Saturday , 25 September 2021

MLA David Hanson discusses COVID-19 response, rural health care changes, sportfishing, ID349

Lakeland Connect sat down with Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson on Monday to discuss the COVID-19 response, rural health care, changes in sportfishing regulations, and ID349.

We were talking a little bit before chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has kind of been thrust into the spotlight and seems to be handling it well, though, she’s still got a lot to decide and a lot is ongoing? What’s the status quo as far as you see it?

“I think she’s done a great job, like you said, being thrust into it. This is not something that anybody really plans for or wishes for in their career, I’m sure. But she’s done it. I think she’s done a great job, and I think Albertans have done a really good job responding to her as well,” said Hanson.

“I’d like to just take a minute if I could to thank all the frontline workers that are out there. And that includes the folks that work in the grocery stores and that, and the residents of this community that have paid attention to those warnings and the protocols and I think it reflects in our numbers.

“The M.D. had seven cases and they’re all recovered, so we’re at zero now. Cold Lake has two active cases. St. Paul has one active case. (This interview was done Monday before a second case was confirmed in the St. Paul area).

“So I think we’re doing pretty good as a region. And but the important thing is that people continue to do what they’re doing so that we keep those numbers now,” said Hanson.

When will the province announce plans on how to re-open due to COVID-19? Will it be a staggered approach to re-opening?

“Yeah, I think so. But it’s all fully dependent on the numbers, right? If our curve starts to flatten out, then we can look at some recovery. If it starts to climb up again, then of course, we’re gonna have to maintain precautions and have those controls.

“What happened down in south of Calgary there at the meatpacking plant is a good indication of how quickly things can go sideways, so we have to be very cognizant of that and be cautious and just ask people to patient.

“We’ve been through about six weeks or eight weeks of this. We may have some more to go. But now’s not the time to drop our guard. I think it’s important people understand that and work with us on that.”

Whatever happens in these re-opening plans, I’m sure the province is looking at some key indicators that will guide that decision-making. Regardless, I’m guessing the government is going to need a plan on long-term care facilities until there’s a vaccine.

“The worst thing that could happen is you drop your guard and then you end up with an infection in one of your seniors’ facilities. And we’ve seen that in some of the places in Alberta and Ontario and Quebec, especially, I would hate to see something like that happen here. And so we have to remain cautious. [So I’m] Just asking folks to be patient, work with us.

“I know that there’s a lot of stress out there, tons of stress out there. But we have to work together and you know help out your neighbors if you can. If you’ve got seniors in your area that you can reach out to…donate your food banks.

“If you’re feeling pressure, there’s probably a lot of people underneath that are a lot worse off than you are. So please reach out and help your neighbors.”

Will there be more announcements from your government in the coming days? Relief? Stimulus?

“I hope so. I know that they’re talking about campgrounds and golf courses right now as the seasons are starting to open up. And I know that there’s been some issues between private campgrounds and provincial or public ones. T

“They’re a little bit of a different situation because a lot of transient workers actually live in private campgrounds during the summer for where they’re working on that. So there’s a couple of different rules, but we’re looking at, you know, hopefully, we can get some of this stuff open up but again, it all depends on on the curve.”

For those just tuning in…when can we get back to work?

“I hear that and one of the frustrating things that I’ve heard and we’ve discussed in caucus is that smaller businesses are closed off, some of the bigger ones are still allowed to operate. And so we have had those discussions where if a small operator wants to follow some protocols, so we’re looking at that and hopefully, some changes coming.

“Like I said before, this is a community effort. We’re all in this together. There’s no doubt about it and nobody’s happy with the situation. But reach out. Like I said, turn out your neighbors. If you’ve got a few extra dollars, don’t hesitate to help a few banks and places like that. They need your help.”

Rural health care has been a big topic lately as we’ve seen several rural physicians sign their resignation or threaten to leave. Your government made an announcement on Friday to address some of those concerns. I know the Official Opposition was hounding the rural MLAs.

“When you talk about the Official Opposition, I’m glad that they’ve finally taken an interest in rural health care. It wasn’t necessarily the case for the last four years, other than we got the dialysis unit opened up in Lac La Biche, so I’ll give kudos to Sarah Hoffman for working with me on that.

