Fort Nelson Mayor Gary Foster will represent the northeast on the North Central Local Government Association's board over the next year.
Foster was elected to the board during last week's NCLGA convention held in Fort St. John, and said he's pleased to be a voice for the region.
"The North Central Local Government Association advocates for all the communities in the Northeast, from 100 Mile House up to the Yukon, so it's important that we have a voice at the table," he said.
After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and several years of economic ups and downs, Foster says his community is in a better place when it comes to supporting healthcare services and tourism.
He says the municipal council has made plans to ensure healthcare demands are met by committing $200,000 over the next three years to entice professionals with bursaries, scholarships, and financial incentives to live and work in the Northern Rockies. While the town has enough doctors and nurses, two positions for medical laboratory technicians remain vacant.
“A lot of people complain about Northern Health not doing enough, but it’s no different in the Lower Mainland. I’ve got friends whose healthcare down there is no better than it is in the north,” said Foster. “I’m not one to throw Northern Health under the bus, and I prefer to work with them, rather than against them. All of these organizations are just made up of people who are doing the best they can.”
Foster says Northern Health is also offering financial incentives as part of its recruitment and retention strategy. A King C90 plane has also been recently acquired through Villiers Air, which will be used for non-urgent medical flights and patient transfers once local paramedics complete training this summer.
Foster says quality of life trumps money when it comes to attracting workers to the north.
“Northern Rockies has to market itself to those people who want what we have to offer,” said Foster, noting the region’s wilderness holds huge appeal for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Alaska Highway, and though nothing is specifically planned to mark the occasion, town council has recently adopted a new five-year tourism strategy to improve experiences for visitors and residents alike.
“Tourism is extremely important in Fort Nelson, and we’ve had two years of COVID, so you can understand where the tourism industry went in that time," Foster said. "Now we’re starting to see those tourists come back, it’s nothing but good news.
“It’s almost like the sun’s coming up on Fort Nelson," he said.
Foster adds its local citizens who are the best part of the Northern Rockies.
“There’s a tremendous number of people we have in Fort Nelson that do volunteer. There’s a lot of work done by the Mile 300 club, Pet Pa’s, senior’s society, Rotary Club, the museum, I could go on," he said. "We have a tremendous number of people who volunteer their time and effort, and I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve."
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News