Posted on Jun 9, 2021

What We Heard From You - Rural Sustainability Consult

 

Background:

Jason Kenney and the UCP have ignored rural Albertans’ concerns for far too long. We have seen government resources disappear across rural Alberta. We watched vital services regularly cut, consolidated, and moved further and further away. We’ve witnessed community hospitals and schools close and funding for law enforcement and healthcare services cut or mismanaged.

Jason Kenney’s attack on Alberta doctors and attempt to privatize our healthcare system during a global pandemic has created chaos in rural healthcare. Multiple rural communities have seen their emergency rooms close, and services temporarily canceled due to the lack of doctors because of this Government.

Jason Kenney increased the financial burden on rural municipalities by downloading costs - forcing councils to increase taxes on Rural Albertans - all the while cutting services.  Meaning that you are now paying and getting less. 

In addition, Jason Kenney is allowing large oil companies not to pay their overdue taxes and lease payments to rural municipalities. Currently, there are over $170 million dollars in unpaid taxes that should be funding critical services in rural communities. 

This is not what we want for rural Alberta. Alberta’s NDP is committed to developing a new plan to help rural communities to be sustainable for generations to come. We are listening to rural Albertans on how to attract well paying and long lasting jobs to rural Alberta, and what the Alberta Government needs to do to help spur-on entrepreneurship and bring back thriving locally owned businesses to mainstreets across the province. Also, we are listening about what essential services are needed to close the gap between rural communities and urban cities. 

On June 9, Heather Sweet, MLA for Edmonton Manning and Agriculture Critic, and Deron Bilous, MLA for Edmonton-Beverly Clareview and the Economic Development and Trade, held a virtual consultation to engage with Albertans from all across the province to discuss rural sustainability — and what is need for the provincial government to help support rural Alberta so that future generations will continue to call it home.

We want to thank the hundreds of Albertans that have participated in the online consultation and provided written feedback through Albertasfuture.ca that helped us better understand the issues facing rural Alberta.  

What We Heard:

There were five key themes highlighted throughout the online consultation and written submissions.

Transportation and access to public services: 

Access to essential services like healthcare, financial services, policing and registry services have become more difficult over the last few years. Most of these issues are caused by service cuts and office closures forcing rural Albertans to travel longer distances to access crucial services. 

Access to these services without a car is extremely difficult. Transportation has been worsened by the loss of Greyhound and other bussing services. Transportation for small rural communities was defined by one participant as ‘patchwork’ - for example for the participant to get to an appointment in Grand Prairie from her home in Joussard she would take a bus to Edmonton first and then to Grand Prairie.     

These long trips force rural Albertans to take overnight trips just to attend a medical appointment. So something that would previously take a few hours  - now takes multiple days and hundreds of dollars for additional expenses like hotel rooms. Many rural Albertans are being forced out of their homes and the communities they grew up in just because they cannot affordably access the services they need. 

Many participants highlighted that the loss of these services also resulted with the loss of the well paying full time jobs in the community. Many of these offices employed as little as 5 to 10 people, but these jobs helped seed the economy and support local small businesses.

 

Rural small businesses are struggling:

Even before COVID-19 and health restrictions impacted small businesses, many rural businesses were struggling. The negative effects of the last economic boom are still hurting rural small businesses today. The cost of property and strict lease requirements that spiked during the latest boom have now forced many small businesses to permanently close and is deterring many Albertans from investing their money into a new business in rural alberta. 

Also, existing businesses in rural communities are struggling to transition to the next generation of owners. Currently, 40 per cent of Alberta businesses will transition in the next five years because most owners will be looking to retire. On average, two-thirds of small businesses don't sell, they shut down. This will be devastating to rural communities and the jobs created by rural small businesses.

There is a real need for education, awareness and new resources that will help new business owners take a chance in rural communities, and help retiring owners get fair value for their existing businesses.  

 

Energy Diversification:

It was clear that rural Albertans understand the need to diversify our economy, as well as our energy sector. Many recognize the potential new energy projects bring well paying and stable jobs to their communities. Many of these jobs will give oil and gas workers a chance at a new career with little retraining. 

Most geothermal, hydrogen and lithium projects will be located in rural Alberta because resources that these projects depend on are stored in rural Alberta. If the Alberta government were to further incentivize these projects, it will rapidly increase employment rates and provide long term economic stability for many rural communities.

 

Rural Internet:

Reliable high speed internet must be considered an essential utility. From job searching, operating a small business, to booking medical appointments, so much of our lives and livelihoods now depend on access to safe and reliable connectivity.

Also, with the increase of remote working, many rural communities have the opportunity to attract more workers that no longer need to go to the office. This means more Albertans with well paying and stable employment could consider moving to rural Alberta - which will help spur the local economy.  But this transition can only occur if they have access to fast and reliable internet. 

However, there is no clear solution to get every Alberta online with high-speed internet. Installing a fibre optic backbone could be the best solution for some communities, but for many getting the infrastructure in the ground will take too long and cost too much. For those communities, other solutions like low orbiting satellites ( e.g Starlink) could be a better solution. It is clear that the Alberta Government needs to work with rural municipalities to find the best solution for each community and not try to force a one-size-fits-all solution.

 

What’s next:

The first round of consults was just the beginning. We will continue to consult with Rural Albertans through online consultations and feedback submitted through albertasfuture.ca.  

October 21st, we will be holding consultations on the Future of Alberta Agriculture. Please head to https://www.albertasfuture.ca/event-registration/agricultural-innovation to register.

November 30th, and December 9th, there will be the Rural Internet consultation. Please head to https://www.albertasfuture.ca/event-registration/internet for more information and to register. 

We will also be holding future dates for our ‘Rural Sustainability’ consultation, so please visit https://www.albertasfuture.ca/event-registration/agricultural-innovation to sign-up to be notified for future dates, and to provide written feedback.   

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