Here’s a question: say a senator visits your town, listens to all sorts of folks and develops a decent picture of the issues. It’s all local stuff. Highways, price of a barrel of oil, reconciliation, small businesses struggling and so on.
But then what? What can the Canadian Senate do about any of that?
We asked Alberta Senator Doug Black exactly that question last week, following his ‘virtual’ visit to Slave Lake.
“The Senate as an organization, not much,” Black says. “But this senator can do whatever he wants.”
What Black wants is to bring people together to find solutions – whether they are municipal, provincial or federal.
“That’s what I do!” he says.
Black began visiting communities in Alberta back when it was possible to do it in person. Lately he’s switched to the virtual type of get-together. For his Slave Lake visit on Jan. 19, he chatted with an impressive list of community members, as follows: Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre Executive Director Barb Courtorielle (“Just a wonderful person!”), Sawridge First Nation Chief Roland Twinn, (“On reconciliation and economic engagement”), Northern Lakes College President Glenn Mitchell, several reps of the oil and gas and forest products industry (“A round-table”), Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures reps and the Executive Director of the Lesser Slave Forest Education Society. He expected to hook up with Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman as well, before the day was over.
In spite of various difficulties he was told about, Black’s overall impression is that “Slave Lake is a bright spot, economically, in Alberta.”
Elsewhere in Alberta, Black says, he’s come across signs that what he calls the “traditional Alberta spirit” has declined.
“I didn’t see it in Slave Lake,” he says. Oil and gas service industry people he talked to say they are doing okay, thanks mainly to activity in the Marten Hills. The forest industry is mostly doing very well. Black was impressed that those two industries, although very much in competition in some ways, were around the same table and seemed committed to working together to solve problems.
That’s a general theme Black found in his discussions that also made a good impression on him.
“Everybody knows everybody,” he says. “I’m impressed by the calibre and the commitment to your area. I wasn’t expecting it and it lifted my spirit.”
Of course Black heard more than just rosy statements about how well we all get along. He heard about bad roads and bad internet. He heard about small businesses reeling due to health restrictions. But, again, he saw “light at the end of the tunnel,” perhaps more than he has in conversations with people in other Alberta communities.
At least on one issue there is a clear federal mandate; that’s in improved broadband to rural areas.
“I hear this everywhere in Alberta,” Black says. “I’m doing what I can to make sure the Government of Canada is aware.”
Black says he’ll definitely visit Slave Lake in person when circumstances are more suitable. For now, though, he continues his virtual tour. Next stops are Drumheller, Lacombe and Calgary.
Doug Black was elected by Albertans in 2012 as a provincial nominee for the senate. He was then appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Before his appointment he was a lawyer in Calgary.