Prairie Post (East Edition)
Mayors of Brooks and Medicine Hat meet to discuss provincial politics
The mayors of the two cities in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding say they’re prepared to work with whomever is elected the region’s MLA early next month, but they’re also prepared to let all candidates in the high-profile vote know what’s on their priorities list.
Premier Danielle Smith is seeking to win a seat in the legislature in the Nov. 8 vote, running against three other candidates, including former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita, now the leader of the Alberta Party.
The vote comes as both cities have launched campaigns to bring in more medical professionals and skilled immigrants, deal with social problems, and are joined in an industrial attraction strategy focused on hydrogen production.
Treasuries in both cities are awaiting a new province-wide infrastructure grant program.
“It’s certainly added some excitement,” said Brooks Mayor John Petrie. “We also don’t know what sort of government that we’ll be working with after (a planned general election in) May 2023.”
His council met after its regular meeting this week to discuss potential priorities, and arrived at a varied list, said Petrie.
Generally, they revolved around health care and economic development. Brooks city hall has a project to expand broadband underway, and there are always infrastructure needs, he said.
“Economic development – getting things going in the region – has got to be up there at No. 1,” he said.
Medicine Hat Mayor Linnsie Clark was less forthcoming about specifics, and stressed the city is a neutral party in the election.
“This council is definitely interested in the visions of the candidates,” said Clark earlier this week. “Of course, we’re dedicated to working with the candidates wherever there is alignment.
“We’ll determine that as the campaign goes on, and we’d like to meet with each of the candidates.”
Her council recently launched an effort to promote the need for more family medical practitioners in the city, something New Democrat candidate Gwendoline Dirk says is a key issue. Her party is highlighting what it says is a need to “stabilize” and improve the relationship with doctors, nurses and teachers.
Medicine Hat is also in talks with local social agencies toward a 24-hour homeless shelter.
Smith, in her first press availability as premier last week, stated that Highway 3 twinning and finalizing a base finding agreement from air ambulance were top priorities in the region.
She also voiced strong support for Hat-based group “Our Collective Journey,” which has received more than $1 million in provincial funding to help address suicide prevention, mental health and addictions problems.
“They’ve been doing good work and we want to support them,” she told the News.
“Medicine Hat is facing a very serious addictions issue, and providing the sort of facility that can provide access to treatment is going to be a priority.”
As for basic understanding of municipal needs, Morishita served as the head of Alberta Municipalities, the working and lobbying group comprising Alberta’s urban municipalities, up until he became Alberta Party leader 2021.
Both Brooks and Medicine Hat are part of a hydrogen hub industrial strategy, and the Hat also recently was awarded pore-space exploration rights toward furthering its carbon capture and sequestration project.
Smith has strongly backed portions of the UCP platform regarding both projects. Independence Party of Alberta candidate Bob Blayone has called for a halt to grants to develop carbon capture hubs. The NDP has a detailed hydrogen policy, while the Alberta Party says development of the clean-burning fuel should be accelerated.
Beyond specific infrastructure projects, the province is also revamping how it distributes general capital construction grants to municipalities. The Municipal Sustainability Initiative will be replaced by the reduced Local Government Fiscal Framework in 2024, but cities and counties are now working on a jointly proposed formula.
“There will be a lot to work to do on that front,” said Petrie, stating he is most interested in how a Smith party-campaign plank of reworking education property taxes – currently collected by cities but forwarded to the province – may affect revenue sharing.