By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 15, 2019.
This month’s ‘From City Hall’ column by Mayor Chris Spearman
Every two years, a team of people who represent several organizations from across the city, head up to Edmonton to promote and increase the advocacy work for Lethbridge. This team is made up of more than 20 organizations which cover industry sectors from education to arts, technology to public service and construction to tourism and more. The purpose of the expedition is meet with members of the provincial legislature and give them an understanding of what opportunities are available in Lethbridge and what local organizations can do to better work with our provincial government.
During our most recent trip, we met with several cabinet ministers and members of staff to further solidify our city as one of the important hubs for economic prosperity and advancement in Alberta. This was an important and productive mission for many reasons, perhaps most obviously due to the recent provincial budget announcement. We want to continue to be seen as a leader in business and in innovation and a good place to invest and do business, and this trip helped us to show just that.
We heard loud and clear from Premier Kenney that his government would be exercising fiscal restraint in this latest budget, and we were prepared for that news. While the budget certainly isn’t ideal, the City of Lethbridge has always prioritized fiscal responsibility and we remain in a good position financially.
While we have seen a reduction in funding of approximately $1.5 million to $2 million, there are still many unknowns about how these reductions and forthcoming announcements may affect Lethbridge. Most notably, the biggest area of concern was a reduction in Municipal Sustainability Initiative capital funding (MSI). This kind of funding supports capital infrastructure projects and is calculated using population data which we have historically collected via our municipal census. The more people you have calling your city home, the more MSI funding you were given.
The provincial government has announced this will no longer be how funding is calculated and it will instead develop a new framework which is yet to be announced. They have indicated that a combination of provincial data and Statistics Canada data may be used moving forward.
On the substance abuse front, there is $40 million outlined for the opioid response although there are no specifics yet on where this will be invested as they relate to Lethbridge. We are hopeful that some of this funding will make its way to Lethbridge as we have shown to be a community that is in great need on this issue.
There is $50 million dedicated to law enforcement along with 50 new prosecutors and programs to reduce rural crime. We hope to see this means a translation into the much-needed SCAN resources in our community.
While this budget shows restraint, we believe we can keep making progress in partnership with our provincial government. We will maintain a strong working relationship with all levels of government and look forward to having our many concerns addressed as they relate to drug and social issues in our city.
We know our city is seeing the impact due to the lack of supports currently in place. As city council and I continue to advocate and seek ways to build relationships with our provincial partners to get the much-needed supports into our community, a rise in theft-related crime is unfortunately not a new area of concern.
We have been asking for a Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods unit (SCAN) even before this date. This form of enforcement is a unit of the Alberta Sheriffs that help to keep communities safe by dealing with problem properties being used for illegal activity such as drug trafficking. We’ve known we need additional supports for some time and hope to see movement on this front in the near future from our provincial government.
Our hardworking Lethbridge Police Service have seen a rise in theft-related crime for many years which is directly related to illicit drugs in our community. While we are one of many, many communities across Alberta who are finding challenges with the social impact of drugs on our businesses, on our streets and on our properties. Lethbridge has been impacted more than most due to higher rates of poverty, unemployment and homelessness.
We know what needs to be done and are working with the provincial government and Alberta Health to find solutions and implement supports. We continue to hope that these supports will be provided in the near future.
One of the ways we can be effective as a community is by coming together. A perfect opportunity to do this is by attending one of the many recently announced events planned for this upcoming holiday season in our downtown.
A synthetic ice-skating surface is being installed in Festival Square (on 6 Street South) from Nov. 15 to 25 and Dec. 7 to 14. This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy our downtown and enjoy quality time with friends, family and our community. I encourage you all to learn more about the Heart of the Holiday events taking place and be a part of the celebrations where you can.
I’d like to end my column today by thanking those who came out to honour and support those who served to protect our freedoms by taking part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies earlier this week.
It was encouraging to see such a large number of veterans and community members coming together to honour those armed service men and women who sacrificed so much. In particular, it was wonderful to see the number of youths in attendance, paying their respects. It was said during the Remembrance Day events that Lethbridge has a higher number of people participating in the Canadian Armed Reserves than any other city in the country. I think that goes to show the level of respect that many in our community show for our armed services and it is something to be proud of.
Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.