Town and Country – August 22,2017

Province developing new childcare strategy Minister holds discussion on the future of the childcare with regional stakeholders

Hannah Lawson

Childcare stakeholders from all over the region convened Aug. 15 in Athabasca to discuss the future of childcare in the province with Minister of Children’s Services Danielle Larivee. The discussion was part of the Alberta government’s efforts to establish a multilateral agreement between provinces to create quality, affordable childcare.

“We heard from families that childcare costs for one child a month was equivalent to a second mortgage payment,” Larivee said in an interview. “There’s a lot of families that can’t afford that.”

On June 13, Larivee signed the multilateral framework in Ottawa. It will be supported by a $7.5 billion federal investment totaling over 11 years for the country, according to an Alberta government press release. The province is now working with the federal government on an action plan detailing how federal funding will be used to support quality, affordable care.

Larivee said the Aug. 15 discussion was part of consulting local stakeholders on what the province’s next steps  should be.

Athabasca County Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) manager Debbie Wood said the nice thing about the discussion was stakeholders around the table were given an opportunity to speak about the “pressures” of child care.

“We have issues with access to affordable childcare,” she said. “It’s not just around the childcare itself, there’s other issues. Its staffing, it’s training, its wages (and) it’s the cost. For us in a small area, transportation is one of the huge issues.”

She added there are gaps in childcare within rural communities. In Boyle and Smoky Lake, for instance, there are no approved childcare centres.

“Now we’ve given (Larivee) the idea of what our issues are, and I think it’s pretty consistent for rural communities. A lot of them are the same,” Wood said.

In April, the Alberta government announced an early learning and childcare pilot program,= providing funding for 22 centres to support 1,296 licensed childcare spaces. Parents could benefit from “quality, licensed” childcare for no more than $25 a day, and centres in both Westlock and Lac la Biche received funding.

In addition to making childcare more affordable, Larivee said the pilot program — and now the multilateral framework agreement — is about helping children reach their potential.

“When a child is (in child care) eight hours a day, five days a week, they really need support with their development and not just surviving the day,” Larivee said.

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette was also at the discussion, and said transportation was noted to be a concern for rural Alberta parents.

“It’s not enough to have the childcare space,” he said. “Parents have to get their children to and from that space, and that can be very expensive, depending on their situation.”

Piquette added his office does not often receive calls about childcare, but he gained an understanding of the issue from running a business in Boyle prior to becoming MLA.

“One of the continuing challenges for staff was finding affordable, accessible childcare for their kids,” he said.

Part of the discussion included how childcare can be placed more front-and-centre of the public agenda, Piquette said.

“There’s always going to be more needs than dollars. Unfortunately, very often in this province child care has been kind of a poor cousin,” he said. “How do we put this more firmly in the public agenda?”

 

 

Town and Country – August 22, 2017

 

 

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette recently traveled to Boston, Mass., to take part in a national conference of U.S. state politicians and learn about how individual states are approaching problems currently being experienced  in Alberta.

Piquette was one of five Alberta MLAs who attended the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) summit from Aug. 6-9.

The NCSL is a bipartisan organization originally established in 1975 with the mission of supporting, defending and strengthening its member state legislatures. The group included both New Democratic Party (NDP) and United Conservative Party (UCP) members.

Besides Alberta, other provinces also sent representatives to the conference. Piquette said the purpose of the summit is to exchange tips and advice between states, and to come up with a common agenda when dealing with the federal government.

The NDP MLA said he was surprised by the latitude given to state governments in the American political system, particularly in areas like health care and education.

“I do have a Political Science degree, but I didn’t really delve too deep into American state politics,” he said. “Because we view them through the mass media, everything we see is focused on (the federal government in) Washington.”

Piquette said these states are also facing a lot of the same challenges as Alberta, such as the opioid epidemic. In particularly, fentanyl use is at epidemic levels. He noted that Alberta has, in some ways, struggled harder with the opioid epidemic due to the abuse of OxyContin.

Although it has since been banned, widespread OxyContin abuse resulted in Canada becoming the highest opioid-consuming country in the world. On a related note, many states are also grappling with how to implement the legalization of cannabis, he said.

“It’s neat to see similar problems being looked at from different perspectives,” said Piquette. “Sometimes it’s not applicable, but then sometimes they can come up with things that we would not have necessarily thought of. It’s pretty enlightening.”

As well, there were numerous seminars on topics such as infrastructure challenges, climate change and funding post-secondary education.

“It was really rich and diverse,” he added. Piquette recalled attending one presentation on climate change where the speakers assured the attendees from various countries that they didn’t share President Donald Trump’s views on the subject. “The great majority of U.S. states are strongly committed to moving ahead on renewable energy and climate change strategies,” he said. “They basically said, ‘We know it’s real, and we know it’s already impacting us. Let’s keep working  together.’”

