The benefit of collaboration and importance of vaccinations were a common theme during a recent business webinar between the Mayors of Jasper, Hinton, Edson and Yellowhead County.
Mayors from across the region agreed that a collective effort to promote the West Yellowhead area is a large and important aspect in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayors spoke about what is working for their communities and what challenges still remain during the virtual public event on May 13.
Mayor Marcel Michaels said the community is currently trying to balance helping every business survive and getting back to normal, before focusing on challenges outside of the pandemic.
Small initiatives have gone a long way in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive, he said. One example of that being the patio program that allowed many restaurants to remain in business.
Hinton also recently implemented a tax incentive program to entice developers towards the area.
“We cannot compete with Edson, Jasper, or Yellowhead County, but we can compete with the rest of the world to make this area better. The tax incentive is one step in the right direction,” he said.
Another step is to prepare and make serviced land available to attract developers.
“We need X amount of acres of land ready, serviced, for companies to start up shop. Otherwise they’ll go elsewhere. That’s the important second step for us as council to look at,” he said.
Other issues Michaels mentioned were the golf course, tourism, and getting a destination management organization (DMO) off the ground.
He stated that one untouched tourism opportunity that transcends the entire area is snowmobiling, ATV’s, and the interconnected trail system.
“Our trail systems are unreal and snowmobiling and ATVs are another way to brand our area,” he said.
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara, noted that more collaboration is needed with local snowmobile associations as well.
“We have some of the biggest snowmobile and ATV sales in Alberta right here in the Yellowhead County area. That speaks to volume and interest in these activities,” said Zahara.
All four municipalities recently acquired new CAO leadership and Michaels believes these new CAOs can work together on tourism initiatives across the region.
Yellowhead County Mayor, Jim Eglinksi, pointed out that the County and Hinton have a great project in the works already. The Bighorn Mountain Bike Trail in Hinton is a collaboration between Hinton, the County, and local businesses, he said.
Eglinski also spoke about multiple energy projects that continue to benefit the area, including the Canyon Creek Hydro Power project east of Hinton and the Cascade Power Company project near Edson.
“The projects are going ahead after years of paperwork, it’s exciting because they are bringing jobs to the communities all around us,” Eglinski said.
The energy sector has continued to thrive throughout the pandemic, with 52 rigs working in the region, he added.
The County is also looking at its land use bylaw to make it easier for home based business and other types of business to work and prosper.
When it comes to green initiatives, Michaels said Hinton has a lot of work to do.
Hinton is taking part in the regional electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure program that will place charging stations in the community and the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program is also on Hinton’s council radar. Green initiatives aren’t always easy, but Michaels believes that with the current strong leadership the community is trending in the right direction.
Each mayor spoke on the importance of advocacy to higher levels of government on behalf of their residents, and Michaels noted that soliciting information from residents proactively is even more important.
Advocacy is often done on actions and decisions already made, he said, and those decisions are often made with a lack of soliciting feedback.
“It’s important for our government to solicit and find out what we want, what they want, that’s not happening, and then it’s an uphill battle to advocate for change. If you solicit, if you go to the people and figure out what they want prior to decisions, it makes it a lot different,” he said.
COVID-19 was brought up multiple times throughout the hour and a half long meeting, with each mayor reiterating the importance of vaccinations.
Eglinski encouraged his residents to talk to their families, friends, neighbours, and coworkers about getting vaccinated. He noted that the vaccine won’t necessarily put an end to COVID-19 but that it will enable the province to reboot the economy.
Zahara emphasized that the province is nearing the end of any more shutdowns with the vaccine. With municipalities now receiving information on vaccination uptake in their community, he issued a regional challenge to the other mayors.
Jasper’s Mayor, Richard Ireland, accepted that challenge and noted that it’s important for Jasper to promote a safe product and brand to their visitors. The pandemic showed Jasper’s businesses and community that they rely on these visitor’s and establishing the reputation as a safe destination for visitors is key.
“We are collectively committed to a positive outcome and we are fighting the virus, not each other and not regulations. We are getting on with the task at hand, safeguarding our community, protecting our future,” Ireland said.
Watching the collaboration between businesses and the reaction of his residents during the pandemic has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his career as mayor, he said.
Before accepting the challenge, Michaels spoke about the polarizing issues and difficult conversations he has witnessed throughout the community. He stated that each person is ultimately on the same side and no issue should divide the community.
Collaboration is something that is working right now and Michaels encouraged residents to continue having important dialogue.
“At the end of the day, COVID-19 or whatever, we are left together with it,” he said.
As of May 17, 37 per cent of Hinton’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while Edson is at 35.5 per cent and Jasper is at 39.1 per cent. Only 4.8 per cent in Hinton were fully vaccinated.
The challenge will come to an end on July 15 when the municipality with the highest percentage of COVID-19 vaccinations will win and force the three losing mayors to wear its Town swag for the day.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice