While drafting the United Conservatives’ first budget, Alberta’s finance minister took “a very thoughtful and measured approach.”
That’s the view of Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf.
“I’m really proud of the work the finance minister, the premier and the caucus did on this budget,” he said in an interview.
“I think it’s going to set the pattern for the next four years.”
Thursday afternoon, Finance Minister Travis Toews tabled a $58.7-billion budget for 2019-20. While providing a one per cent increase for health care, he is freezing the public education budget for the next three years.
His budget also contains funding cuts of five per cent for colleges and universities, along with higher tuition fees and higher interest rates on student loans.
Cities and towns will receive less financial help than previous Conservative and NDP governments provided.
Agriculture, parks and environment, fish and wildlife budgets are also being cut, but funding will remain stable for programs helping Albertans with special needs.
And Neudorf says the government is increasing support for mental health and addiction services. He’s waiting to see if opioid rehabilitation and supported housing projects will proceed in Lethbridge as previously indicated.
Poppy fund kicks off
Royal Canadian Legion General Stewart Branch kicked off its annual Poppy Fund campaign Oct. 24 with the hope all local residents will take it on themselves to give generously and proudly display their gratitude for the service of veterans in the community.
“Through the support of those (participating) businesses we generate a number of donations,” confirms Pat McIntosh, Royal Canadian Legion General Stewart Branch Poppy Committee chair. “Those donations are used first and foremost to support veterans in our community who are in need of support. That could be in the form of food, shelter, clothing, medication or medical appliances. If there is a veteran in need in the community, they will be serviced.”
About 430 local businesses will be hosting poppy boxes in Lethbridge, Coaldale, Magrath, Raymond and Stirling on behalf of the Poppy Fund throughout the season of Remembrance leading up to Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
Not only is it a chance to give support to local veterans in need of care, says McIntosh, it is also a simple and beautiful gesture to pay tribute to all of Canada’s veterans in very personal way.
The Conservative Party painted Lethbridge blue once again on Oct. 21 as local Member of Parliament Rachael Harder was re-elected in a landslide by more than 30,000 votes over her nearest opponent.
Harder was beaming as she walked through the doors to be greeted excitedly by her supporters at the Paradise Canyon Golf Resort. And even as the national election results pointed to a Liberal minority government, Harder said her supporters locally should be proud of the values they hold, values of supporting families, upholding community, helping those in need, being good neighbours, and thinking about future generations.
“I believe what we have witnessed today is a declaration from the Constituency of Lethbridge, the people who call this place home,” she said. “And that declaration was this: that they are proud of their conservative values. They are proud of being Conservative politically. So this day is much less about me, and it is much more about you. About you, and what your family stands for. It is about freedom. It is about a strong economy. It is about respecting the rule of law. It is about moving forward for a future of prosperity. It is about building positive relationships with other countries around the globe. It is about taking care of seniors and families, and those who are marginalized.
Views differ on vote
Two political leaders, two contrasting responses.
Following the Oct. 21 federal election, Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf predicts challenging times ahead.
For Mayor Chris Spearman, however, the Liberals’ return — though in a minority situation — means ongoing funds for much-needed infrastructure projects.
Whether those federal grants will be matched by provincial funds, however, will be revealed when Alberta’s provincial budget is announced Thursday.
Justin Trudeau and the Liberals did better than he’d expected, Spearman said Tuesday. That should mean action on the party’s plans to continue supporting infrastructure projects in cities and towns across the nation.
For Lethbridge, the mayor said, the top priorities for federal grants are upgrades to the city’s airport and affordable housing. Both Calgary and Edmonton have recently been given large grants for their infrastructure priorities.
“If other communities are getting funds, so should Lethbridge,” the mayor said.
By attracting provincial and federal grants — basically, returning some of the money local citizens pay in taxes to senior levels of government — Spearman said communities can complete important projects like the transit terminal and the Yates Centre upgrades for 25 or 30 cents on the dollar.
“That’s a good deal for the taxpayer.”
For Neudorf, the federal election results look more like a setback than an opportunity.
“There will be some very challenging days ahead of us,” he said in an interview.
With a Liberal government holding onto control in Ottawa, Neudorf said Alberta’s Conservative government will step up its defence of the province’s energy industries.
