By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 13, 2020.
The first legislative session of the new decade is off to a full start with the introduction of Budget 2020 and a robust slate of legislative work that will make life better for you and your family. Myself and other members of the Legislative Assembly across Alberta have been working hard at completing budget estimates meetings. Estimates are an opportunity for MLAs to scrutinize and investigate how each ministry is accounting for every budget item, and making sure that your hard-earned tax dollars are spent in a prudent and sensible manner.
In the last few weeks, two items in Budget 2020 have risen to the top for many residents of Lethbridge.
First and foremost, the announcement for a drug court in Lethbridge as well as additional funding for ALERT was a significant development for most in our community. The announced drug court will provide much-needed support for Albertans in substance abuse recovery, while also reducing burdens on Alberta’s court system. This drug court will be first of its kind outside of Calgary and Edmonton. Drug treatment courts help break the cycle of addiction-related crime by giving people who commit non-violent offences access to judicially supervised treatment and recovery. The government also announced a $50-million budget increase for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) to disrupt drug trafficking, with four additional officers funded for the Lethbridge unit.
Finding pathways for support and sobriety for those struggling with addictions in our province was underscored by the release of the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee’s final report. Available online through the Government of Alberta’s website, the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee considered the experiences of more than 19,000 Albertans regarding how supervised consumption services have impacted their communities.
There are few issues as critical to Lethbridge as the appropriate and measured handling of addictions services throughout our community. It is our focus to move to a system of treatment and recovery helping provide supports that will bring more people to living happy, healthy lives. Both the investments in a new drug court, a heightened ALERT presence in our community, and the release of the Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee’s report demonstrate a resounding commitment to addressing these issues that matter so much to you and your family.
The second item from Budget 2020 is the announced optimization of Alberta parks. While this initiative has taken some by surprise and prompted a quick reaction in others, it is my hope to clarify the details surrounding this issue, and to clear up much of the misinformation being shared on social media and at the coffee shop. To begin, there will be no selling off or privatizing of any park land. It is important to realize that all Crown land will remain Crown land. In the entirety of the province, only 10 sites will be closed and another 10 sites will be partially closed, strictly to decrease operational costs. A further 164 sites in the province will be opened for alternative management approaches. This means that partnerships with municipalities, First Nations groups, and private enterprise will be looked at to manage these sites in a more fulsome way with local interests at heart.
Many have asked why this is a crucial issue for our government to address. Put simply, the current system is cumbersome with redundant and underutilized sites. Many of these sites being closed are visited by fewer than 40 individuals per year. Let me be clear in that we cannot expect a cost recovery model out of every park in operation, but the parks system as a whole should be sustainable, functional and operationally efficient.
As always, it is an absolute honour to represent you at the Legislature. As we look forward into 2020 and the years beyond, be assured that your government is taking the steps necessary to make balanced decisions that will put Alberta back on track for decades to come.
Nathan Neudorf is the UCP MLA for Lethbridge East. His column appears monthly.