Council buttonholes ministers on issues

Beach, RCMP, housing, roads among the topics

Leader staff

Slave Lake’s town council recently had the chance to hobnob with provincial government types at a conference in Edmonton. This happens every year; how much good it does is open to interpretation, but when so much of what goes on (highways, health care and much more) depends on provincial government attention and investment, councils can’t afford not to go all-in to press their case.

So with that in mind, here are a few highlights from the event, as provided to The Leader by mayor Tyler Warman.

Housing
On the Tuesday night (Nov. 16), council met with administration from Alberta Housing. The topic was the new affordable housing project proposed for the Hotel Northern Star. Council’s preference had been to replace some of the older ‘social housing’ units in the northwest part of town with a new apartment building. That had been the plan for several years, as proposed by the Slave Lake Regional Housing Authority. But it was provincial money and the province decided to go with a ‘public private partnership,’ the private partner being the group that owns the hotel.

Warman says the question for the Housing people is now, “what do we do with that inventory?” I.e. the aging single-family homes in the NW part of town.

“We lobbied to keep things ‘as-is’ until the other one is built, operational and we see the housing wait list going down,” Warman said.

Later in the conference, council met with Josephine Pon, Minister of Seniors and Housing, and went over the same points.

The conference proper started on Nov. 17. One session that day had to do with municipalities and First Nations working together, “which had some good insight,” Warman said. A later meeting with Minister Rick Wilson of Indigenous Relations covered some of the same topics.

“We talked about Alberta North Central Alliance and needing some help and guidance there as well,” said Warman. “Also talked about the homelessness issue with them.”

Next up was a meeting with Mike Ellis, the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Council talked with him about waiting times for mental health services and the complex needs around homelessness.

“In the end, we explained we are looking less for funding and more for guidance about where to go next and where we focus our energy,” Warman said.

Thursday, Nov. 18, saw council attending info sessions and having more meetings with provincial brass. One session was on strategic planning.

Warman said one thing talked about was rural municipalities becoming unsustainable if they don’t “focus on growth.”

Council took the opportunity during a meeting with Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz to thank the government for its role in the recently-announced child care funding scheme. Council stressed “there needs to be flexibility with that funding for the operators,” Warman said.

Also raised with Schulz was what Warman called council’s “disappointment” with the closing of the Parent Link Centre in Slave Lake. Its replacement, the regional Children’s Resource Council, is seen as serving too large an area to meet the need.

Minister of Culture
Ron Orr, the Minister of Culture gave some time to Slave Lake councillors, which they used to talk to him about the need for child care outside of regular hours and “the lack of licensed day homes due to the process being too onerous.”

Cancer treatments
With Minister of Health Jason Copping, council talked about the efforts of a local group to get chemo-therapy treatment capacity back at the Slave Lake Health Care Centre. They also talked about “mental health access and homelessness again.”

Highways
No AUMA conference would be complete without a discussion about the state of highways. Warman said the condition of Hwy. 88 was what council talked about when they met with Minister Rajan Sawhney. Warman didn’t say, but it’s fair to assume no promises were made.

Provincial parks
“We discussed long-term investment in parks,” Warman said. “And a collaborative agreement on beach clean-up.”

On the latter item, council is promoting the idea that the two groomed sections of Devonshire Beach be turned into one, bigger groomed section.

“They’re actually interested in doing that,” Warman said.

Council also gave Minister Jason Nixon and his staff “a heads-up about the Big Fish Bay marina and that we’re supportive.”

Policing issues
With the ministers taken care of, council met with other groups or agencies. One was the RCMP brass, which has identified the need for a new detachment building in Slave Lake.

“We talked about increasing service levels,” Warman said, “and would like to see a traffic unit come back to the area.”

Also on council’s law enforcement wish list is a Crime Reduction Unit specifically for rural crime, and a ‘PACT’ unit that specializes in mental health response.

A related discussion, with the Solicitor General’s office, covered “the need for access to justice for Albertans, as well as the recent contract signing for RCMP wages and the impact to municipalities.”

No discussion on policing would be complete without touching on the province’s idea of replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force. Council’s view on this is that it’s a waste of time, and that message was conveyed. Warman says Slave Lake was far from the first to express that view to the SolGen officials. They’d be better off spending the time and effort to enhance the policing system already in place, Warman said.

Broadband
Warman said council met with a service provider that is “interested in bring better connectivity and broadband to the area and increasing competition in the market place, which should help our residents with better pricing.”

But before all that, council underwent two days of training “on how to be a good elected official.” No details were provided, but Warman said, “Great participation by all of council and lots of eager people wanting to learn more.”

Town council has been pushing for more investment in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial park. Meanwhile, this is happening out at Devonshire Beach – new staircase construction.

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