“We’re resolved to fight for Alberta as never before.”
The province’s new Canadian Energy Centre will be a focus of that campaign, he added.
Flu clinic opens
Alberta Health Services is encouraging local residents to get their flu shots to avoid serious illness and protect those in the community who are most vulnerable.
“There are many different venues where people can get vaccines,” said lead medical officer for the AHS South Zone, Dr. Vivien Suttorp, who spoke to reporters at the Main Pavilion of Exhibition Park where the first public flu shot clinic of the season was being held on Tuesday. “There are pharmacies which provide vaccine. There are many primary-care physicians who provide vaccine. Also at Public Health and in these clinics. Children under five are immunized through Public Health, and that is why today you see a lot of families here with children getting their vaccines.”
Suttorp reminded the public that influenza is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, especially for young children who are too young to receive flu shots, seniors and those with compromised immune systems.
“Influenza virus is kind of sneaky and smart,” she explained. “It changes over time, and annually the makeup of the vaccine is slightly different. So we need that booster dose every year.”
Police offer assurance
With many Lethbridge residents feeling anxious about a recent spate of violent and random crimes in the city, Lethbridge Police Service Acting Chief Scott Woods says the public can feel assured his officers are doing their utmost to get the situation in hand.
“This has been a trend of aggressive and irrational behaviour we have seen as of lately, and I would just like to assure the community and the citizens of Lethbridge that we the police are working diligently and tirelessly to apprehend any offenders responsible for some of these incidents.”
Over the past 72 hours there has been an alleged child abduction attempt, an alleged abduction at knifepoint, two alleged shooting incidents and an alleged attempted carjacking, also at knifepoint.
Woods says he understands why the public might be feeling anxious given this list of incidents, but he has faith in his officers and says more arrests will be forthcoming soon.
“Within the police service many of our people are moms and dads as well, and share the same concerns,” he explains. “They have the same concerns for their children going to and from school. What is important for the public to know is I have the utmost confidence in the officers in this police service, and in our investigative teams and our officers that respond to these situations. I think we have things (on these recent incidents) in hand; although it may not seem like it to some currently because of the lack of details. But we are working, and making a lot of progress, on these investigations.”
Still true blue
Once again Alberta is on the outside, looking in. Alberta voters returned 33 Conservative candidates to Ottawa on Oct. 21, shutting out the Liberals in the four seats they’d hoped to retain.
As of press time, only Heather McPherson, the New Democrats’ candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona, appeared likely to prevent a complete Conservative sweep.
But Albertans will have no cabinet minister to represent them — the same situation they created when Pierre Trudeau returned to power in 1980.
As predicted, the Lethbridge constituency also remained Conservative, just as it has since 1958 when Deane Gundlock became the first in a succession of Conservative or Reform representatives. Rachael Harder garnered 66 per cent of the vote this time — and in adjacent ridings Conservatives did even better, taking solid leads in the Foothills, Bow River and Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner constituencies.
Those results came as no surprise to Faron Ellis, political scientist at Lethbridge College. They closely resembled the findings of the recent Citizen Society Research Lab, directed by Ellis, which found 64 per cent of decided Alberta voters were planning to vote Conservative.
But now Alberta will have no representation in Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet, Ellis points out. And with the federal Conservatives losing two elections in a row, the future is uncertain for leader Andrew Scheer.
CRH gifted with teepee
Chinook Regional Hospital received a special gift of a new healing teepee on Oct. 22 designed by local Piikani and Kainai elders to help all patients in their journeys back toward health and well-being.
Designed by Elders Morris Little Wolf, Peter Strikes With A Gun, Winston Wadsworth and William Crow Chief, the inclusive space is intended to create strong bridges of understanding and new relations between Alberta Health Services, local Indigenous peoples and the broader South Zone community.
“This is to help people who are sick,” stated Wadsworth who presided over the transfer of rights ceremony for the teepee at the hospital on Tuesday with Little Wolf. “To help them on their journey to get over their sickness. When people come in here and they want to smudge, it’s for everybody, this teepee.”
