As I welcome 2020 with my family, friends and fellow Councillors, I look back on a year marked by numerous challenges, but also some considerable milestones along the way. Of course, there were moments of real heartbreak. My year-end message would ring false if I didn’t mention the Gibbs family and acknowledge the heavy toll this tragedy has taken on the Hamlet of Rochfort Bridge, and the greater Lac Ste. Anne community. As we continue to work through the healing process together, I am reminded of a quote from Doctor Martin Luther King: whatever affects one, affects all.
Let’s Help One Another Find the High Ground
Agriculture is the lifeblood of our region - both economically and socially. This segment of our community was hit harder than most as yet another season of heavy rainfall saturated the ground; limiting the quantity and degrading the overall value of the harvest. Crops still lay in snow-covered fields across the County. Many of our farmers and ranchers are at the breaking point as they deal with the acute stress and anxiety of keeping their farming operations afloat. If you see someone who’s struggling, please don’t let them suffer alone — whether at Christmas or any other time of the year. By helping those hit hardest by recent events, we will keep the fabric of our communities strong. Whatever affects one, affects all.
Producers don’t stand alone when it comes to mental health challenges. We live in a complex society at the best of times, and rural Albertans as a whole have been dealing with chronic hardship for several years now. Alberta Health Services provides a 24-hour mental health hotline at 1.877.303.2642. If you’re dealing with more than you can handle, please pick up the phone.
There was darkness in 2019, but there were also moments of light. The County just completed its annual food, toy and pet food drive. Seeing the donations piled high at the admin building reminded me that the spirit of goodwill is alive and well in Lac Ste. Anne County, and that even in lean times, our nature in rural Alberta is to pull together and help those among us who are less fortunate. My sincere thanks goes out to County staff for making this meaningful event happen each year, and also to those of you in the community who continue to make it such a success.
A number of setbacks great and small passed through Council Chambers in 2019. Some, like replacing departing administrative staff and managing infrastructure challenges, were a regular course of business. Others were larger, more complex, and will follow us into the new year and beyond. We continue to work with engineers, our legal team and other stakeholders to resolve outstanding issues with the new Administration Building. We are also dealing with the Province’s recent download of policing costs onto rural municipalities — a surprise move that we were repeatedly reassured was only speculative. As we move forward on matters like these, we will do so in the best interest of ratepayers. Wherever possible, we will communicate any developments as they happen via County media channels.
As we weathered the challenges that came our way, we continued the momentum of several legacy projects, broke ground on some new initiatives, and achieved some lofty goals that benefit all County residents. One achievement which I am particularly proud of is our completion of phase 2 of the West Inter Lake District (WILD) Regional Water Services Commission. This means that the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and surrounding communities now have access to city-quality potable water. After decades of struggling to treat pathogens, manage blue-green algae and mitigate quality concerns, the completion of this line is a monumental milestone. We will be embarking on the continuation of water commission transmission lines to the communities leading to the border of Parkland County. Close to $40 million in provincial and federal grant funding has been invested into this project to date, with tens of millions more in forward-looking commitments. It bears mention that this grant funding represents 90-cent dollars — meaning that the County’s contribution was 10%. This ratio is practically unheard of in today’s Alberta.
Solving Complex Challenges Through Collaboration
In 2019, the County also completed its North 43 Lagoon & Sewer Force Main, which is being hooked up as I write this message. This is a very big deal for two reasons. First and foremost, this vital infrastructure will greatly reduce regional wastewater management via vac trucks, holding tanks and field systems. Secondly, this collaborative venture between the County and the Summer Villages of Yellowstone and Castle Island (and hopefully a fourth partner in the new year) is proof-positive that when municipal neighbours pull in the same direction, exceptional things are possible. This project was a $10-plus million build to date, and even more than that in committed grant dollars for the new year — again, primarily utilizing federal and provincial grants.
We’ve also made great strides in our economic development partnership with the Town of Onoway — aptly named Partners in Progress. This program is led by Town and County representatives and supported by an Economic Development Advisory Committee made up of business leaders in the community. This collaboration has already produced some great tools for local businesses, and has laid the groundwork for some very exciting things in 2020. The focus of this energy is on making the Lac Ste. Anne region an even better place to do business, and then telling our story to the world. I encourage you to visit partnersinprogress.ca to learn more about this exciting venture.
There were many other great success stories in 2019, from the expansion of out natural capital assets to the signing of our IDP with the Town of Mayerthorpe. There is a common thread in all of these wins: none of them would have been done on a meaningful scale (and some would have been impossible) without leveraging the knowledge, resources and pull of our neighbours. It is this type of intermunicipal collaboration that knits the fabric of rural Alberta even closer together. It is this type of teamwork that will benefit us all in the long run. As the proverb says: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
I look forward to capitalizing on the opportunities that lay ahead for our County, yet I am also preparing for the inevitable challenges that will come our way. Either way, County staff and Council will meet both head on. I’m confident that we will work together on the wins both large and small; that we will grin and bear the losses; and that we will remain focused on the things that really matter: family, community, and a shared love of our home in Alberta’s heartland. It is this spirit that will drive our County forward, no matter what comes our way.
As we all look to the year ahead, let’s look forward with optimism. May you personally encounter more light than darkness, and may we all continue to work together to make Lac Ste. Anne County an even better place to live, work and play. On behalf of my fellow Councillors and all the staff of Lac Ste. Anne County, I wish you a merry Christmas, and the very best of what the new year has to offer.