A new resident of Okotoks is eager to represent her community in the upcoming election.
Renée Miller decided to run for council after moving to Okotoks earlier in 2021, though she is no stranger to the town. Her parents once owned an antique shop in the current location of Home Ground Coffee on North Railway Street, called Browser’s Delight.
“My mom and my stepdad had put a suite in the basement, so I lived in Okotoks in the summer while I was going to university,” said Miller.
Her parents officially moved to town in 2008, and Miller spent a lot of time in Okotoks during visits, which ultimately led to her own move this year.
She said belonging to the town in some capacity for so many years taught her a lot about its vision of community and sustainability, both of which are important to her. She decided being involved at the municipal level would provide the opportunity to help guide those values into the future.
“I love Okotoks, I love the vision our Town has for the future,” said Miller, adding participating in municipal politics is an important act of public and community service.
As a lawyer practising in town, she has put down roots quickly and began speaking with residents, neighbours and business owners over the past few months to get a sense of the issues and challenges in town.
One of the most prominent concerns in the business community seems to be consistent and equal representation in decision-making, she said.
“They’re concerned that the decision-making for some businesses is different than the decision-making for other businesses,” said Miller. “Some businesses feel left out of the conversation, and some businesses feel excluded from brochures the Town created.
“I think those are some pretty easy, but fundamental issues to be able to resolve so that everyone feels they’re on an equal footing.”
She said the Chamber of Commerce and groups like the River District Business Association are important, but they don’t represent all business owners in town.
With Okotoks committed to supporting recovery and aimed to become an easier place to do business, communication is going to be key, she said.
“They’re going to have to give all of those businesses an equal opportunity to be heard,” said Miller.
There are other means of helping to drive the Okotoks economy as well, she said.
A focus on social needs and families is part of keeping small businesses strong, she said. As a family lawyer, she said there have been many times family-run businesses are torn apart in disputes during separation and divorce.
Many families are caught in turmoil between divorce or the impacts of the pandemic, and she said businesses feel the effects.
“We have to be committed to making sure our families have the resources they need to stay strong so that our businesses continue to thrive and so that people in our community can continue to support our local businesses,” said Miller. “I think philosophically, when our residents are strong and our families are strong, the rest of our community is strong and that means our businesses are strong, too.”
Keeping up the transit system and expanding it to be available on Sundays would also help the business community, she said.
There are a lot of people in Okotoks who rely on Okotoks Transit to get to work, but they are left without that transportation on Sundays. Similarly, those who cannot drive are unable to access businesses one day per week.
“I know not only how critical transit is in helping build community, but it’s also a sustainable transportation option,” said Miller.
As a new member on the Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society board, she’s had the opportunity to learn about how sustainability and regional waste and recycling services work.
It has bolstered her knowledge of Okotoks’ sustainability initiatives, she said.
“Those are really important services,” said Miller.
Engagement is also a key piece of her platform. She said many residents share concerns about not having a voice with Town council, but there are ways to bring the conversation to the public.
Miller is currently grooming a vegetable garden at her home in Skunk Hollow and intends to eventually have produce to sell at the Elks Farmer’s Market – but it would be about more than selling vegetables.
“I see myself at the Elks market offering some community support, agricultural boxes, and talking to residents on a Saturday morning about issues that are important to them,” said Miller. “Those sorts of community events are an ideal place for people to come together and share ideas, and to ask questions.”