The sacred images painted on the side of the teepee came from conversations between AHS staff and the four elders, and by Blackfoot tradition must be formally transferred to the recipient with a special ceremony before going into use. “We’re very excited and honoured by a teepee rights-transfer ceremony,” said Cai-Lei Matsumoto, senior adviser on Indigenous health programs in the AHS South Zone. “It is something we started during Indigenous Peoples’ Week back in June.”
Duplication affects social work
Many organizations in the city working on crucial social issues such as poverty and homelessness are duplicating their efforts, says Martin Thomsen, manager of Community Social Development with the City of Lethbridge, and thus are not having as great an effect as they might wish in addressing community health and well-being.
“We did a very robust social mapping aspect,” says Thomsen, referring to the recommendations coming out of the Lethbridge Community Well-being Needs Assessment Report presented to city council earlier this year, “and we have determined we have a lot of programs in Lethbridge and across Canada that are addressing safety and social well-being. It is a lack of that system planning and integration of those programs — without that you have raft duplication and a lot of gaps, and a lot of money being spent and we’re not really effectively measuring them without outcome measurement and so forth.”
Thomsen presented these findings at city council’s Community Issues Committee meeting on Monday. He says his team’s research has revealed about $700 million flows into the community every year for charitable disposition through non-profit organizations on top of what the City and province spend in funding to address social issues of concern, but the money is scattered piecemeal amongst so many organizations and programs it isn’t concentrated to the effect it should be.
“There is a lot of charitable dollars in our community,” he confirms. “We want to make sure they are hitting the mark.
A clean sweep downtown
It’s still October, but already more than 1,000 bags of leaves have been removed from downtown streets.
Leaves are still falling — and they’re still being picked up, thanks to a business-supported service provided by the Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone.
And this year, Clean Sweep workers’ efforts are being assisted by local Canadian Tire stores’ donation of 1,000 leaf collection bags. “This is a great community partnership between Canadian Tire, the Downtown BRZ, Community and Social Development and the Heart of Our City committee,” says Ted Stilson, executive director at the BRZ, in a news release.
“This initiative helps to ensure that leaves are being bagged properly, efficiently and are diverted to the compost area at the landfill site through the City of Lethbridge’s waste department.
“We are very excited to be partnering with our local Canadian Tire stores on this worthwhile and impactful initiative, both socially and environmentally.”
Whether it is collecting leaves in the fall, shovelling snow in the winter, sweeping up sand and gravel in the spring or picking up trash throughout the year, Stilson says Clean Sweep participants work diligently, starting at 6 a.m. weekdays before businesses open to ensure the downtown area is maintained.
Charges laid in crime spree
City residents were breathing a sign of relief on Thursday after the Lethbridge Police Service confirmed it had arrested and charged one man for a series of violent crimes which which shook the city over a five-day period.
“Early into the investigation we did believe there was potential links between these occurrences,” confirmed Insp. Jason Walper of Criminal Investigation Division, “but unfortunately, although we always want to be able to share the information with the community, we also have to take into account the investigation in ensuring the integrity of the police investigation. We hope (this arrest) has caused the fear levels in the community to go down.”
Cory Ray Williams, 40, of Lethbridge, who is previously known to police, is charged with kidnapping, two counts of assault with a weapon, flight from police, dangerous driving, uttering threats, robbery, attempted kidnapping, break and enter and commit theft of motor vehicle, and attempted robbery.
Pertussis cases double
The number of confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, has doubled in the past week as the recent outbreak continues to grow throughout southern Alberta.
There have been 31 confirmed cases of pertussis appearing in just the past three weeks, said Dr. Vivien Suttorp, lead medical officer of health for the AHS South Zone. That’s 16 new cases in just the past week since the last AHS update on the outbreak.
“Fifty-three per cent of our cases this year have appeared in the last three weeks,” she told reporters at a briefing on Thursday morning. “The outbreak has spread from Fort Macleod, County of Lethbridge and Lethbridge areas, (including Raymond), out to Taber, and also out to Bow Island.”
Suttorp said AHS was preparing for many more cases to be confirmed over the next few weeks as the outbreak continues to expand.
“With 31 cases in the past three weeks, that implies there are many more cases out there,” she said.
“The numbers you see, and what we talk about, reflect the tip of the iceberg. The most important thing is to know whooping cough is here, and to protect yourselves and your family.”