“But other than that, Mr. Shepherd’s [NDP health critic] been quite active on a Twitter scene, but he was pretty silent for the four years when he was in government.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on ever since I got elected in 2015. Doctor recruitment and retention in rural Alberta has been top of my list, all the way through. I worked with Minister Shandro when the changes came out, and talked to him to address some of the issues with some of our local doctors and some of our rural MLAS and he listened.

“It’s unfortunate I got over the last few weeks, you can imagine I had some pretty nasty emails put my way about not standing up, but I was working behind the scenes and when you’ve got the confidence of the minister to go public and start dealing with it in the public–it’s not the answer.

“So I hope some of those people that sent those emails, we did send them a response with the announcement. And my apologies for not being able to give you the answers you needed last week or two weeks ago, but we were working on it and making sure that we got the change that we needed so that we can continue to attract doctors out here and retain them once they get here.”

Do you feel better about the stability of rural health care after these changes?

“I guess I’d have to have to say that, but as late as a couple of weeks ago, I was in conversations with the minister, and quite confident that we were going to see some changes. So, like I said, I just couldn’t share that with the public and with my rural doctors, it’s one of those things when you’ve got the confidence and the ear of a minister, you want to work with them and come up with a solution, which is what we did.

“Myself and a bunch of my rural caucus mates, doctors sitting and meeting with the minister, coming up with a plan that would work and benefit rural physicians, especially. It’s no secret for anybody that’s lived in Alberta for the last 20 years that even if you’re in Edmonton and Calgary, you’ve seen the news stories that retention and getting doctors out into rural Alberta has been an issue.

“I don’t think anybody is going to find a problem with us increasing the ability for doctor recruitment and retention in rural Alberta. It’s a very important thing. It’s important to our rural residents. We have every right to good quality primary care whether you live in Bonnyville or Edmonton.”

What if these measures are too little too late?

“I would ask those doctors to come and talk to me and work with us, right? There’s no secret that some of the doctors were planning on leaving anyway, it happens all the time.

“But those doctors that were sitting on the fence and saw this issue as the straw that broke the camel’s back–I just wish that they would be patient and if they have a particular issue, come and talk to me.”

New sportsfishing regulations came out April 1, I understand you were a part of some of these changes, what should someone take away from this year’s regulations?

“This was something when I was representing Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills–the Lac La Biche area and the frustration out there, the number of meetings, town halls that we had over those four years and then we’re gonna make absolutely no changes.

“As a matter of fact, when regulations came out in 2019, they were closed more lakes then before. So I was very happy that the Minister entrusted me and a couple of my colleagues with looking at regulations and what we can do with lakes.

“We opened up some lakes that haven’t been open for 20 years, we’ve changed some from a tank system to a slot system, so if you weren’t lucky enough to get a tag for that lake, you can still go fish in that lake. Lac La Biche is one of those.

“Well actually–hopefully, if we can get through this COVID-19 issue–this may be the first time in many, many years that they actually serve walleye from Lac La Biche at the senior’s fish fry during Powwow Days which would be, to me, would be absolutely ecstatic.

“I can’t wait to get up there and join those folks with that…not every lake that I wanted opened up got open. But next year is another year, we’re going to work toward getting those lakes opened up. So if people have a particular water body that they’re concerned about, they can reach out to me and we will do what we can to make sure we get those changes.

“One of the big ones that I’m looking at is Wolf Lake, I’d like to get that taken away from the tag system to a slots-system for next year.”

Is there anything new to report on ID349?

“I went down to Minister Madu’s office to talk to his chief of staff and I’ve been assured that the first week of May we’ll have an answer.

First week of May?

“That’s as far as I can go…there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t contact the office to try and try and get through. There’s a lot of things on the plate right now…I thank my local municipalities for being patient with it. But I’m doing my best.”

Could it be major changes we see with ID349? Could we see communities that are currently in the deal, no longer in the deal?

“I was quite honest when I was campaigning, that I was looking for a better deal for the entire region for 349 funding. And I’ll just leave it at that.”

More money, you mean? Better deal meaning more money?

“A better deal for the entire region.”


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.