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City to ask about family doctor on municipal election ballot

Voters casting their ballots in the Cold Lake municipal election in October will have a few extra questions to answer.

COLD LAKE - The City of Cold Lake will be looking for more information than just who you're voting for in the upcoming municipal election.

In addition to casting your ballot to determine who will sit on city council on Oct. 18, voters will be asked to give some insight on their current family physician status. 

“In the municipal election there’s an opportunity to have a plebiscite, or posing non-binding questions for the municipality, that may be some areas of importance,” explained CAO Kevin Nagoya during a special council meeting on Tuesday, July 27. 

“I don’t normally recommend having plebiscites just to have a plebiscite, it should have some community importance," he added. 

Plebiscites are non-mandatory questions posed to voters. They're listed on the ballot and must be written in a format that allows for a yes-or-no answer. 

City administration was recommending asking residents to confirm if they have a family doctor in the community, if they have tried getting a family doctor in the area, and if they want a family doctor in Cold Lake. 

“Administration’s advice is to keep it simple. I think pending on the outcome of the information received through these questions... being on the municipal ballot, I think council can tailor a municipal census program and some questions that will go down and into further detail once you draw some initial conclusions and information that is sought here and help you refine how you want to target those questions next year in a municipal census,” Nagoya explained after Coun. Vicky Lefebvre asked if there was a more accurate way of gathering the information. 

“I think we will struggle here at this point because there are lots of questions you can ask, and that’s what happens here is you could almost start asking question 1 a, b, c, and 2 a, b, c, and you could really start going at it. But, at the onset, what is the high-level, quick answer, yes or no questions?” continued Nagoya. “Then you have some initial reaction, you have some initial information, and you can tailor your municipal census program, if council approves, some more detailed questions around the information and facts that you have."

Nagoya also noted posing the questions on the ballot was cost-effective. 

Coun. Bob Buckle said, “I think the opportunity to gather this information is valuable and I think as long as it’s tagged in with a post-action plan, or follow-up by council of the day, the election would be appropriate."

Buckle noted asking those casting their ballots, which in previous years has varied from 25 to 16 per cent of eligible voters, would give a good indication of "how much, if any, of a concern (physician recruitment) ought to be."

“I am just commenting on the inferences and conclusions that could be drawn by getting 16 or 25 per cent of the population. That still is a fairly significant poll sample for this community... I think you can extrapolate and get a pretty good feel if you had a forced answer from 16 or 20 per cent of the population,” he outlined. 

There was one question that will remain unanswered that Coun. Duane Lay felt was important. 

“I do have one concern that has been brought up to me repeatedly. That is people that have a doctor don’t have access to that doctor,” he stressed. “I don’t know how we address that in this question, but I think it’s also a problem. It’s not a problem for every doctor, but some of the doctors are overwhelmed."

He added, “Yeah, you have a family doctor, but if you can't access them, do you really have a family doctor?” 

The issue with posing this question on the ballot, Coun. Jurgen Grau said, is council doesn't want to appear to be singling out certain doctors. 

Council decided to keep it simple and ask three questions: Do you have a family doctor in Cold Lake? Have you tried getting a family doctor in Cold Lake? Do you want a family doctor in Cold Lake?

This, Nagoya said, is a starting point and will give council some data that Alberta Health Services (AHS) hasn't in the past. 

“AHS isn’t really forthcoming with data from the community, and in your lobbying efforts, they’ve regarded keeping information and statistics very close to their chest,” he explained, adding council has been told time and time again over the years that there simply isn't a problem. 

“I think it’s time to start trying to find out what this information actually is in order for you to hone down on the issues as a community and to draw some more further conclusions," stated Nagoya.