BONNYVILLE – Municipal leaders in Bonnyville and Cold Lake are hopeful 2021 shapes up to be a better year than 2020.
With the COVID-19 pandemic grinding many events and activities to a halt, it has a number of elected officials counting the minutes down until the new year. The negatives did outweigh the positives for local elected officials, but there were still a few shining moments to reflect on.
For Town of Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski, one fond memory in 2020 was seeing residents rally together from afar.
“The strengthening of the community and the resolve in the community to beat this COVID-19, and not a lot of pushback when it came to having to implement certain strategies to try and beat this thing" was a positive, said the mayor. “Early on, with the closures of the parks, pool, and things like that. Then, later on in the second phase, we have the masking and things like that. People just want to beat this thing and put it behind us.”
Another positive from the year for Sobolewski was seeing closure with respect to ID 349 funding.
MD of Bonnyville Reeve Greg Sawchuk agreed, “That was big for the entire region. For the Village of Glendon, town, the City of Cold Lake, and for the sustainability of those municipalities. The very fact that we were all able to come together and sign something was truly historic.”
City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland noted the agreement couldn’t have been reached without the MD of Bonnyville and Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson.
“They were really the key people involved in getting a conclusion on the file,” he said.
Another highlight for both Sobolewski and Sawchuk was the progress made on the regional waterline in 2020. Although the project won’t officially be completed until the new year, significant steps were taken for Cold Lake water to be flowing from the taps within town.
With the coronavirus hitting Alberta hard in March 2020, it forced everyone to adapt in ways they may not have before.
“The one good thing that came out in regards to COVID-19 was that we had to respond to our residents in a new way,” noted Sawchuk. “That was going to be virtual with putting our council meetings out there for everyone to see.”
Sobolewski wasn’t a stranger to patching into meetings online when he wasn’t able to be there face-to-face. When the demand for virtual platforms increased, he was glad to see the platforms improving throughout the year. He noted that financial savings have been realized with less driving and physical attendance at meetings.
"You could attend virtually from your office without leaving the building.”
Healthcare professionals and first responders were true heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, stated Copeland.
“Our healthcare workers have been on the front lines of this since the very beginning,” said Sawchuk. “They are right there doing the swabbing and vaccinations... I want to send out a huge amount of credit to them. I know that it has been very stressful because the world for them has changed on a regular basis and then seeing the emotional burden that they’ve had to bear during this time so if anyone can reach out to their local healthcare workers to give them a big thanks, that’s what we should all be doing.”
Sobolewski added, “It seems trite and insignificant for the amount of work that they do, but I want to say a hearty thank you for being on the front line and taking the greatest risk than any of us in exposure to this virus and doing the selfless work that they do.”
Hopeful the new year will bring new tidings
When asked what they were hoping for in 2021 Sobolewski, Copeland, and Sawchuk all shared the same vision - COVID-19 being under control and getting the economy going again.
“I’m looking forward to everyone in Cold Lake who wants to get a (COVID-19) vaccine to get one,” said Copeland.
Along with an increase in demand for Alberta oil, Sobolewski was also hoping to see the municipality expand on the driving forces of the local economy.
“Focusing on tourism and things like that so we’re not so heavily reliant on oil. I’m looking forward to that, especially the tourism market.”
The regional waterline is expected to be completed early in the new year, which was positive for Sobolewski.
“We’re edging closer to being able to fill our glasses with Cold Lake water and toast the fact that project has come to a close. I’ve been dealing with that one since 2004,” he noted.
Although the holidays may have looked different, the local municipal leaders wished all of their residents a happy holiday season.
“Christmas definitely looked different this year,” noted Sawchuk. “Everyone looked for ways to reach out to their loved ones in a different manner. We encourage people to follow the guidelines that have been put into place by the health minister. We’re trying to keep everybody as healthy as possible throughout this process and the quicker we get through it, the quicker that we can get back to normal.”
Sobolewski stressed the importance of not gathering at this time.
“When we put COVID-19 behind us, it’s going to seem smaller and smaller, but right now let’s try and endure and enjoy the holidays for what they are. I know I’m going to have lots of leftovers but let’s take the time to celebrate the meaning of Christmas and take some time for a vacation, to unwind, and to have a few laughs. New Years will be one of those times that even though we won’t be able to celebrate as a group and scream and yell as one big party, we’ll just have to have several, successful little parties and we’ll still scream and holler virtually.”