City council received an update on its advocacy concerns at Wednesday’s (Aug. 23) Committee of the Whole meeting.
The city’s advocacy updates included work on electricity distribution and transmission rates, attraction and retention of healthcare workers, local government funding framework, industrial attraction, improved rail services, daycare shortages and housing funding.
A preliminary report commissioned by the city to compare the costs of the ATCO service area in the north compared to the service area in the south is expected to be presented to city council in the fall, said Rory Tarrant, city intergovernmental affairs director.
“In Edmonton (and) Calgary, transmission and distribution costs are anywhere from $400 to $800 for an average home in those areas compared to almost $1,500 in the ATCO service area, which Grande Prairie is part of; so a significant disparity,” he said.
Tarrant said city administration needs more time to analyze the report before releasing it publicly but noted some preliminary findings.
“We will be taking the report and distilling it a little bit more and presenting it to a future date with some of the numbers available, and then we’ll certainly put that into our advocacy and work with the province.”
Tarrant said a roundtable meeting with local health officials on Aug. 24 discussed current actions being taken by different organizations to attract and retain medical professionals in the area.
An event thanking local physicians is happening at Muskoseepi Park, where council will have an opportunity to speak with physicians and ensure the city is meeting physicians’ needs, said Tarrant.
The city will also be at the University of Alberta’s medical school orientation week, letting students know of the opportunities in the Grande Prairie area including residencies, higher rates of pay and additional grants and bursaries.
Subhed: Local government funding
Tarrant said an update on the local government funding framework is coming as Ric McIver, minister of municipal affairs, Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis), and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).
“Unfortunately, a lot of their conversations are still embargoed,” said Tarrant.
“So we’re not able to receive what the funding formulas that they’ve been negotiating are so far.”
Focus on industry
For industrial attraction, the city is partnering with the County of Grande Prairie and MD of Greenview to create a Northwest Alberta energy evening at the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary on Sept. 20.
Improved rail services
The city met with CN senior executives to discuss its strategies, particularly in the winter months.
The city’s advocacy priorities say “the unevenly deployed resources, insufficient seasonal service, and unreliable capacity of Northern Alberta’s rail network have led to a breakdown in equitable railcar service, leaving industry and communities struggling to export and import goods.”
The city helped form the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA) consisting of 32 municipalities and industry associations who say the rail service is inequitable, undeployed and undersupplied in the region.
“They’re (CN) meeting their targets and targets set by the federal government,” said Tarrant.
“They don’t provide the statistics for us regionally,” he said but noted discrepancies could lie in northwestern Alberta; he said they are pushing to have those local statistics available.
”Certainly, from a lot of the members, it feels that that gap is disproportionately affecting northern Alberta,“ said Tarrant.
“One of the key takeaways was that there are a number of federal policies that are hampering and hindering CN and exasperating some of their labour challenges, and so we’ve agreed to look at a number of their advocacy priorities and see if there’s something that as a group the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA) can help advocate for them.”
Tarrant says the city has met with nearly every daycare provider in the city to find where gaps and challenges exist.
He said labour shortages are the critical issue.
“Part of the advocacy is looking at wage top-ups, so the province does currently provide a bit of wage top-ups, but many providers say that is not adequate and that an increased wage top-up would help them attract more workers.”
An additional issue facing daycares is the time it takes the province to license facilities; according to Tarrant, some facilities are waiting up to one year from the time of submitting an application to finally receiving approval.
He noted the number of applications had increased dramatically since the $10-a-day childcare announcements from the federal government.
Funding for housing needs is an ongoing issue, said Tarrant, noting inflation and the affordability crisis.
“There has been a huge increase (in the) push for incentivization of housing in order to bring some of those building costs down and enable the projects to go forward,” he said.
Tarrant said the city is working on the federal housing accelerator fund that he said would incentivize new builds and ensure municipalities change development systems to provide more long-term solutions.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 31, 2023