By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County councillors sent MLA Joseph Schow back to the legislature with a lengthy list of concerns.
During their regular Oct 3 meeting, the Cardston-Siksika MLA met with county council, so he could introduce himself and find out what were the big issues in the county, and how they can as government help them.
Reeve Lorne Hickey said one of their biggest issues was that they were involved in a protein supercluster group, and they were hitting a few snags in attacking these type of businesses.
“I think southern Alberta is perfectly suited to be a home for further value-added industry, but we seem to be running into bits of snags along the way as to how we can developed our water and wastewater sort of on an affordable level to really attract these businesses,” said Hickey.
“We should be selling products that have value-added, and certainly can take advantage of where they’re growing and expand the market of what we can potentially can and can’t grow as well. That’s an issue we have, is kind of accessing funds.”
Hickey said they were having trouble “connecting with the right department”, and they don’t know how to access funding to get projects started to attract industry.
Schow acknowledged that navigating through the different ministries can be “frustrating a lot of the time”, and he will help them navigate the process and will look into who is the proper official they need to talk to and help arrange a meeting during an upcoming AUMA meeting of afterwards.
Coun. Klass Vander Veen stressed that the water and wastewater situation was a big problem for them, and not just for the protein cluster, but for other industries they want to attract.
As part of the protein supercluster, the county wants to do a $57 million joint-project with the Town of Coaldale for the construction of treatment lagoons in Coaldale and a line going from 43rd Street through the county to Coaldale.
“The protein clusters — we will use canola for instance — they will take it and split one product into four now, the protein and the meal and the oil… Basically, you make three or four products out of one,” said Hickey. “That opportunity to expand our markets even to a further point is, we’re just really interested in getting to the next phase for our producers instead of sending them raw products.”
Schow said that it “speaks to our mandate” to expand economic diversification in Alberta, and he is working on a motion with government concerning government support for unique economic diversification opportunities in rural Alberta.
Coun. Morris Zeinstra raised a concern regarding roads and the livestock industry, and said they had brought it up before, and their own solution, the business tax, is not very popular, “but we had no other choice”.
“We do need some help on our infrastructure. If you saw now what is happening with the snow and all the moisture we have, and you go to one of the feedlots now with some gravel load, you won’t believe how much upkeep that’s going to be for us as a county again, and that’s a lot of money,” said Zeinstra.
“We shouldn’t have to do (the business tax), because the province recognizes this as a great cattle industry down here, it’s a great industry for Alberta and also Canada. Basically Canada this area for the great industry we have you know. We’ve been always saying, yes that’s great, but we wish you would step up to the point down there and help us with the infrastructure for the upkeep.”
According to Hickey, 100 per cent of the business tax put in place goes towards the upkeep of the county’s roads and bridges. Vander Veen said everyone in the province benefits including producers in the north, but everything comes down through the county and the burden of up keeping the infrastructure is on the county.
Hickey raised another water issue, saying there was two water co-ops in the county, and “unfortunately not everybody in the county has potable water right to their door yet”. While it was one of their goals, funding has dried up and it’s difficult for some people to come up with $40,000 or more to get water delivered to their house. Vander Veen also enquired about how they could get more water, as there are difficulties getting the needed water licenses.
Coun. Steve Campbell brought up the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding, saying they were thankful to have it but they were uncertain how long it will continue, and they “hope it doesn’t disappear or decrease”. Schow, saying he was echoing premier Jason Kenney, said they understand the needs municipalities, and recognize they need some “predictability” with MSI.
“Most towns and counties are at least adapt within reason, as long as they understand long term projections. Because you have to do that, you have to make those projections, it’s what you’re elected to do,” said Schow.
“It does go back to the budget coming out, so I can’t comment specifically on that because you don’t have any final answers, but I think the overriding message is we understand very clearly the importance of MSI. There is no equivocation about that. We also understand the need for you to create long-term financial predictions for your constituents, and you’re responsible to your constituents. So, there’s problems with the roads or other projects you would like to see on the go, you’re going to hear from your constituents. So we understand that, and we want to communicate with you and it’s my job to communicate with you, but that’s really where it stops until the budget comes out.”
Hickey noted that under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) they are required to have Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) with bordering municipalities, and some of the sticking points they have come across include emergency services and recreation.
“It’s kind of difficult when you don’t have a lot of input, you can kind of move forward on either one of those. You kind of get told what they want to provide and what they think you should pay, and without any kind of consultation,” said Hickey.
“There have been several projects move forward without any consultation with us, and we’ve been asked to put up some of the money to help out with that. So I guess, if you don’t have a chance to consult, it’s very difficult to budget for things like that, and how do you address it? Because if you do it for one, you do it for everybody.”
While he believed IDFs were a good things, he thought that some of the areas in them needed to be looked at before they were put out, and said it was something they would like to speak to the minister of municipal affairs, Kaycee Madu, about. Schow replied he could reach out to his chief of staff to see if this issue had come up before, and provide initial feedback. If needed, he could arrange a meeting.
Vander Veen raised the issue of broadband in the county.
“In the rural areas that we have, there are a lot of areas that have no access to it, and that really limits bringing industry forward into the area,” said Vander Veen. “We’re trying to work with some communities and everything like that, but it’s a questions of if we have the government’s support in pushing ahead with the broadband, because, as you know, it’s one of the major ways of communicating with each other these days, and if you don’t have that, businesses won’t even look at you.”
Schow noted it was a frustration shared with ag producers.
“You cannot run a successful business in this day and age without a proper connection to the internet,” said Schow.