“Right now we have two crackhead drivers in Rocky View (Calgary and the MD): both hopped up on growth and both fighting to take control of the bus. For now, we’re just along for the terrifying ride.” (Al Sacuta)
I tracked down this gem in one of my first email exchanges with Al Sacuta and it made me laugh and cry at the same time.
It was 2009 and I was living in Okotoks, caught up with a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Okotoks. A small group of people originally formed to promote sustainability, we soon found ourselves in a battle to keep the town’s environmental credibility intact. It was a battle that we ultimately lost, but that is a story for another time.
Al’s white paper on reckless growth came to the attention of another activist in the community, Nancy Ginzer and she shared his paper with me. A retired engineer and resident of Rocky View County, Al was a blogger and a well-known critic of Rocky View County council. He was a crusader for good government and a community activist.
He soon forged an alliance with our little group and began supporting our efforts to reject the Calgary Regional Partnership’s (CRP) plans for aggressive growth. Our argument was that the water supply for additional residents needed to be secured first, before the population was allowed to increase dramatically (as proposed by the CRP).
Al quickly made himself indispensible, poring over engineer’s reports on the South Saskatchewan River water supply and we realized his concerns in Rocky View matched our protest petition in Okotoks and the MD of Foothills.
Tempers flared throughout the rural areas during the plan’s public consultation phase. Water was a major concern and finally, an “open house” turned into a “tailgate protest” prior to the event at an Okotoks community hall.
Al was there for us, printing posters ahead of time on his oversized home printer (who has a printer like that at home? Al did!), agreeing to media interviews and generally lending his professional expertise.
I will never forget how he agreed at the last minute to speak in an impromptu manner outside the hall during the protest to explain why the CRP plan had to be rejected. With a karaoke-style microphone and guitar amplifier I had brought from home (my teenagers never knew it was missing), he spoke calmly and eloquently about the need to stand up for our community.
Not long after that, Albertans for Responsible Land Use was born. A coalition of citizen groups in rural communities around Calgary we found ourselves gaining steam and speaking out against the Calgary Metropolitan Plan.
Al later found himself a target of a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit when he created a spoof of the county logo. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association spoke in his defense and the Calgary media gave his case some much-deserved attention. It was a trying time for Al and his wife, Lindy, I’m sure.
What happened next is the best part.
Instead of backing down when he became a target, Al stood up and said, “enough.” He then picked himself up from the depths of a legal nightmare and ran for County Councillor in 2010. To no one’s surprise, he won the election.
Overnight, he went from guerrilla activist to elected official. In fact, Al was one of several members of Albertans for Responsible Land Use elected municipally that year. The community had also said, “enough.”
There was never a more dedicated public servant than Al. He was the epitomy of good government, never falling under the spell of developers, always forthright and honest about his activities and truly representing his constituents’ best interests.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have known and worked with Al. He did a damn fine job at every turn and under trying circumstances. I wish he did not have to die so young. I am trying hard not to be sad, but it is tough.
I’m comforted by the fact that his war on stupidity, on dishonesty and on corruption will live on because he inspired many others to get involved and fight as well.
Well done, Al. Well done.