South Peace News
High Prairie town council discussed priorities and concerns about economic development with an MLA with the Official Opposition Wild- rose Party on Oct. 19.
Improvements to transportation and communications infrastructure were top priorities council shared with Prasad Panda, shadow minister of economic development and trade.
“I wanted to learn more about what the issues are with economic development and how I could help in Opposition,” says Panda, MLA for Calgary-Foothills.
High Prairie was one of several communities he visited on his tour scheduled for Small Business Week, Oct. 16-22. It was his first visit in northwestern Alberta.
“Northwestern Alberta has great potential,” Panda says.
“With the premier, municipal affairs minister [Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee], energy minister and deputy speaker from the northwest, they could bring a lot of development to this area.”
Specifically, council wants improvements to transportation infrastructure, most notably Highway 2, affordable high-speed Internet service, secure funding from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative program, and support for medical services and airports.
“Any conduit into the ‘halls of power’ is an opportunity to bring our issues to the province’s attention,” Town of High Prairie Mayor Linda Cox says.
Some issues cited included better Internet/broadband connectivity, the integrated campus vision, and the difficulty of small businesses accessing the government’s economic development grants.
Council updated Panda on plans for the old site of High Prairie Health Complex regarding a proposed integrated college and high school, with municipal, educational, First Nations, and business and industry partners.
“He has offered to be our voice when needed and he has reached out to council to connect with us if our issues are not being heard by the current government,” says Councillor Debbie Rose, who also serves as the president of the High Prairie and Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We discussed the minimum wage increase and its likely devastating impact on small rural businesses’ ability to keep their doors open.
“We had the opportunity to share with him our concern over the carbon tax and its impact to each home owner and the hit to already-underfunded municipalities.”
He says the local region has a major positive asset despite the provincial economic downturn.
“I’m happy that High Prairie is more stable because oil and gas isn’t the only industry,” Panda says.
“You are more balanced with economic diversification.”
Panda supports plans for a proposed highway to link Peace River in the northwest and Fort McMurray in the northeast.
“If you build transportation infrastructure, economic development and tourism will come,” Panda says.
It would also cut transportation times and costs to service the northern part of the province, he adds.
Referring to the four key MLAs from the northwest, Premier Rachel Notley grew up in Fairview, Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-
Boyd is the MLA for Dunvegan – Central Peace – Notley and lives in Fairview, and Peace River MLA Debbie Jabour is the deputy speaker.