Town of Slave Lake Council notebook

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

The majority of council’s March 5 meeting was taken up with a presentation by Lesser Slave Lake MLA Scott Sinclair. He covered quite a range of recent government business, concentrating on items directly affecting the Lesser Slave region, or less directly, northern Alberta.

Sinclair prefaced a lot of his remarks with comments such as: ‘I’ve only been at this nine months,’ or ‘I’m not an engineer (or a lawyer), but…’ and then demonstrated a solid enough grasp of everything from highways to homelessness to make a satisfactory impression on council.

Speaking of the homeless shelter, several citizens were in the gallery (unusual for a town council meeting), evidently to hear what Sinclair had to say on that topic. He spoke privately with them during a 10-minute break in the meeting, then went out into the lobby when the meeting resumed and was still chatting away when the public portion of the meeting ended.

Some of Sinclair’s presentation appears in separate articles in this edition of The Leader, and some below.

Sinclair on health care

The province is investing $167 million to improve recruitment and retention of health care professionals in rural and Indigenous communities, the MLA told council. He gave the impression that much of it will go to paying people more, as an incentive to work in such communities, and to stay there.

“We just can’t afford not to pay people more to come here,” Sinclair said.

We should have people coming here for MRIs and dialysis, he said, instead of sending them to the city. High Prairie, with its fine new hospital has a long list of staffing concerns as well, and the hospital in Wabasca “just closed for the third time in the last three months.”

The reorganization of Alberta Health Services is a huge job, Sinclair said, and it will take time for improvements to show. But the idea (or one idea) is that by removing a lot of bureaucracy between the front line and the minister, things should get better.

More local input into health care is something Sinclair said he’s hearing people want. He doesn’t foresee local boards as in the ‘old days,’ but local committees providing input does sound doable.

“We will get local people on the board, I can promise that,” he said.

Sinclair on housing

MLA Sinclair started off this part of his report to council by saying the Northern Star affordable housing project has been terminated. There’s a court case going on, he said, so he couldn’t share too many details, but he did say $2.7 million remains unspent and “will be kept here.”

As to what it might be spent on, that remains to be seen. If anybody has any ideas, please let us know, Sinclair said.

There had been $4 million set aside, or at least promised, by the province, for an affordable housing project in Slave Lake. It had been the Regional Housing Authority’s to spend, but the UCP government decided to go with the ‘P3’ (public-private partnership) model and made a deal with the Northern Star Hotel, which was looking for something to do with its unused northern wing.

As reported earlier in The Leader, it didn’t work out.

“For obvious reasons,” Sinclair said, whatever new scheme for creating housing with the remaining $2.7 million comes up, it won’t be a P3 project.

Sinclair said affordable housing is one thing; the government has another idea about making housing ‘attainable.’ Attainable housing, he explained, is home ownership for, say, young working people that are simply finding it too expensive to build or buy a house these days.

Four hundred dollars a square foot to build in Slave Lake (what he says he’s hearing), seems “insane to me.” The government has some ideas on how to help.

Sinclair on wildfire season

This is a sensitive subject, Sinclair said, given the history locally. But last year, when Slave Lake helped out other communities whose citizens had been evacuated, “everybody did all the right things.”

The government has committed $151 million over three years in various wildfire preparedness measures, he said. More aircraft, for one thing, and more firefighters.

Sinclair said Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen has agreed to visit Slave Lake this spring.

Sinclair on communication

The MLA said he stayed away from Facebook before getting elected, but now sees it as a necessary communications tool. He says he “could be better on my end” in getting information out to residents.

As for his constituency office, when it was open, hardly anyone visited it, and then he lost his local staff member. The plan is to have regular hours and post them. Also planned are “weekly engagements” at the office, where people can come by and chat.

Sinclair didn’t volunteer any information about how busy he actually is, until Councillor Gramlich prompted him.

“How many committees have they put you on?” he asked.

Seven, was the answer. “I’m chair of three.”

Organizational chart

Council was asked to look at and approve a new organizational chart for the town. As explained by CAO Jeff Simpson, the chart reflects changes in the organizational structure brought about as a result of the recently-approved 2024 budget. What those changes are he didn’t say; all we know for sure is there is one less peace officer.

Council had no questions on the topic, but Councillor Brice Ferguson did have a comment. He pointed out that although council appears on the chart to be in charge of everyone depicted below it, in fact “council has only one employee, the CAO.” In other words, Ferguson continued, council is not permitted to stick its nose into the business of any other town employee or department. It deals with, and gives direction to, the CAO only.

Council gave the thumbs up to the new org. chart.

Changing April meeting date

Councillor Shawn Gramlich had added this item to the agenda. He explained that council has a chance to meet with government ministers on April 16 in Edmonton. Since that’s the date of council’s third regular meeting of that month, Gramlich’s suggestion was to shift the council meeting to Tuesday, April 23. He made a motion to that effect, which no one opposed.

Fire season?

In question period, Councillor Kim Hughes asked CAO Simpson if the town is making any special preparations for the wildfire season.

“Are we prepared?” she asked.

For starters, Simpson said social media is being used to remind citizens of things they can do to prepare for the possibility of evacuation, for example. Or, as another example, to make their properties less susceptible to catching fire.

On another note, the town has invested in more fire suppression equipment for the fire department, Simpson said.

Yet another angle: We’ve started reaching out to some of the communities we’ve helped in the past, Simpson said, talking about the possibility of it happening again and how that works.

State of the Lake

To close out the open portion of the meeting, council members were given a chance to plug whatever they would like. Only Councillor Ali Mouallem took advantage, speaking up for the U13-1 Thunder hockey team, which had advance to the league final in the playoffs. It’ll be a best-of-three affair this weekend in Vegreville, he said. “Go Thunder!”

All three games in Vegreville? Asked Gramlich. Surely not.

Apparently Vegreville doesn’t like to travel, said Mouallem.

It shouldn’t be that way, said Gramlich – but apparently it is that way.

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