By Cole Parkinson
After a few months of complete social distancing and quarantines, the province of Alberta has finally kicked off Phase 2 of their relaunch strategy.
Starting on June 12, the provincial government announced Albertans could start beginning to get back to a relative normal routine compared to before with many different areas opening up.
“Albertans have demonstrated the care and common sense needed to move forward with our relaunch earlier than initially planned. Our data tells us our active cases are low, hospitalizations are trending downward and people are taking action to protect those most vulnerable and prevent the spread of the virus. We will continue to move forward together to overcome any tough times ahead, but responsible Albertans should be proud of the vigilance they have shown to date,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a press release announcing the start of Phase 2.
While things have opened up, the need to still practise good hygiene and maintain distance in social settings is still being recommended by health officials.
“More Albertans can now return to work and to the activities so many of us enjoy. However, I encourage you to do it safely. Think of the people in your life who may be at high risk from COVID-19 and protect all those around you as you would want your loved ones protected. Stay home if you are sick. Stay two metres apart and wear a non-medical mask if you can’t. Consider downloading the ABTraceTogether app, and wash your hands often,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, in the same press release.
The good news coming from the re-opening of many amenities in the province is many businesses have opened their doors.
While shopping local has always been something talked about as crucial to any community, it is now more than ever important as many experienced a slow spring.
“The impact of the virus on the business community is real and supporting local business is vital,” explained Town of Vauxhall office manager Mindy Dunphy. “While major stores or chains will most likely survive whatever dip in customer traffic comes, smaller business will bear the brunt of it. These businesses offer employment, they support local causes and they volunteer in our community. For example, fruits and vegetables, you could go and buy those at a larger center or you could buy them at your local grocery store, they need our business right now more than ever. The small and large businesses within our community provide jobs and economic growth to our local economy and have worked hard to explore new and creative ways to serve the community during this time.”
Similarly, the M.D. of Taber is encouraging residents in the municipality to shop local as much as they can in Phase 2.
“It’s very important that we support local businesses here in the M.D. of Taber or in any of our surrounding communities,” explained Kirk Hughes, M.D. director of planning and economic development.
“The key message to be taken is to do so as safely as possible being fully mindful of Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendation. A lot of small family operations were hit hard, so keeping them open and running is a main factor for our economic stability in the region. So, I encourage our residents to shop local as often as they can,” continued Hughes, who also explained how the M.D. and town have been working together during the pandemic. “Myself and Ben Young (Town of Taber economic development officer) were in contact throughout the pandemic, and we also sat jointly on the Regional Economic Recovery Task Force, which included our partners from SouthGrow, the Regional Economic Development Advisor, members of the Canadian Premier Food Corridor (CPFC) as well as government officials from all levels. It is that task force that really spurred our inter-agency collaboration. Trevor Lewington (Choose Lethbridge) and Peter Casurella (SouthGrow) did fantastic work co-ordinating our information dissemination that you can find on our website. We know that the M.D. doesn’t grow in a vacuum so having all our regional partners together on a weekly Zoom meeting was beneficial as we navigated the unprecedented waters that was COVID-19.”
Facilities opening with restrictions under Phase 2 include K-12 schools, libraries, wellness services, personal services, indoor recreation (gyms, arenas etc.), movie theatres/theatres, community halls, pools and casinos/bingo halls. Even though Phase 2 just kicked off in mid-June, both economic departments have been working hard on how to get things back to a relative normal when things did open back up.
“The town, as in the community, has eagerly awaited normalcy and have been following the restrictions imposed by the province,” said Vauxhall CAO Cris Burns. “The town, as in government, has followed the provincial direction in helping to limit exposure to COVID-19, although attempts to acquire supplies were very difficult, as I can assume this was the norm for all. Local businesses responded very quickly to the limits and controls brought on with the pandemic and adapted quickly as the restrictions changed.”
“As the province continues to reopen, the effects of COVID-19 are felt in all our everyday lives, and it’s shaping how our community moves forward,” added Dunphy. “Each stage of reopening comes with a list of services along with the necessary precautions and procedures that must be in place to operate safely. Our municipality and local businesses are working hard to follow all the safe practices. The town staff have been extremely busy working to get our pool, hall and other town facilities open. We hope to get back to business of meeting community needs and continue to work with our Vauxhall and District Chamber of Commerce.”
As far as any other projects the group has been working on to get economic activity back to Vauxhall, there have been some forthcoming developments.
“The town has the majority of this year’s sidewalk replacements completed, there are some building projects in the works and repairs that will enlist the services of local contractors,” stated Burns.
Vauxhall and Bow River Irrigation District will also be holding their centennial celebration, which was postponed from 2020 to 2021, and administration expected an economic boost during the event.
While most things were slowed down due to the pandemic, the M.D. economic department did no such thing.
“(It’s been) busy. We’ve been working with our regional partners to finalize an action plan that would allow the re-launch to work as flawlessly as possible. We’ve been contributing and sharing in information, that has been the most time consuming, to our residents via our website. So much information was being sent out so rapidly it was hard for people to keep up, especially small businesses. Additionally, the planning and economic development department worked tirelessly to implement development permits, follow up on economic development opportunities and tighten up the language on a few projects such as our Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) with the Town of Taber. All of this while working remotely from home,” added Hughes. “We have some projects that are close to being completed that will give a jolt to our local economy. Federated Co-op (if you haven’t seen the progress, it’s worth the drive) is almost operational. A few solar projects are on-track and on-target as well as the big push we’ve seen from local farmers in the construction of agricultural buildings throughout the M.D. but specifically those that are occurring along Highway 3 and 36. We are encouraged by the growth we are already seeing right out of the gate of COVID-19.”
For more information on the province’s relaunch, including what is and isn’t allowed during Phase 2, visit alberta.ca/RelaunchStrategy.