Smith bridge, Hwy. 88, MSI funding and more

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Council members from the Town of Slave Lake and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River had a sort of tag-team approach to lobbying government ministers at the recent Alberta Municipalities conference in Calgary. No sooner had one group finished bending the ear of one minister or the other on the need for a new bridge over the Athabasca River at Smith, for example, than the other group started in on the same topic. And it wasn’t just one minister; anyone with the slightest connection got the message.

“We got their ears,” says M.D. reeve Murray Kerik. “We weren’t going to waste our chances.”

Besides the bridge issue, Kerik says he and fellow councillors Norm Seatter and Brad Pearson let ministers and their staff members know about the need for action on Hwy. 88, plus the Marten Beach flood mitigation situation.

“We explained everything to them,” he says.

Support for municipal infrastructure (or the lack of it) was front and centre when Slave Lake mayor Tyler Warman and councillors met with Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver. The government is still fiddling with the formula on whatever is to replace the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), but for now, the level of funding to towns such as Slave Lake has been cut by about 50 per cent. Warman says council’s purpose in meeting the minister was to hammer home the point that the ‘sustainability’ of municipalities under those circumstances is very much in jeopardy.

Other issues
Labour force issues were front and centre in conversations with other government ministers. Warman says the province’s new scheme by which foreign workers can be approved is proving to be quite an obstacle. A related matter is what he calls a “critical nursing shortage,” and what might be done to help. One idea is to make it easier for LPNs to make the transition to becoming nurse practitioners.

The topic of homelessness came up in discussions with both the Minister of Health and of Community and Social Services. Council accepts that the town has a role in dealing with the issue, Warman says, but doesn’t feel it should be taking the lead.

“We’re looking for advice and mentorship,” he says. “The province should have people who can do that.”

Council was told the province is working on a homelessness plan. However, “a lot is up in the air,” due to the current UCP leadership race.

Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development Minister Nate Horner heard from council about all the revenue going into provincial coffers from industrial activity in the Lesser Slave region. The point was made that “it’s time to reinvest some of that money,” into area infrastructure (such as the bridge at Smith), Warman says. He adds the minister was “very receptive to that.”