By Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers
As Albertans look forward to the year ahead in 2021, Bow River MP Martin Shields pointed out the previous year with all of the many impacts of the pandemic won’t soon be forgotten.
“2020 was a year, as younger people remember it — I’m an old guy, so I won’t be around forever — but people will remember 2020 as a year when things happened that were monumental and life-changing in many ways in the sense of how people live their lives, whether you’re a student, whether you’re in business, it’s going to be one of those years that’s marked by ‘I remember, I remember 2020, this is what happened.’”
Scenes across the nation in 2020, from social distancing to mandatory masking, elicited memories of his parents reflecting back on the Spanish flu in 1918-1919.
“I remember talking with my parents and the stories they talked of about the Spanish flu and the influenza, and it was interesting because it was years ago I would have done that, but it was just one of those times that people remembered with the things that went on with the Spanish flu and influenza at that time,” said Shields. “I think that’s one of the things people will mark this in their lifetime, as a significant watershed moment to do with the pandemic and how it affected their lives. 2020 is, I think, that type of year in the sense it will be branded in people’s memories for a significant length of time.”
While COVID-19 dominated the news throughout the riding in 2020, there were some significant milestones achieved in areas like irrigation.
“When you talk about things in the constituency, the minister for agriculture in Alberta (Devin Dreeshen) spent considerable time meeting with the irrigation districts and did roundtables, and I was involved in those roundtables that happened throughout the constituency, and how irrigation is important,” said Shields. “The struggles that happened in the year before in the sense of agriculture that wasn’t irrigated was a challenge, and so we worked on the supports for irrigation, we worked on supports for agriculture and the programs that are out there federally.”
Referencing projects like the $47 million Horsefly Spillway flood mitigation initiative, which is soon getting underway in the M.D. of Taber, Shields is excited about the potential for agriculture in the region.
“The money that came for irrigation districts was specific, and there’s two parts to that. One is the phenomenal agriculture sector we’re in, but also the flood mitigation — which is particularly critical to the M.D. of Taber and the region around it with two floods, and the one which basically created another great lake, and the co-operation that went on to resolve that. But what the long-term need was to get funding to help redirect water that could be flooding in the irrigation districts, was a huge part of that, but it also affected a lot of landowners and municipalities. So the money that is coming for infrastructure for both the improvement of infrastructure for irrigation, but also the pieces that will help mitigate and redirect floodwaters at different times of the year, whether it’s spring melt or whether it was large rain event — but I think those are significant pieces of infrastructure that are going to be funded in a couple of different ways, and I think that’s very important for the ag sector. For one, the enlargement of irrigation and replacement, but two, the flood mitigation that will result from some of the money that’s coming.”
Reviewing the record of the federal government in 2020, Shields felt there were many areas in which the federal government could have moved much more quickly in rectifying problems with many of the supports — which were rolled out for Canadians.
“Chaotic at times. For example, the one that happened just recently was the restrictions that are applying to people coming back into the country to do with airlines, would be what we would think is they would implement a number of things without looking at some of the consequences of those actions. If they’d have spent a little more time when they implemented certain actions to help solve it, if there was details that they’d missed or things that could have helped.”
Critical supports for small business during the lockdown period and after often failed to meet the needs of operators or were poorly organized and managed, according to Shields.
“With small businesses particularly there was a number of things that ‘Yes, let’s support the small businesses’ — but there were pieces that if they could have acted quickly to fix instead of taking months and months to try to look at those programs that could have helped small businesses. For example, if you’re a small business using — and there’s lots of small businesses that are one-person businesses, a tradesperson using their bank account — if they didn’t have a business account they didn’t qualify for any support. And it took many, many months to get some of those things corrected. Yes, helping people get things they needed, we agreed with a lot of the programs, but yet they ran them out without really thinking through some of the consequences and how they could be fixed when there was problems with them. So that’s been a challenge in trying to get the right programs in the right place, but in listening to the feedback that quickly came from businesses and communities, this could have quickly been fixed and solved much easier. That was a real challenge, and we worked at it hard trying to get some things corrected that would have helped small businesses in particular.”
While most Canadians were more than ready to put 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror, there is cause for optimism in 2021.
“I’m looking forward to 2021,” said Shields. “We have an agriculture sector that had a great year. There are certain hail challenges that have happened in your neighbourhood, in particular the corn industry, but I think the other side of it came out very well. Natural gas, there’s still things in our resource industry I think have great potential. We have, in southern Alberta, five of 10 world-leading projects for turning carbon into a carbon positive, and those are being developed here in southern Alberta — it’s a world competition — to compete for a $20 million prize worldwide.”
There are signs innovative projects and new uses for carbon are catching the eye of a resource sector that has witnessed very little good news in 2020, contends Shields.
“Five of those projects are here in southern Alberta. They want to be commercially viable — the prize is great — but one of them has already moved into the commercial sector, and that’s taking carbon fibre and putting it into concrete and replacing cement. Cement uses what’s called fly ash to create it, which is a greenhouse gas type of work, but if you take carbon and stream it off from what’s already being produced and put that carbon fibre into concrete it’s stronger and then reduces the greenhouse gases and the green footprint. That one is already one of the five that’s already being used commercially. So we have phenomenal projects being developed in southern Alberta out of this world competition, that via the resource sector, that I have had the opportunity to go to and see them. I believe we have some significant things going on via our resource sector and we’re going to see some more positive things happening people don’t really often see about the positive side of carbon and the resource sector.”