M.D. of Opportunity Council notebook

June 9, 2021 meeting

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Six active cases

When the CAO wrote up his report for council’s June 9 meeting, the M.D. of Opportunity had zero active cases of COVID-19. But by the time of the meeting, the number was six cases, Chad Tullis told council. This was on the eve of the province entering Stage 2 of its re-opening plan, some of the details of which Tullis listed for council. Most pertinent for the M.D. was the ability to re-open its recreational facilities, at one-third capacity.

First Nations protocol

Commenting on the M.D.’s 2020 Action Item List, Trout Lake councillor Leo Alook asked about Item #659, entitled ‘First Nations Protocol.’ The list doesn’t provide much information; just that it is ‘in the works,’ and is 10 per cent completed.
Alook is particularly concerned about the process of the M.D. divesting itself of assets and responsibilities in Trout Lake and Peerless Lake, with those communities now having First Nations status.

Making nominations easier

Council approved a new version of the Nominations Hours Bylaw. It makes nominating somebody for municipal election easier by adding Calling Lake and Red Earth Creek to the list of places nominations can be submitted. Previously this could only be done at the M.D. office in Wabasca.
Municipal elections are on Oct. 18, 2021.

‘Hot topic right now’

“I think we’ll be in good shape,” said the M.D.’s director of recreation and culture Angela Lightning. She was referring to the re-opening of M.D. facilities, per the province’s ‘Stage 2’ plan.

“It’s a hot topic right now,” Lightning added.

Also hot is demand for camping spots. At Lightning’s last report for council, something around $50,000 in reservations had been booked for the municipal campground at Calling Lake. That number is now up to $96,000, she said. Managing all the requests has been taking up a lot of M.D. admin. time, she said, but with the online booking system coming into effect, that should ease off.

Upgrades to the boat launch at Calling Lake, Lightning added, have been well received by boaters.

At that, councillor Darlene Jackson asked if the M.D. could do improvements to a boat launch at Wabasca, maybe next year?

Horse poop in the diamonds

On a somewhat lighter note, Lightning’s report on rec & culture had this: “Lots of horse poop inside ball diamonds, parks and parking lots. With no rec staff out that way, it is getting bad, as they would have to clean it daily before.”

‘An interesting puzzle,’ – MP Viersen

Peace River-Westlock Member of Parliament Arnold Viersen chatted with council (from his office in Ottawa). Although municipalities are strictly a provincial responsibility, there are areas of federal/provincial overlap Opportunity is dealing with and could use some help with. This particularly has to do with the complications involved in the transition in Peerless and Trout from M.D. to the First Nation.

“There’s a lot of toe-dragging going on,” is how reeve Auger put it to Viersen, referring to the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) process for PTFN. “We’ve been doing our part. It seems there isn’t a lot of push to get this completed.”

Opportunity is still providing services and maintaining assets in those former hamlets. Auger described it as being “in limbo, between being a hamlet or a reserve.” He urged Viersen to push the feds into finishing off the process.

Then there’s the transfer of water and sewer infrastructure, from M.D. to First Nations ownership. Who pays?

“We could only do it at cost,” said Auger.

Viersen said he’d look into who is responsible.

The other topic council had for Viersen’s consideration had to do with the M.D.’s wish to be given special status among municipalities, due to 80 per cent of its population being First Nations or Métis. Apparently the proposal was not met with a lot of enthusiasm by the provincial government.

“It would be nice to have some sort of designation,” Auger said. “Any ideas?

Viersen said he’d be happy to support the M.D. in its lobby effort with the province, although he said he has no influence in that area.

“It’s an interesting puzzle you’ve given me,” he said. “No doubt about that.”

Donation

St. Martin’s Parish is raising money for repairs and had asked the M.D. for a donation. Council approved a councillor Jackson motion to provide $1,000-worth of merchandise.

Looking at extending tax payment deadline (again)

Moving into the financial realm, councillor Gottfried asked if the M.D. would be extending the time to pay again. This was done last year to give ratepayers a bit of a break due to the COVID disruption.
No such extension is on the books, said CAO Tullis, but council could do it by way of resolution.
“I don’t have a problem doing it again,” said Gottfried, and asked for it to come back for decision at the next meeting.

Discount requests and penalty clauses

Corporate services manager Gerhard Stickling had a few tidbits for council in his report, including that the M.D. has been asked for discounts by a couple of parents of kids at the Wabasca daycare. What happened was due to a case of COVID, the parents took their kids out of daycare; not having used the service for a period, they hope for the discount.
In other news from his department, Stickling updated council on happenings as the Golden Opportunity Medical Clinic, which in the agenda appears (confusingly) as ‘GOC.’ The clinic has had a total of 905 visits, (but the report did not say over what period). Dr. Mwanza is seeing patients. Drs. Mabhegedhe and Hoskins are also seeing patients on their once-per-month visits to the community.

With Dr. Hassen taking over management of the clinic under contract to the M.D. for a three-year term, a certain level of service is expected. If not delivered, Dr. Hassen will be penalized to the tune of $350,000 per annum. The bottom line is he has to provide three physicians (or nurse practitioners), 90 per cent of the time.

Waste transfer sites: open enough?

Peerless Lake councillor Louis Cardinal brought up the hours of operation of M.D. waste transfer sites. Three days a week isn’t enough, he said and isn’t working very well, at least in his community. People don’t seem to know what the open days are. They load up their trucks, go to the site, find it closed and then, “they don’t go back home and unload it. They take it somewhere else.”

