A push to make Swift Current more business friendly is behind Leanne Tuntland-Wiebe’s decision to put her name forward as a candidate for Swift Current City Council.
“My goal would be to have openness, communication, transparency between the existing businesses and the City and how do we get more business here? I am a 100 per cent advocate for Swift Current and for business and for the residents. And I believe in helping each other. All during COVID my motto was literally ‘how can I help’. And I want to bring that onto City Council,” Tuntland-Wiebe said during a recent interview.
“The City likes to say we’re open for business. They want to grow Swift Current to 25,000 people in 2025. Quite honestly I don’t see that happening. I don’t see the businesses coming into Swift Current.”
She noted that with Swift Current’s malls half empty, and businesses facing COVID challenges, more needs to be done to increase the variety of businesses which operate in the community.
“I’m very proud of the downtown core because look at the little businesses that are popping up down there. You can walk downtown now and most of those buildings are being filled. They’re coming in, they’re putting up their shops. I’m proud of that. I advocate for that.”
“But let’s advocate for some of the newer businesses that we need to come into the City. We need to fill the malls,” she said. “Part of the problem is Swift Current residents leave Swift Current to go shopping because they can’t find it in Swift Current. It’s not because they don’t want to shop in Swift Current. It’s because they can’t find it.”
“Why aren’t we attracting businesses to fill the mall. Is the rent too high? Is there not an incentive for them to come? I don’t have the answers for everything, but I certainly want to find out what process there is that we can get those people coming.”
She noted that her decision to run for municipal politics was prompted dating back to when they started plans for building a new shop for Great West Auto. Over the years she had originally planned to run for Mayor, but there was a lack of time because of the work being put into building Great West Auto and battling City Hall to get the building constructed.
“I don’t believe a person should jump into Mayor without having that experience on City Council first. That’s valuable experience that you’re only going to get in those four years.”
“I wasn’t going to run at all for anything then, and then I was persuaded into running for Council. And from the support that I’ve been getting I think it was the right decision to make at this time.”
She said their experience with trying to build a new Great West Auto location was a frustrating one.
“We met with resistance. I started this project about eight years ago and went to City Hall to the people that were in charge at that time, who are no longer there, and the very first meeting in the very first five minutes when we told them what we would like to do, we were told they didn’t want us downtown and they told us to go build on the west end of the City. That’s how our negotiations and experience started with City admin.”
“It took two years to get to the point where we had our plan, and then the oil industry tanked. So we put our plans on hold for the building.”
“The experience wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t forthcoming. It was not easy. I can’t call it red tape. I can just call it not getting the answers and the direction that we needed to go forward.”
Tuntland-Wiebe noted that the business community also experienced a lack of leadership during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while she is not placing blame because of the circumstances and numerous changes during the pandemic, she feels City Hall should play a bigger role in communicating with city residents and businesses.
“I would have liked to have seen some sort of a supportive message from the city forefathers weekly. I would have liked a Monday morning message saying ‘hang in there, this is where we are today, this is where our cases are, we’re going to get through this, yes you are strong Swift Current.’”
She notes that she personally heard from many business owners who were experiencing real fears about the future of their businesses.
“What are we going to do with our business? How are we going to pay our rent? How are we going to pay our property taxes? Real, real fears, and understandably so. You need a leader in that time.”
“There needs to be a leader to step up and give that message of hope or that message of encouragement that says this is what we can do. And sometimes you just need a smiling face that says ‘we’ll get through this together. Life is going to go on. We are here to help.’ I didn’t find that that happened.”
She said that council is facing some tough financial decisions, and new voices are need to help develop a cautious approach.
“Property taxes can’t increase again next year. They just can’t. We’re not done COVID yet. We have to be COVID cautious and very caring going forward with our residents and with our businesses.”
She also feels that candidates running for council need more than just a limited number of platform pillars.
“I’d be honoured to be on City Council. I’d like to have a chance to serve. But you need more than three pillars. I’ve got transparency, communication, honesty, integrity, accountability and ethical decision making. I don’t think you can run without saying that that’s what you want to provide, that that’s who you are. And that’s who I am.”