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Saturday , 25 September 2021

MLA Hanson talks ID349, local doctors, COVID, and financial update in latest sit-down interview

With a long-term deal reached on ID349, Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson is pleased to see a resolution to a divisive local issue that helps support the region with millions of dollars of tax revenues from the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range.

The arrangement made on Monday was signed off of by Cold Lake, M.D. of Bonnyville, Bonnyville, and Glendon and is fixed in place with per capita funding. The land known as ID349 will now be amalgamated with the M.D. of Bonnyville.

“It was a pretty contentious issue. There was a lot of…just trying to get all of the municipal leaders together and talk about it was a big thing. But once we got them all at the table, and they came up with a made in the Lakeland solution to this issue for the funding disbursement,” said Hanson on The Alberta Legislature on Tuesday.

When asked if Fishing Lake and Elizabeth Metis Settlements, who were involved with the arrangement in 2018 and 2019 would be supported with funding in the future, Hanson said, “All I can tell you is stay tuned. There’ll be an announcement coming forward.”

COVID-19

The rate of positive tests continues to swell in the Lakeland area with over 50 active cases in the Cold Lake and St. Paul areas alone.

Hanson said he hopes people continue to follow the provincial health guidelines.

“What I’d like to say is people, we need to work together on this. The premier is trying very, very hard to find a balance to keep industry and businesses open, as well as trying to maintain and control the number so that we don’t overwhelm our hospital system. That’s of ultimate importance,” he said.

“We’re all in this together. And we’re trying to, like I said, to maintain the balance and not shut down the province completely. But as the numbers go up, I think yesterday we were at 1700 new cases. That’s not something we can take lightly.”

In light of the increase in cases, municipal councils in Cold Lake, Bonnyville, St. Paul, and Lac La Biche, amongst others, have discussed a mask bylaw to be enforced in public spaces.

When making these decisions, councils have often opted to follow recommendations from the chief medical officer and not “overstep” with their own bylaws. For example in Lac La Biche, an area Hanson represented from 2015-2019, some council members expressed frustration the government did not mandate masks provincewide.

“It’s an issue that we’ve tried to leave at the municipal level because it’s more of a regional [issue]. Mandating mandatory masks across the province, when there are some areas that don’t have cases or very minimal cases is a hard thing to justify.

“We’ve tried to put that on to the municipalities. They’re the people that are right on the ground in those areas that can make the best judgment to that. I think that’s a fair statement,” said Hanson.

Local doctors

After concerns about a looming “crisis of care” in St. Paul with the relocation of a surgeon to Cold Lake, and physicians worried about the need for their jobs at that site, AHS has recruited  two new doctors in the coming year in the town, and one in Elk Point.

“I’ve been working closely with municipal leaders up in Cold Lake as well as in St. Paul and Elk Point, and I think that hopefully, we’ve got the attention of AHS management up in the North Zone.

“It’s a step in the right direction, we’ve got a long ways to go on this file. And I will maintain that our North Zone, especially up in my constituency, producing 30 per cent of the bitumen royalties for this province. Our folks deserve access to health care. That’s something I will continue to fight for until the cows come home.”

When asked about concerns residents may have that local hospitals will see services like laundry and cooking that used to be provided in-house is now up for contract, Hanson said it could be used to funnel more money into frontline health care services.

“That’s a fair comment. But we’re of the understanding, where in discussions with ministry, that 68 per cent of linens are already contracted out and where it makes sense to do so,” said Hanson.

“I think it’s something that we could look at to try and funnel more of that money that we spend on healthcare in the province to the frontline, nurses and radiologists and doctors that are dealing with patients every day.”

Financial update

Finance Minister Travis Toews presented a fiscal update where the projected deficit is now $21.3 billion for the end of the fiscal year, an improvement over the $24.2 billion deficit reported at the end of the first quarter.

“It’s a pretty tough thing to deal with. Right at the moment, we were facing $24 billion, we saw some encouraging news with a slight reduction in that by about $3 billion, I think it was $2.8 billion, due to increased oil and gas revenues,” said Hanson.

“That’s one of the things that we can look at to help us reduce that. But right now, it right in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to be just nearly impossible to try and, and find any more cost savings. We’re trying to do it within each department, but it’s tough. These are unprecedented times, so we’ve got to work through it.

Growing frustrations, separation

The growth of independence and separation movements has not excluded the Lakeland area, with a visit from the leader of the Western Independence Party of Alberta in late October, and the establishment of their first constituency office in the Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul earlier this year.

Hanson said he understands the frustrations from residents that Albertans are not getting a fair shake in Confederation.

“It’s totally justifiable. I see it with a lot of those members concerns with the way Alberta has been treated by Ottawa. And one of the things that I fight for is recognition for our constituency, and in particular within Alberta, so I understand their frustration,” he said.

“Our premier is trying to put a strong message to Ottawa but trying to maintain national unity as well at the same time. So it’s, again, another balancing act that the premier is trying to do.”

NADC

Hanson was recently appointed the chair of the Northern Alberta Development Council, which is meant to help northern economies and communities, while developing programs and services to explore opportunities for growth.

“I had my first meeting with some local leadership in the North Zone last Friday. And you know what comes up all over the North Zone is access to health care, and that’s going to be one of my priorities, working with NADC for access to health care, and post-secondary education is another big one that we’ll be looking at.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.