By Kalinowski, Tim on February 22, 2020.
The Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Lethbridge hosted provincial and local elected officials in a candid forum about the state of Lethbridge’s economy on Friday afternoon.
The event took place at the Sandman Signature Hotel with about 60 Chamber of Commerce members and community stakeholders present, and was emceed by Economic Development Lethbridge’s Trevor Lewington. The interactive setting allowed the public in attendance to ask variety of questions from Mayor Chris Spearman and MLAs Shannon Phillips and Nathan Neudorf.
Lethbridge has led the province in economic development the past two years despite its social challenges, and has attracted massive private-sector investment, explained Spearman, who was backed in the statement by both MLAs. The challenge, Spearman stated, was how to harness that prosperity to ensure Lethbridge was supported by the province on the infrastructure side of things, and in helping to make headway on the city’s ongoing social problems.
He also stated Lethbridge residents should feel optimistic and confident in the growth and progress of their city.
“There is a lot of very positive things in this city that people never talk about,” states Spearman. “If you are only getting your information from social media, you’d think this was the worst place, in Lethbridge, to live. I was lucky to host 22 mid-sized mayors back in September. I toured them around the city, and they all left wishing they were Lethbridge. That’s something to be proud of. The progress we have made in our city while other communities struggle, through no fault of their own, we have done very well comparatively. As I said at the outset, we have our (social) challenges and we want to work together with the community to address those challenges.”
Lethbridge-West MLA Phillips agreed Lethbridge was in a fortunate position compared to other cities in Alberta. She pointed to the strong public sector and private sector working in partnership with each other to enhance the living standard and economic situation for all in the city. She said growing cities like Lethbridge need the province to help provide infrastructure to support that growth. She pointed to the investments the previous NDP government made in new schools, in modernizing the regional hospital and in repairing the Highway 3 bridge as examples of how the province could work with municipalities in this regard, even when it sometimes means taking on more debt to do so.
“When we faced an historic downturn in the price of oil (in 2015) … the (NDP) capital plan is what kept at least construction labour moving along in those very, very dark days of the commodity price downturn,” she stated.
Lethbridge-East MLA Neudorf agreed infrastructure spending is a significant provincial responsibility that can do an economy a lot of good, but being in government means making hard choices. His government has chosen to try to get the province back to balance as a priority, he said, and that means spending cuts.
“This is hard,” he said. “I have three kids in post-secondary, and in the next few years I will have two more. I have a wife who works as a nurse in public health care. I can tell you I get thousands of emails every week from people happy that we have made the choices we have made. I don’t any representative of any elected party is making a decision to make the province in the future worse. We are trying to make it better, and it does not matter what decision you make where, and in what portfolio, there is going to be people both for it and against it.”
Neudorf said he is willing to stand by his government’s decisions, even though they are hard. The voters will be the ultimate judge of the results, he said.
“I don’t like looking back, and I don’t like casting blame. I want to look forward and say the decision before me today: is it to balance the budget or to do some other measure? My decision has been in line with my party to say I am willing to take the criticism to make the best decision I can make personally, and to help my colleagues to make the best decision before them. So at the very least, in the next four years, we do truly balance that budget. And then those that are critical of me or my party will have that opportunity to vote and decide whether we did good enough or not.”
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