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Hanson reflects on another challenging year

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LAKELAND - Looking back one year ago, Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson says he was optimistic heading into 2021. After a tough 2020, highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, many thought 2021 would offer a different experience.

But, much of the year proved to be a continuation of the same challenges, and while he says he tries not to be negative, Hanson acknowledges that 2021 was disappointing in the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has continued on, and businesses have continued to struggle. 

Speaking in mid-December, Hanson said he was concerned about what was being seen in Eastern Canada, as the Omicron variant was spreading.

It’s pretty frightening," said Hanson, nothing, "It always comes down to our health care capacity." And healthcare is certainly one of the top issues the Lakeland-area MLA has been hearing about over the past year. 

With "temporary" bed closures and service disruptions being experienced in St. Paul, Elk Point, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and Lac La Biche, no region has been immune to what Alberta Health Services (AHS) has noted is a shortage of healthcare staff. From nurses to anaesthetists, the shortages have resulted in challenges in affected communities, and extra pressure in neighbouring facilities. 

Hanson was also openly critical of AHS, saying work has been ongoing at the grassroots level, and healthcare shortages are nothing new in the region. He said he has personally asked AHS what the plan was, and municipal politicians have been working hard to improve the situation. 

RELATED STORY - MLA frustrated with healthcare disruptions in the Lakeland

Hanson felt it would be hard to predict how things would look in 2022 "until we get past this critical point through Christmas," acknowledging the holidays were a "really bad time for us to have a super contagious bug flying around."

Speaking to COVID restrictions that have been put in place, shifted, changed, and at times removed, over the past year, Hanson believes there has been plenty of "mixed messaging," specifically when speaking to how the province was "open for summer" but then "shut down in September."

Referring back to healthcare woes in the region, Hanson says the situation was made worse by policy. As much as he says he would like everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19, he has respect for individuals' rights. “It's a tough place to be in politically.”

Getting political 

The past year also saw Hanson speak out against leadership with the UCP on more than one occasion. In May, Hanson was upfront with his support of a letter by MLA Todd Loewen, which asked Premier Jason Kenney to resign.

Loewen did step down as the United Conservative Party's caucus chair, following the release of the letter.

RELATED STORY - Hanson stands behind Loewen's letter calling on Premier to resign

In a late-night post on social media on May 12, Loewen included his letter of resignation to the Premier, and stated, "I will be stepping down as UCP Caucus Chair due to persistent issues of dysfunction within government. I desperately want to save the movement we have all built together and I'm committed to staying, but I believe we must remove the primary source of this dysfunction, Premier Jason Kenney."

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up to leadership, especially a Premier,” said Hanson, when speaking with Lakeland This Week, at the time. Hanson commended Loewen's actions, saying he knew Loewen did not make the decision lightly.

When asked about his own thoughts on the concerns expressed by Loewen, Hanson said, "To be honest, I’ve felt frustration along with a lot of my colleagues.” 

More recently, Hanson was among a small group of UCP MLAs who voted against Bill 81, citing concerns over a portion of the Bill they felt would allow people to purchase party memberships for others, without their consent. 

RELATED STORY - MLA Hanson votes against Bill 81

Hanson, along with two other UCP MLAs, voted against Bill 81, which was presented by their own government, as the fall sitting in the Legislature came to a close in December. 

Bill 81, The Election Statutes Amendment Act, had been in the works for a while, and despite voting against the bill, Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer acknowledged the work put into the bill by Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu. But she, along with Hanson and UCP MLA Richard Gotfried from Calgary-Fish Creek, did not vote in favour of the bill.

In the end, it came down to seven words. At the time, Hanson said he requested an addition be added in the portion that speaks to the ability for individuals to purchase party memberships for other individuals. Hanson asked for the words "with the written consent of that person" be added to the portion of the bill. 

"I don't think it was unreasonable," said Hanson, speaking to fellow MLAs, late in the evening on Dec. 7.

The issue boiled down to the nomination process that takes place prior to an actual election taking place, as candidates are elected from within political parties.

“I’ve taken some heat from leadership as well," said Hanson, when speaking about Bill 81.

Hanson also spent part of 2021 helping cover the Lac La Biche region, after fellow UCP MLA Leila Goodridge stepped away from provincial politics and was successfully elected as the MP for the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake constituency. 

RELATED STORY - Lakeland MLA Hanson continues neighbourly double duty

Education 

When asked about the draft K-6 curriculum, which has also been a contested topic throughout 2021, with the Alberta Teachers' Association and many others speaking out against the document, Hanson says he did hear quite a bit of feedback on the curriculum, with most concerns relating to the Social Studies portion.

Locally, Hanson said he heard mostly from those involved in the teaching profession. He noted there were enough people who stepped forward with concerns to result in the curriculum being looked at again, and to Hanson, that's what the democratic process is about. 

RELATED STORY - Francophone education representatives speak out against draft curriculum

“You have to listen to the input," he said, adding, he was happy the draft curriculum was being reviewed once more.

On Dec. 13, the provincial government announced it would be "moving forward with curriculum renewal" after hearing feedback from Albertans. The renewal will include adjusting curriculum implementation timelines and introducing a new K-6 social studies design blueprint. It will also include updating four subjects: English language arts and literature, fine arts (music), physical education and wellness, and science.

The province also announced there would be opportunity for new engagement on the draft K-6 social studies design blueprint and the draft K-6 curriculum.

Also on the topic of education, Hanson says he supports Bill 85, the Students First Act. The bill received royal assent on Dec. 2, 2021. While there was some opposition to the bill heard on the provincial level, Hanson says he personally only heard good feedback on the local level.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive from the public," he said, adding, he felt the bill was a "step in the right direction." 

Looking forward

Looking ahead, Hanson says he sees the New Year as a time for a new start and he encourages Albertans to "hope for the best."

An upsurge in the price of oil and gas is "quite exciting," he says, acknowledging it is much too early to "spike the football" and celebrate. The service industry closed off 2021 on a tough note, and Hanson hopes businesses can continue to "hang on."

With many people facing ongoing challenges, Hanson encourages his constituents to give if they can. The day he spoke with Lakeland This Week, Hanson says he had been out delivering donations to area food banks after getting approval to use some of his budget for the cause.

“There’s a real need in all areas of the province.”

On a more personal note, Hanson says his holiday plans would be keeping him close to home. He says he feels blessed to have his family nearby and will be enjoying spending time with those closest to him, which includes the newest member of the family - a fourth granddaughter, born on Nov. 17.



Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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