By Trevor Busch
Local business owner Mani Parhar points to a lack of affordable rentals and housing in Taber as a critical issue that needs to be addressed by the Town.
Parhar is seeking election as a councillor for the Town of Taber in the upcoming Sept. 7 by-election, and he identifies a serious lack of low income or affordable housing and rentals in the community as a major stumbling block for development and growth.
“I have lots of friends. I moved to Taber in 2005. I have a convenience store, Taber Mini-Mart under my name. I have a cleaning company,” said Parhar, who has Bachelor’s degrees in Commerce and Law in his native India. “I did practice for a couple of years in India. And I moved to Canada in 2002. Since I moved, this in my favourite town. My customers are my friends now, we sit and chat always about politics. We feel we want to make sure property tax is good, so people can afford their housing and other stuff, the town is growing now. With multicultural, all people, they have problems with the renting issues now. We have lost people, as we have lots of houses but we don’t have enough apartments, we need more apartments. The Town should think about more apartment complexes with the private owners, or the town can help people. That should be a number one priority. Because people find jobs here, but they have no place to live. Last week, I got three calls, I’m looking for a place to rent. So that’s my biggest concern.”
Parhar would like to see more development and amenities at the off-leash dog park, and wants more emphasis placed on Taber’s role as a service centre for the agricultural hinterland.
“I think about this town, it belongs mostly to the agriculture area. We should do some exhibition stuff like that, organized by the Town. So make it like an agricultural hub.”
For sports and recreation, Parhar has ideas about how to bring more clubs and organizations to the community.
“I was thinking we should organize one tournament, the big tournament each year. The different sports with maybe soccer or baseball or basketball and be organized province-wide. We should give some cash prizes to the clubs or players so they can use that money for development on their own clubs.”
Some poorly-maintained road surfaces in the community need attention as well, argues Parhar.
“Some of the roads are not really good in town. That should be a priority.”
Communication between the Town and residents is key, says Parhar, and an area the Town should redouble its efforts.
“The public like to know what’s going on in the town. And I know they have the online meeting, stuff like that. But most people don’t know how they can go there, how easy it is to access all this stuff. You have to pick the right candidate, who is well educated, the person who knows about the town, plus the problem side. There should be communication between the Town and the councillor. I know I’m a single person and unless I have three other counsellors come with me or consult me, (but) we have to do something – I think more communication with the public.”
Hiding behind a council table and not engaging with the public is not an effective strategy for local governance, according to Parhar.
“For the councillors, I think they should communicate more with the public. Communication is the key I think with today’s public problems, rather than sit in town hall and make a decision and then go outside and tell the public we did this, when they should go before, take the opinion from the public, and present it to the public. If something is not really public, we should go and talk with them.”
As a business owner and operator himself, it is not surprising Parhar has some strong opinions about the approach currently endorsed by the Town.
“I think business is the most important thing for the town. The Town should do more education for the new businesses. If somebody wants to open a business in the downtown area, this somebody should come see the Town first. If the town has extra space in the downtown area, there should be more businesses.”
Parhar also believes the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce could do a lot more to defend and promote business interests in the community.
“I’d like to see something with the chamber of commerce. I think they can do a better job. Organize more events for the public or for the province.”
The Town’s affordable housing development, The Meadows, is stagnating without much further growth and this needs to be addressed, says Parhar.
“They started making a new development beside the cemetery, and nothing is going on over there. They have only four or five houses down there, and I don’t know why. Why are they delaying all this stuff? That is the biggest concern.”
For youth, Parhar is advocating for the establishment of a technical post-secondary sub-campus in Taber with a specific focus on agriculture.
“If we have a small college or institution, something belonging to agriculture not something else, for the new generation they can educate over there about agriculture.”
The Town of Taber by-election is on Sept. 7.