BONNYVILLE – Kicking off the Town of Bonnyville’s regular council meeting on Sept. 12 was an open dialogue with Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Scott Cyr.
During the delegation, council members spoke openly with their provincial representative about ongoing concerns and issues they would like to see provincial support for.
The conversation jumped from regional representation on Alberta Health Services (AHS) boards, to creating local training opportunities for healthcare and trades, as well as advocacy for Highway 28 improvements and a new pool.
“I am sure that the council has some questions about where [the Government of Alberta is] going and what is happening in Edmonton. And I really want to hear what your concerns are so that I can bring those concerns to the Premier herself,” Cyr said.
Coun. Brian McEvoy, who sits on the Bonnyville Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee, shared that the committee and Covenant Health have been working extremely hard to find creative solutions to address department closures and short staffing.
“One of the things that came out of the doctor recruitment meeting was, we are not getting a lot of success getting directly to the Minister of Health,” expressed McEvoy. “I was wondering if you could help us arrange meetings with the Minister of Health [Adriana LaGrange] and the Reeve of the MD and the Mayor of the Town."
Cyr noted that he has a meeting booked with the Minister of Health during the UCP Caucus Retreat, which took place just days following the council meeting. He said he would present her with a letter from council. Cyr added that his meeting was specific to doctor recruitment, aligning with council's priorities.
Grateful for the MLA’s advocacy, McEvoy shared that the Bonnyville hospital is still facing 40 per cent shortages in nursing, cancelled operating rooms and inequities when it comes to recruiting doctors, compared to urban centres.
“These shortages are distressing for all of us,” responded Cyr. “The wait times that we are seeing in our emergency rooms right now are anywhere from three hours to eight hours. That is not something that I would consider access to healthcare. And I can tell you that I'm looking to make sure that we start to resolve that.”
Cyr went on to say that having opportunities to train medical staff in the community, creating more capacity in clinics rather than emergency rooms, and processing foreign doctors’ applications at the same speed as urban centres, are all priorities he plans to discuss with the minister.
Having a voice in AHS decisions
Coun. Phil Kushnir sought information on local and regional representation on AHS boards, acknowledging a move by the province to decentralize decision-making.
“What I would like to see is that we could still have a voice,” said Kushnir.
Cyr pointed to Premier Smith’s mandate letter to the Minister of Health.
“[LaGrange] was directed by the Premier to decentralize [AHS]. The minister is exploring all the routes right now. She has been very clear that she hasn't decided on a pathway quite yet, but she is looking at it,” he said.
The letter also asks the ministry to “[Work] with municipalities, post-secondary institutions, doctors, and allied health providers to identify strategies to attract and retain health care workers to rural Alberta.”
Cyr followed by saying, “I want to see representation here, and I don't even feel we have it now. I don't think it's something we can lose because we don't have it. So, I look forward to seeing a model that we can all contribute towards.”
Addressing trades shortages by improving RAP programs
With a significant need for qualified trades workers in the area, Coun. Byron Johnson inquired about the state of the Registered Apprentice Program (RAP) in local high schools.
“The RAP program at the high schools seems to have fallen off a lot and I don't know if it's to do with funding from the provincial government or allocating funding elsewhere. But I think that's a program that could get kids seeded in in trades early,” shared Johnson. “It keeps kids in high school maybe a little bit longer so they can get their diploma. It's a golden opportunity, especially in areas like ours.”
Cyr agreed. “I am aware that for our local region, a lack of the program seems to be harming our local kids... I will bring that to the ministers’ attention, both education and post-secondary, to see if we can come to some synergy.”
The MLA went on to say that he would like to see Portage College programming return to Bonnyville. “I was hoping that maybe the mayor and council could write a letter to my office stating that they'd like to see some trades back at the local C2 Center.”
Cyr said it was during his previous term in office, between 2015-2019, that Portage programs operating in Bonnyville had ceased.
“It is important that our children have access to trades – and the further they travel, the less likely they're going to be going down that road,” said Cyr.
Support for a new pool
Mayor Elisa Brosseau shared that the Town has submitted a grant application for the construction of a new aquatic centre with the federal government.
“We have passed the first hurdle. So, we're hoping to hear around Christmas time whether we've been accepted or not. At that point, we would look for provincial support on helping us with this initiative,” she said.
“For us, we will use it as an economic driver... whether it's sports tourism or tourists, or helping with doctor recruitment. The more that we can offer for newcomers, the better.”
Cyr said that growing recreation opportunities throughout the constituency is a priority. He noted that when the municipality is ready to seek support for the new pool from the province, he would be more than willing to provide a letter of support for the project.
Decommissioning of water plant
Now that the Town of Bonnyville is connected to the regional waterline, bringing clean drinking water from Cold Lake, the municipality no longer has a need for its water treatment plant. The Town is seeking grant opportunities to decommission the water treatment facility and construct a new water reservoir on the east end of town.
“When you are further down that process, I would like to be involved, if possible, to see where we can get support from the province... I'm not suggesting that the province is going to take over the project, but I am saying that it would be nice to see what we can do to help,” said the MLA.
Cyr also suggested that the MD of Bonnyville may have an interest in the water plant slated to be decommissioned.
“I am not here speaking for the MD, but Reeve [Barry] Kalinski was saying that there might be some potential for some synergies there.”
As the back-and-forth dialogue came to a close, Brosseau said, “We really do appreciate your time and coming and meeting with us. I hope we do it on a regular basis to keep the relationship with yourself, your office and the province.”