More than 50 people filled the Seniors Society in Cold Lake for a town hall meeting hosted by MP Brian Storseth on Oct. 12. He said the meeting's purpose was to hear the issues and priorities of community members and to urge everyone to work together on solving those issues.
The meeting was an informal question and answer session between Storseth and people residing in the Lakeland area. Several questions were raised regarding difficulties communicating with government, as well as a lack of foreign workers. The most pressing issue though, seemed to be the animosity between Cold Lake and Bonnyville created by the perceived imbalance in community funding.
Storseth made it clear that infrastructure funding, is out of federal jurisdiction. “My first priority is to put in tax cuts” to get more money into the pockets of the residents. “When the money is available, I will fight to bring it here.”
But he said none of this matters if we do not work together. “We are all affected by similar issues that can be dealt with together,” Storseth said.
Many citizens felt it was difficult to be heard by government when voicing issues or requesting information. Others took issue with the amount of automated, impersonal services the government offers and the excess of red tape and bureaucrats.
“It's a problem we're dealing with in the bureaucracy,” Storseth said, urging those with issues to call him personally or to write to him. “I'll bring issues forward for you, to get them resolved,” he added.
The lack of foreign workers and the perceived upcoming influx of work in Alberta was another topic discussed. Many business owners foresee a labour shortage without an increase in foreign workers.
Storseth said, “What you're talking about is specific immigration reform…anytime you talk about immigration reform it becomes a hot button topic.” Right now immigration is on a first come, first served basis, with a significant backlog of immigrants waiting to enter Canada. Storseth said one problem is that “other countries are picking from our waiting list.” He agreed that foreign workers are needed in Alberta and a valuable resource for a growing economy.
“Our government has recognized there is an issue,” Storseth reassured the crowd. He said, as a start, the government must focus on the economic benefits of foreign workers and changes to immigration must be done incrementally through all levels of government. “We need provinces to get on side…and you guys have to stay engaged” on the issue.
With water being a current issue locally and globally, a question was raised about the federal government's involvement in water licences in Alberta. Both testing and distribution of water have become worries for many citizens. Storseth made it clear the federal government is not involved in licences to distribute water, “It's provincial jurisdiction 100 per cent.” But he and the federal government did agree that it is not right to use industry scientists rather than independent scientists when testing water quality. That is why Environment Minister Jim Prentice has appointed new, independent scientists to do water testing in the oil sands, Storseth said, adding, it's “to ensure the use of the best, most sound science.”
One of the few truly federal issues raised at the meeting concerned the purchasing of new fighter jets – the F35. However, the majority of those attending the meeting, including Storseth, appeared to agree that the jets were the best thing for Canada and would have a tremendous upside economically for Cold Lake and the surrounding area. Storseth said this should not be a partisan issue, adding, the government should not always be looking for the best bargain. “We want to put our guys in the best equipment possible.”
Denis Dery, a semi-retired teacher and rancher, and long-time MD of Bonnyville and town resident who attended the meeting, said the evening was effective because Storseth got to hear the major issues from people living in the area. But Dery believed this was the wrong venue. “He is here to talk about federal issues and we bombarded him with municipal and local issues.”
Dery acknowledged it is difficult to organize a meeting with all three levels of government. But he said, local representatives and the MLA should be involved in meetings like this for them to be more effective.
Earlier in the day, Storseth announced moves by the Government of Canada to improve the well-being of Canada's veterans. Most notably this included additional support of $52.5 million over the next five years, to go towards establishing a Legacy of Care for seriously injured Canadian Forces personnel and their families.