By Samantha Johnson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Premier Danielle Smith, MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, and Justin Wright, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, took part in a town hall meeting at Medicine Hat Public Library on Oct. 18. The event was facilitated by chief librarian Ken Feser.
It was a full house in the library theatre with people turned away once capacity was reached. Smith and Wright received a standing ovation from the majority of those present when they appeared onstage.
Each gave about a five-minute statement prior to questions. Feser collapsed similar questions so as many issues as possible could be touched upon, with time at the end to take about five questions from the audience.
First up were three major issues facing Medicine Hat and actions each are taking to address them. After connecting with stakeholders and constituents, Wright formulated three primary goals he wants to accomplish.
No. 1 is economic and industry growth and attracting manufacturing, tech and industry into the area. Second is ensuring there is a sustained workforce. Third is being loud about local wins.
“Medicine Hat, partially because of its isolation compared to a lot of the other communities, comes up with some phenomenal programs and then we sit on them,” said Wright.
He went on to talk about Prairie Rose Public Schools and its academies, particularly flight and fire.
“These kids will graduate with 12 credits (at the post-secondary level),” continued Wright. “They are already going to have the foundation for post-secondary set up so they can step into the workforce even sooner. These are ways we protect our local economy, we protect our communities and the future.”
Another question about encouraging the next generation to enter farming and ranching careers brought praise from both Smith and Wright toward the Agriculture Discovery Centre at Irvine School.
Smith started her response to this first question by talking about the controversy around utility costs.
“We now have a system where we aren’t bringing on enough baseload power in order to backup wind and solar when they don’t work,” she explained. “We almost had our power grid fail eight times in the last year. Power grid failures should be very uncommon. We used to see these kind of level three alerts once every year or every other year. Eight in one year is a sign we have some major instability.”
The pension plan question produced the most volatile response from a handful of people in the audience.
“We’ve been having conversations in this province about how to be more like Quebec since 2001,” said Smith about the issue she inherited when elected. “If you want to have a referendum on it, you will tell us, I know you will. I already know there are a couple of folks over there who don’t want a referendum,” she said nodding to one side of the theatre where someone had disagreed with an earlier statement on this issue.
When asked on the status of the Highway 3 twinning project, Wright started with saying it is now underway between Burdett and Taber. There are still negotiations ongoing between Seven Persons and Burdett, but he understands they are close. Four alternatives are being reviewed for Medicine Hat because when the airport expands it can only go across where the highway currently is. Smith also explained how some of the phases could happen sooner than originally projected.
Feser commented that a few overpasses on the Trans-Canada wouldn’t go amiss. Smith immediately made a note of the suggestion while Wright quipped he would show her where they were needed.
Regarding the promised condo rebate, both Smith and Wright made assurances the issue is still being worked on. Wright stated 80 per cent of the phone calls and emails he received, prior to the electricity challenge, were pertaining to the rebate. Wright added he asks about this issue during every conversation he has with Minister Nathan Neudorf.
Other topics covered at the town hall were federally imposed net zero carbon emissions, climate change and extreme weather events, the gender and sexual orientation issue in schools, the rise of phobia and transphobia and what should be done about it, parental rights, tax credit for children’s sports participation, the role of public libraries provincially, what is it like to be a new MLA, and how an experienced MLA and leader supports them.