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Drought, carbon tax among issues highlighted in State of the Region Address

Posted on February 15, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance
Advance Photo By Trevor Busch. PODIUM POWER: MD of Taber Reeve Tamara Miyanaga addresses the crowd at the Taber Community Centre Auditorium on Saturday afternoon as part of the State of the Region Address.

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

Taber’s political elite came together on Saturday afternoon to deliver a combined State of the Region Address while tackling questions spanning drought, the carbon tax, and upcoming provincial and federal budgets.

Bow River MP Martin Shields, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, Municipal District of Taber Reeve Tamara Miyanaga and Mayor Andrew Prokop addressed a crowd of roughly 60 people at the Taber Community Centre Auditorium. Shields, who was unable to attend personally, talked virtually and answered questions from his office in Ottawa.

Each representative gave initial opening statements before fielding questions from the floor later in the meeting.

Shields, who spoke first, began his presentation by expressing support for local media coverage in rural communities where news organizations are struggling to maintain sustainability, including many weekly newspapers throughout the Bow River riding.

“I spend a lot of time on the Heritage Committee dealing with C-11 and C-18. That’s where I spend a lot of time fighting for media, the local media we have in our communities,” said Shields. 

“And what’s happened with CTV is an example of the government mismanaging their funds to support media, which is not what they should be doing,” said Shields, commenting on the recent announcement of mass layoffs by Canadian giant Bell Media. “But local media, which is really important to our communities, is very, very challenging to stay in business.”

Shields also touched on the carbon tax and the upcoming federal budget.

“The carbon tax, when it quadruples it will be brutal. And this is a challenge for irrigation in particular, but all of us as farmers pay the carbon tax, the producers all get taxed, and you as consumers get taxed. There’s alternative ways to do things. This is not an environmental plan. If you look at the goals that the government Liberals have for this programme, they say we raised the prices enough to change the behaviour. Well, now we have 2 million people going to the food bank, because they can’t afford the increased prices of food. So that’s why the carbon tax is a problem and why we would eliminate the carbon tax. There’s other things we can do for the environment; incentivization by taxing people to death, to try to use it to fix the environment, is not going to work.”

“On the budget, there’s more paid in interest than on health care and defence – just the interest alone, the amount of money that’s been spent by this government,” said Shields. “So they asked the Conservatives, when they say you’re going to cut things, the first thing that we would look at is the billions they’re spending on consultants. They are spending just an incredible amount of money on consultants. Our point is, they’ve hired 40 per cent more staff in eight years. We don’t need the consultants – let the staffed departments do the jobs they have been hired for so you can start eliminating consultants, let’s get on with the work or the people who’ve been hired to do it.”

Other topics covered by Shields included a rise in car theft in Canada, drug smuggling, safety for youth in sports, gun control and Highway 3 twinning.

MLA Hunter talked about reforming health care in Alberta, the need for further economic diversification, and the development of the Highway 3 agri-food corridor.

“She has been bold, in many ways she’s tackling the health care issue,” said Hunter, commenting on Premier Danielle Smith’s present leadership. “As you know, we didn’t do such a good job with attacking health care the first time in the first four years. And I heard from you, I heard that there was a lot of concerns, and it’s being messed up. And so this time when we go forward with these changes that we’re making in healthcare, we’re going to do it thoughtfully. It’s under the excellent tutelage Minister Adriana LaGrange. I’ve known for her for many years, and she is a steadying hand at the helm. And she’s a person that has a very caring heart. And so I’m excited about seeing what Albertans have to say on this file. I know that when you listen to those who are in the trenches, those who actually are living it day in and day out, they actually have the answers, they have the solutions. But far too often with the healthcare system that we had, the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. It was so big, a $24 billion corporation. But there was lots of good things that AHS did well, we just want to make sure that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater in this situation. So I assure you that we are going to try to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again, hopefully we will be able to go forward with the patient at the centre.”

Hunter also highlighted irrigation expansion, red tape reduction, and the affordability and inflation concerns in the region.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been able to build out and start working on expansion, the Chin Reservoir expansions going on. We’re going to expand over 230,000 acres of irrigation. Now there are people who say, ‘Oh, my goodness, we’re in real trouble with the water, how do you expand if you don’t have the water?’ Good point, but it only actually increases the value of my point, which is we have to capture more water, where does it go if we don’t capture it? Someone else is going to capture it, and they’re going to have that value opportunity for themselves. And so we have a priority within the Alberta government right now, which is spending a lot of money on it. And so are the irrigation districts to be able to capture more water. This is our insurance. If we capture more, we have more insurance. This is how we look at it. And so being able to capture some of the best, cleanest water out of the Eastern slopes in places like Chin works to actually provide this insurance and food for the world.” 

Miyanaga began her presentation with an overview of the services and amenities offered by the MD before moving on to more issue-based concerns like affordable housing, flood mitigation and the ongoing Horsefly Spillway project, and the MD’s current Transportation Master Plan.

“It’s near completion, some of you may have experienced the traffic disruption on Highway 36,” said Miyanaga, referencing the Southern Regional Stormwater Drainage Project. “If you recall the floods of 2011, 2013 and 2018, where critical infrastructure was at risk and also a threat to our drinking water, it was important to move forward with this project to ensure resiliency from flooding, and ensure that we would be able to protect our most precious water. Phase Two will start in the fall. The security of our irrigation system will make a pathway for those others who may be interested in investing in the (Highway 3 agri-food) corridor. The Southern Stormwater Drainage Committee has been instrumental along with the financial support of our municipal partners including the Town of Taber, St. Mary River Irrigation District, and the Government of Alberta and Government of Canada. Now you wonder why we would be worrying about throwing money (at) flood mitigation? It is on our minds as well. But we need to ensure that this is safe to use in the future. So right now with the drought, everyone is concerned, and our residents will do their part, as every drop matters.” 

“We are currently developing a water management strategy in conjunction with the Government of Alberta. We’re also lobbying to improve water security through increased on and off-stream storage. If you have further questions on this topic, Councillor Harris is the co-chair and has led the committee to ensure we have adequate funding and ensure that the project is being executed as planned.”

Prokop celebrated the Town’s participation in the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP) immigration program, the benefits from the proximity of the Highway 3 agri-food corridor, including the ongoing expansion of the McCain’s plant at Chin; and the anticipation of Highway 3 twinning construction breaking ground this spring.

“We mentioned the AAIP programme, which is a huge improvement for the Town of Taber area, and delighted to be partnered with many communities across the region, including the MD of Taber, Lethbridge County, Coaldale, Picture Butte, Town of Cardston, Town of Raymond and Town of Milk River,” said Prokop. “The AAIP programme has brought profound economic gains to the region. Local business owners first approached the Taber team and requested we apply for the AAIP designation as labour shortages were threatening to disrupt or even close their businesses. Owners were experiencing losses and having to modify services due to the labour shortages. The AAIP programme brought stability to our community, and the reason is the AAIP programme has (brought) a valuable workforce to our area for employers to draw from, with a total of 50 local businesses utilizing the programme, and so far, employers have had access to job opportunities while opening doors for the community. Occupations across multiple sectors are represented including the service industry, trucking, health care, trades, manufacturing and more. A lot of businesses (were able to) not just get by but to expand their operations, and in a few cases open second businesses as well.”

Prokop would also focus on the development of a new shopping facility in Taber, expected to include a Shopper’s Drug Mart, Edo Japan, Dollarama and the possibility of a chain grocery outlet. He also touched on the Taber Trout Pond, planning for another Taber’s Table long table event this summer, and the Town’s recent tax incentive program for housing development.

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