Aside from attending conferences and hearing how other states are trying to solve problems common to Alberta, Piquette said the group’s purpose was to network with colleagues and find connections on the issues that interested them. “A big part of it is just to be around the table,” he said.

As indicated above, Piquette was particularly interested in the subjects of climate change, cannabis legalization and the fentanyl epidemic.

He said he also attended one presentation on distance education where, upon speaking to the presenters, they instantly recognized the name of Athabasca University. “Athabasca University still has a very enviable international reputation,” he said.

 

Athabasca Advocate – August 22, 2017

Prosvita Hall celebrates its 70th anniversary in the community July 28

By Jessica Caparini

Located on a gravel road 10 minutes from the hamlet of Grassland, the community-run Prosvita Hall has hosted dances, funerals and sports events for 70 years.

Community member Eli Cholach remembers ball games and summers spent eating nickel ice cream outside the building. He was two years old when his greatuncle Nick Cholach senior donated the land.

On July 28, he celebrated the hall’s 70th anniversary with about 200 others.

“All my lifespan was around that hall,” he said.

The event was co-ordinated by the Prosvita Community Association. Cholach’s granddaughter, Crystal Holdis, said the event included cocktails, perogies and music. She said members of the association showcased recent renovations – new floors, a new bar and a casing protecting a large mural of a Ukrainian village an artist painted when the hall was built.

Vice president of the association, Penny Stewart, said the event “was fabulous. It was a sell-out.” Her highlight was the dinner, prepared by Minnie Skiba and Nellie Cholach.

“It was just a good old Ukrainian meal,” she said. “Like, you just can’t go out and buy that somewhere.” Stewart has been an active member of the association for several years.

“Whether we’re celebrating anniversaries or birthdays or just a good old Halloween dance, it’s just a place of gathering. We enjoy our community and our company and I think it’s important to keep that going. A place for our kids to do that,” she said.

Holdis said Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette and Athabasca County councilor Jack Dowhaluk made speeches at the anniversary.

“It was wonderful,” said Piquette. “It felt like being at an event hosted by an extended family … it’s actually really nice to see a healthy association like that. It kind of reminded me of what hall parties used to be like around this area 20, 30 years ago.”

Cholach explained that a 70 year anniversary is a big feat. “Local halls – all those old halls are gone by the wayside now, ours is still functioning. It’s a lot of pride.”

His family’s long history with the land continues through his daughter-in-law, who fulfills his old roll as the secretary of the association and Holdis, who is the treasurer.

“Roughly the same families that pioneered it are the same families that are still on the executive and running it,” Holdis said. “It’s been passed down through generation to generation.”

Cholach said the hall opened in 1947 after its founding members donated $960 and months of hard work to create it and that in those days, a gathering place like the hall was quite the accomplishment. Cholach also said that Prosvita means “enlightenment,” or “education without prejudice” in Ukrainian. It now provides event space for Athabasca County.

 

The Honourable Danielle Larivee, Minister of Children’s Services Visits Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater

I had a very productive meeting today with Minister Larivee and Children’s Services staff and stakeholders from all over the Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater constituency.
I am impressed by the scope of the work being done by these dedicated and hardworking people.
I’m glad to have been able to facilitate a conversation over ways to improve the services we provide in Alberta.

Athabasca Advocate – August 8, 2017

The Aspen Regional Water Commission now has the funds to make improvements on the system after receiving a $1.52 million Alberta Community Resilience Program grant.

Water commission manager Jamie Giberson said the intent of the upgrades is to increase the capacity of the intake pipe to what it was designed for.

“It will certainly improve the resiliency of the overall regional system,” he said. “Being able to move water efficiently, and (it) will better position us for climate change or changes is river flows.”

The grant will cover upgrades to the intake structure in the river and the pipe that conveys water from the intake into the raw water pump house.

Giberson said the original intake was constructed in the 1950s, and it was designed to convey about 80 litres per second of raw water into the pump house. When the new plant was built, the most it would convey was 45 litres per second.

“The intent of this project is to increase the capacity of that pipe back up to what the system was designed for, around that 80 litres per second,” Giberson said.

When the commission applied in 2016 – through the Town of Athabasca – the application was for $2.7 million and would have also funded modifications to process equipment in the raw water pump house. Giberson said the commission’s intent is to complete the full design for the overall raw water system upgrades, but right now the commission will only complete construction of what there is funding available for.

Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette said the province is “well aware” of issues the Town of Athabasca and Athabasca County has faced with their water intake.

“Having dependable high quality water is a foundation for any community. Keeping communities resilient and sustainable is the whole point of the community resiliency grant program,” he said. “This is great news for the community. I know it’s a big relief to the town and for the county.”