it,” said Bakker, noting a springtime painting would be sufficient. “It’s going to need to be repainted pretty soon, like maybe in the spring… whenever it fades is fine,” said Bakker. “There’s no need to add this incendiary clause to it, to try and divide the people of Westlock even further.”

She summed up her message, as expressed in her video, by noting the outcome of the plebiscite vote will be decided by Westlock residents and she encouraged them to take a stand either way.  

“But you have the power of your voice and your vote. Use them,” said Bakker. “Whether you vote “yes”, “no”, or sit at home – your voice will be heard. Please take the time to consider what you want it to say.”

Vote no

The Vote No campaign also kicked into high gear in January with its own message to residents, shared by Town of Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer, on behalf of council and community supporters of the Vote No campaign. That message has been shared on social media sites and on the website  as well, a GoFundMe page has been created by supporter Derrick Meyer of Edmonton.  

In his YouTube video Kramer asked residents to “reject the proposed crosswalk and flag bylaw, that stands in opposition to inclusive initiatives within our community — including the Pride crosswalk that was painted downtown this past June.”

“Far beyond the incredibly negative message that this bylaw sends to residents and groups on the margins, there are also deep economic implications in having a bylaw like this on the books,” he said. “It will most certainly have a negative impact on our ability to attract investment and key professionals to our community.”

In an interview last week, Kramer noted that the campaign chose not to go door-knocking as originally planned but has sent out direct mailers to every home and business in town, encouraging residents to Vote No on Feb. 22.

“I’ve got a few videos that I’ll be putting out in the week ahead that talks about inclusion and just gives council a chance to explain our rationale behind this decision and why we’re encouraging folks to vote no,” said Kramer.

“As mayor, I represent people who vote no, who vote yes. But again, when we’ve come to something like this, we base our decisions on facts and data as a council and all the facts and data line up to vote no on something like this…so as a council we work so hard to make all our decisions based on data and facts and logic, and we see now something before our citizens that flies in the face of that and you just can’t sit idle in that situation,” he added. “You have to encourage folks to vote no, but then just understand if you are going to vote yes, these are the things you need to contemplate before you check that box.”           

Kramer pointed out administration's role in the plebiscite is to be functional and factual and to represent all citizens.  

“We’re going to great lengths to make sure that that integrity is maintained … that is so important to us as mayor and this council as we do this,” he said pointing out that no taxpayer money is being spent on the Vote No campaign.        

“We’ve had individuals that are interested in supporting this Vote No campaign and we’ve got an individual out of Edmonton,” he added, noting that the R.F. Staples Thunder Alliance GSA is approving all expenditures and donations.

“Whatever funds don’t get spent out of what’s donated, that all goes to the Thunder Alliance and the Thunder Alliance has agreed that they’re going to donate it to our first inclusive playground in their name,” explained Kramer.           

The mayor also shared about the Vote No campaign to the business community during a Westlock and District Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting in January where he encouraged the business community to also vote no. In a follow-up email to local businesses, Kramer noted that “every level of Canadian government uses its public infrastructure to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“Plain and simple, it’s common practice and good governance,” said Kramer, adding that “if we want the community to flourish – to feel safe and welcoming for everyone, to attract investment and development and to retain physicians and skilled professionals, then a proactive approach to inclusion is the only way forward.”

With the vote quickly approaching and issue behind it ongoing for several months, Kramer noted some fatigue and said some people, including elected officials, are eager to see it resolved.  

“This has been important for us but we’ve got a lot of big issues down the pipeline … and we’ve got a great crew and a lot of great projects on the go that we’re excited to be able to divert our attention back to, once this (plebiscite) wraps up.”

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Kristine Jean

About the Author: Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean joined the Westlock News as a reporter in February 2022. She has worked as a multimedia journalist for several publications in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and enjoys covering community news, breaking news, sports and arts.
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