Alderman Glenn Ruecker presented the motion to Wetaskiwin City Council. “That City Council direct Administration to allocate $10,000 from unspecified reserves towards the Ashoro Student delegation to fund the activities and events occurring during the visit”. The motion was narrowly defeated with Elliot, MacQuarrie and Ruecker voting for the additional funding and McFaul, Branco and Hawkes voting against. Alderman Crabtree was absent.
The arguments by Aldermen and the Mayor ‘for’ supporting the spending an additional $10,000 of taxpayers’ money on the exchange program with Ashoro was: the longevity of the program, the cultural benefits and the economic spinoff of having 50 Japanese youth and chaperones visit Wetaskiwin in September, 2013. The argument ‘against’ was this expense item was not approved in the 2013 budget; if approved, since the exchange is an annual event, the expense could become an annual budget item; approval of the motion will set a precedent for other groups to request funding for similar events; and streets and sidewalks and other budgeted items should be the spending priority.
The cities of Wetaskiwin and Ashoro were twinned September 5, 1990. This was the beginning of an annual exchange where delegates gain a greater understanding about the other’s culture and lifestyle. As explained by Dorothy French, former Mayor of Wetaskiwin and one of the founders of the exchange, “It all began with a ‘side’ trip to Wetaskiwin many years ago by a delegation from Japan visiting Edmonton.” Seeing the merit of subsequent visits, Dorothy pursued the idea with City Council and ultimately received support and commitment to offer a broad-based, officially approved, long-term partnership between two communities. Wetaskiwin and Sister City, Ashoro have been linked for over 23 years. In 1999 the Wetaskiwin Ashoro Friendship Society was created to facilitate and support the twinning of these two cities and keep the communication and friendship between them alive.
On March 26th, 2013 fourteen students accompanied by four chaperones left Wetaskiwin on a Study Tour of Japan and returned on April 6th with new ideas, new thoughts and new ways of viewing life. Many of the delegates had previously travelled outside Alberta and Canada but as Ian Ruskowsky Coordinator of International Relations, Ashoro, Japan observed, “this was the first time for them to truly integrate, understand and become part of the culture that I now call home”.
Should property taxes be used to fund cultural exchanges?
Property taxes are a way of distributing the cost for local government services and programs such as snow removal, parks, ambulance and fire protection fairly throughout a municipality. Taxes are defensible as they create a pooled fund that supports activities that are necessary and beneficial to all residents of Wetaskiwin. So, the question is, ‘if Wetaskiwin residents were asked where they would prefer to have their tax dollars spent: (1) hosting a delegation from Ashoro or (2) the library, parks such as By-the-Lake Park, playgrounds, trails, recreation facilities and programs, RCMP and by-law protection, economic development, fire services, snow removal, airport maintenance, or improving streets and sidewalks’ how will they respond? Are the benefits of the exchange wide-spread enough among rate payers to merit using tax dollars to fund it?
Personal cultural exchange in Ukraine
I understand and strongly support providing opportunities to exchange cultural and lifestyle information and experiences with people of other communities, provinces and countries. That is why I was pleased during a recent month-long personal trip to the Ukraine to be invited to make presentations and share information with students of two secondary schools and two university classes. During our meaningful exchange of information, I learned a great deal about the attitudes and beliefs of the students and their instructors and I am assuming they gained valuable knowledge about our City, Province and Country from me. (and I think I am assuming correctly because following the first presentation at the University, I was requested by the professor to return for the second presentation to a much larger group from several different faculties) So, what I am suggesting is that any time anyone travels and exchanges information either formally or informally, they are performing a cultural exchange and at no cost to the tax payer.
Comments by Ian Ruskowsky, Coordinator Ashoro exchange
“As for me, when I started this journey I was committing to only two years. Last November (2012) the Town of Ashoro asked if I would like to stay for a third year and you can guess what I said without hesitation – yes. Just like the students I have been lucky enough to have the values of international community and celebrating differences instilled in me through coming to Japan. Ultimately though, I have come to understand how much we need interaction, meaningful involvement and acceptance as humans wherever we are, Japan, Canada or any country for that matter. This realization has helped me develop gratitude for all the people I have had and will have in my life, near or far, and created in me a drive to make positive changes in whatever community accepts me as their own.”
Did Council make the right decision by defeating the motion to fund Ashoro visitors?
Although 23 years of interaction with the twin City of Ashoro has provided opportunities for local residents, the benefits to the City of Wetaskiwin have never been quantified; how many Wetaskiwin residents benefitted, economic impact on the City, the importance of the twinning to the residents of Wetaskiwin, etc..
On January 7th, 2013 City Council and Administration began 3 days of very difficult budget debates with the instructions: “It’s now up to Council to go through the draft budget and determine their priorities”. They completed the arduous task but during the budgeting process, there was no mention of a request for spending an additional $10,000 to host Ashoro delegates in Wetaskiwin. And had the motion been approved to spend the additional unbudgeted $10,000, the money would have had to come from City reserves. On May 27th, 2013, City Council narrowly made the decision to defeat the motion to fund the Ashoro visit; a decision that this was not a priority compared to other needs….. but you be the judge.