MLA Grande Prairie-Wapiti Travis Toews returned to his hometown last week to host a town hall for residents to voice their grievances.
Toews led a town hall at the Beaverlodge Community Centre last Thursday, as well as one in Sexsmith last Tuesday.
About 50 people attended the Beaverlodge function; concerns varied from funding cuts for nurses, the status of the Beaverlodge hospital, a lack of agricultural supports and COVID-related issues.
Toews, who was part of the emergency cabinet committee for COVID and was part of the provincial decision-making around the pandemic response, said “we navigated this perfectly.”
He said the response had “Alberta’s best interests in mind” but when he looks back, there are some things he would do differently.
Toews said that the province had spent approximately $5.1 billion on economic recovery and business relief measures; this was $1.2 billion lower than what was budgeted.
“The evidence that we're able to be able to deliver more efficiently, more effectively, has been encouraging.”
“We cannot cut our way out of a deficit, and we cannot tax our way out of this deficit,” said Toews.
He was asked why he was “attacking nurses,” as the province is backing employers to push for a wage cut on nurses. In fact, Toews was greeted by protesting nurses outside of the town hall in Sexsmith last Tuesday.
Still, Toews noted the government’s move “isn't about attacking nurses; this is about carefully and compassionately putting our public sector on a sustainable trajectory.”
“We inherited a government spending trajectory that was rising by four per cent per year with revenues that were staying flat, and it was unsustainable.”
There were concerns about the status of a new Beaverlodge hospital. Toews cited it was ultimately an Alberta Health Services (AHS) decision, but noted he is aware there is a developer on board and that AHS has signed a letter of intent to be the anchor tenant.
“They've just completed a scoping study which effectively will determine what services they would be offering from the new hospital,” he said.
Toews said health minister Tyler Shandro recently toured the Beaverlodge Hospital while he was into town for the new hospital in Grande Prairie. After the tour, Shandro told Toews that he would expedite the review (scoping study), said Toews.
He went on to say the scope of practice in the new hospital will be similar to what it currently offers in Beaverlodge.
One attendee mentioned that he would like to see more supports for the agricultural sector, especially after the dry season they have faced this year.
“I’m open to ideas,” reponded Toews. “I'm hoping to look at everything, and if there was something that the province could do to facilitate an orderly roll of contracts, so that was least less burdensome, we would absolutely look into that,” Toews responded.
Toews also noted that crop insurance premiums were dropped by 20 per cent this year compared to previous years.
Toews also said that there has been an agreement between the federal government and the province for an AgriRecovery response with 60 per cent of the funds from the federal government and 40 per cent from the province.
Toews said that he would like to implement a project similar to what Saskatchewan has done which doubled the yield cutoff to declare a crop written off.
“I have to know what that’s going to cost before we can approve it.”
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News