City council renewed its advocacy priorities for 2024 at the March 11 council meeting. 

Priorities include electricity distribution costs, health care supports, medical first response funding, Northwestern Polytechnic support as well as provincial and federal funding for housing needs. 

“As we visit different ministers, whether they’re provincial or federal, we’d like to have a document prepared that highlights the main core priorities, so those five items that were approved today are items that we work on a regular basis, and they are the ones that continually we’re hearing from residents and business owners,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton. 

Health supports will include items such as supporting a catheterization lab and other supports at the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital and local health care training and attraction and retention of health care professionals, said Rory Tarrant, city director of Intergovernmental Affairs.

The Grande Prairie Regional Hospital Foundation updated its advocacy priorities for the hospital, including improving kidney care and cardiac units.

Medical first response advocacy refers to the need for the province to fund fire departments, which are seeing an increase in medical calls while EMS is unavailable. 

In May, Grande Prairie Fire Department (GPFD) Fire Chief Preben Bossen said firefighters are responding to an increase in medical calls. 

Last year, Alberta Health Services EMS told council that staffing, increased call volumes and supply chain issues are some of the challenges it is currently experiencing in the Grande Prairie region.

“We are now seeing a trend where the fire department is being relied on more often for EMS delivery,” said Bossen.

NWP also has a variety of advocacy needs including enrolment rates, health education and student mental health, according to a letter it sent to council earlier this year. 

The city announced on March 7 that its application for the federal Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) was unsuccessful.

Clayton said the city’s rental vacancy rate is about one per cent, which strains other sectors. 

“Access to affordable and expanded housing is significantly interconnected with other community issues, such as labour shortages, recruitment and retention, economic growth and diversity,” said Clayton.

“This shortage persistently challenges us as multifamily housing starts are failing to keep pace with local demand. 

“We urgently need housing support, and the federal government failed to recognize this.”

Additional advocacy 

Council also approved improved rail services, provincial changes to automated traffic enforcement and immigration biometric scanning as its “other priorities.”

The city joined the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA) last year with 15 other municipalities, including the County of Grande Prairie, Saddle Hills, and M.D. of Greenview. 

“The constant challenges accessing equitable, reliable railcar services have resulted in lost economic opportunities,” the CRAA said in a media release last year. 

“Agriculture, petrochemical, oil and gas, forestry, mining, and manufacturing sectors have significantly lost revenues attributed to challenges with railcar service.”

Tarrant said that in 2019, the province released a mandate to change automated traffic enforcement. 

“They’ve been reviewing the program ever since, and it’s left municipalities with some uncertainty so we’re requesting that those changes be brought forth to give us certainty into the future of the program,” said Tarrant. 

He said the city also does not have biometric scanning, which is required for many immigration applications and extensions in the country. The closest facility is in Edmonton.

Coun. Dylan Bressey noted that another city advocacy priority should be the inclusion of Aquatera assets in Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) funding. 

This year, the provincial LGFF funding replaced the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), which provides capital and operating funding to municipalities. 

“I think that you can be confident that yes, we will continue to advocate problems on recognizing those assets in our calculation,” said Clayton.

“Just because you don’t see it here on the list doesn’t mean that we’re not necessarily making it a priority any given day; there’s a combination of those things and many others that get worked on in regards to advocacy.”

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 21, 2024 at 08:50

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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