Calling Lake councillor Victor Gladue agreed.

“People say it’s not enough, three days a week,” he said. “Especially in summer.”

CAO Tullis reminded councillors they had decided at budget time to reduce operating hours. Adding them back is not in the budget this year. However, he said he’d bring a report for council comparing the cost of operating three, four and five days per week.

Wood going like crazy

The days of free firewood at Wabasca’s Lion’s Campground might be over soon. Council heard The M.D. firewood is “going like crazy,” so far this camping season, and staff is having a hard time keeping up. Is it time to start charging for it?
Councillor Jackson thinks so. Councillor Robin Guild does as well.
No resolution was made on the subject, but the direction is pretty clear.

Gravel for Trout and Peerless

Director of Transportation and Utilities Cyndi Taron recommended the purchase of $90,000-worth of gravel for roads in Trout Lake and Peerless Lake. This pays for 2,000 tonnes.
Next year, Taron, continued, “I’d like to look into crushing at that pit (in the Trout/Peerless area).”
Council voted in favour of a Gottfried motion to approve the purchase.

Fleet upgrades

Council approved the purchase of three flex-wing mowers, from the lowest of three bidders, for $107,000. This was a budgeted item, and was only coming to council because they had requested it.
Council likewise approved the purchase of a tractor for Wabasca. It is to be used for cutting grass in summer and plowing snow in winter.

Sandy Lake fire guard

Calling Lake doesn’t want a fire guard, so Sandy Lake might be getting one. Bill Auger reported to council that the forfeiture of the Calling Lake project would free up funds for one at Sandy Lake, providing residents there are in favour. A community engagement process will determine that. Auger said he had spoken to one trapline holder, who is in favour.
The guard, if it goes ahead, would be 1.3 kilometres long and 300 metres wide, Auger said.

Grazing concerns

Work continues, meanwhile, on fire guards at Red Earth and Wabasca. The plan is to make them available for livestock grazing, and some interest has been expressed. Who gets what, for grazing purposes, remains to be seen. Director of regulatory services and planning Bill Auger promised it would be “a fair process.”

“It shouldn’t just be for livestock,” said councillor Gottfried, adding some people might want to make hay on parts of the fire guard.

One thing you can’t do, pointed out Calling Lake councillor Barry Schmidt, is winter animals on the property. The stipulation from FRIAA (the funding organization), is that animals have to be in and out at specific times, otherwise the grass would not survive. This led to a rather sharp exchange of views between Schmidt and Red Earth councillor Brendan Powell, on what might or might not be do-able or advisable in the grazing line.

Councillor Gottfried had more or less the last word: “If it’s in there (the stipulation on grazing periods), obviously we have to follow that.”

Coun. Barry Schmidt

Cleaning out water tanks

The M.D. used to do this for people in Calling Lake, said councillor Schmidt, but the M.D. put a stop to it. It’s the homeowners’ responsibility, he said, “but people can’t afford it.”
That was council’s direction, said CAO Tullis. It’s up to council to set levels of service.
Councillor Alook suggested the M.D. should do it for seniors.

Calling Lake seniors’ complex

Bill Auger’s update on this project had to do with it being sent back to the drawing board (I.e. the engineering firm), with instructions to modify the plans and re-tender it in August in hopes of lower bids. The lowest one in the initial round was $1.4 million over budget.
Gottfried took the opportunity to express his views on engineering costs. They’re over $350,000 now, he said, and “eating up a lot of the budget.” Not only that, “their estimates were off.”

Fibre optic line on its way

Council heard an Edmonton company is running a fibre optic line from Grassland to Wabasca. Arrow Technology Group wants permission from the M.D. to put up a tower at Sandy Lake on the fire hall grounds. In exchange, the M.D. gets a connection to the fire hall at no charge.

The admin. recommendation was to approve the proposal, as long as it doesn’t interfere with fire department operations. It will also have to go through the standard development permit process. Council gave it the thumbs-up.
Where is the line going to terminate? asked councillor Gottfried. That hasn’t been specified, but according to Gerhard Stickling, “they’re focused more on the reserves around Wabasca,” rather than the town itself.

Hwy. 686, etc.

The open portion of council’s meeting ended up in a bit of a free-for-all on how provincial government reps – MLAS and one minister in particular – are not doing much for Opportunity.

For example, councillor Jackson isn’t happy about Municipal Affairs (and Transportation) Minister Ric McIver’s response to the M.D. idea of Opportunity getting special status within Alberta municipalities due to its largely Indigenous population.

“I didn’t really like the minister’s attitude,” she said, “and his letter is even more ignorant.”

Jackson didn’t specify which letter from McIver she meant, but there was one in council’s agenda package from him, responding to a letter from reeve Auger. Auger had inquired into the status of the proposed improvements to the road between Red Earth Creek and Trout Lake.

“What did he say about 686?” asked councillor Alook.

“Starts this year, paving in 2025,” said Powell.

“You’ll be lucky if you see it (by) 2025,” said Gottfried, pessimistically.

Powell went on to say representation for Opportunity communities is generally lacking from the MLAs (Rehn and Williams).

“We don’t have it now, in my opinion,” he said.

Getting back to McIver, Gottfried suggested the M.D. send a letter to the Premier, urging him to take one of McIver’s portfolios away.

“This guy’s wearing two hats,” he said. “When does he have time to actually deal with our needs?”

Minister of Transportation and acting Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver

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