Statement on the tragedy in Thorhild County this morning

I want to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young women who tragically lost her life in Thorhild County this morning, and to all those in the school and broader community impacted by this loss. Tragedies like this remind us of how precious and fragile life is and the importance of coming together to support each other in such an irreparable loss.

Finding the fiscal balance; MLA Colin Piquette hosts provincial budget consultation; locals ask for spending as province seeks to save – Athabasca Advocate – March 6, 2018

Joseph Quigley

Local officials asked Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette to be mindful of funding requests as the government tries to find more savings in budget season.

Piquette hosted a provincial budget consultation at the Town of Athabasca office Feb. 27. Members of the public and municipal government officials from the region provided feedback and requests for funding in Alberta‘s 2018 budget.

Piquette said the provincial government seeks to reign in the deficit in the next budget due to low revenues.

“Revenues frankly aren’t where we expected to be at this point and they’re not quite where we need to be for the long-term fiscal stability of this province,” Piquette said in an interview after the session. “We do need to look at reigning in the deficit.”

However, many of the ideas brought forward during the meeting focused on spending in areas such as advanced education, municipal grants and community organizations.

Ideas were also brought forward during the discussion for the government to find more efficiencies in the health care system and cease funding private schools.

Piquette commented after the meeting many of the ideas seemed to be around spending more money, as opposed to saving.

“It really is not easy when you stop to think about what these services are providing on the other end,” Piquette said about finding ideas to cut the deficit.

Athabasca University Faculty Association secretary David Powell said the government has more problems with finding revenue than over-spending, and Athabasca values any government spending within it.

“We accept there’s a deficit.

We are a town that’s reliant on the government. We’re a public sector town, more so than ever and so we need that investment here,” Powell said during the session. “When the government spends money here it’s felt – it’s important. That’s what we’re looking for.” Municipal budgetar visions Town of Athabasca Mayor Colleen Powell said in an interview after the session the town wants to see a new municipal funding model that’s fairer to urban municipalities.

“The current MSI funding gives a percentage for kilometers of roads, which gives the rural municipalities an advantage over the urbans,” Powell said, adding there needs to be a model fairer to the infrastructure work of urban municipalities. “We do the majority of the infrastructure in the province; we need the money to do that.”

Town council members Tannia Cherniwchan, Robert Balay and David Pacholok also attended the meeting.

Powell also said the province should share its cannabis revenue with municipalities, adding she supports the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association’s lobbying for 70 per cent of that revenue.

“A goodly percentage of that should be downloaded to the municipalities since we’re the ones that will be carrying the can in terms of enforcement,” Powell said.

Village of Boyle Mayor Colin Derko also attended the meeting and said he wants to see the government put more money into advanced education to bring Portage College’s pipeline training centre in Boyle to fruition.

“I’d like to see it for Boyle and for our area, for the entire county,” Derko said, adding the facility makes sense for the province’s pipeline advocacy efforts.

Athabasca Native Friendship Centre program co-ordinator Renee Sibera also attended the meeting.

She said she wanted to see her facility get consistent long-term funding, rather than one-off funding. She added there was some consensus in the discussion about the economy of Athabasca.

“There was a lot of productive things said,” Sibera said in an interview. “There’s a consensus that people want to see economic growth in our community.”

Piquette said he was happy about the engagement level of the session. Feedback gained from the session would be provided to the Alberta Treasury Board and Ministry of Finance, he said.

“As usual with these types of events, we have a lot more suggestion on how to allocate and spend more money than we did on actually reducing spending,” Piquette said. “But I guess it just goes to the point of how difficult this process actually is.”


Athabasca Advocate – March 6, 2018

‘Empty desks’ concern AU union; AUFA asks MLA to take action on alleged job relocations

Joseph Quigley

The Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) is asking for government intervention to keep jobs local. Members of the AUFA brought forward their concerns of jobs moving out of the campus in Athabasca to Edmonton during a provincial budget consultation Feb. 27 at the Town of Athabasca office.

“What we’re seeing now is positions that have traditionally been in Athabasca are now moving to Edmonton,” AUFA secretary David Powell said to Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette, who was hosting the consultation session.

“They’re (Athabasca University) saying ‘we love Athabasca’and then quietly moving away jobs.” Powell also said the government could intervene by tying conditions to funding for Athabasca University (AU).

“The university has lots of really exciting, cool new ideas, and they need money for that,” Powell said. “You can attach strings to that money.”

According to Powell, although support and administrative jobs largely remain in Athabasca, the higher-paying professional and executive positions are moving away and are no longer advertised as location-specific to Athabasca.

“Although they’re talking a great deal about the town, what they’re doing is they’re sort of detaching the jobs from the area,” Powell said in an interview, adding it is a longterm trend the AUFA first noticed in 2014. Powell said he is working to gather statistics on positions leaving Athabasca, but could not provide them before publish time.

AU communications director Chris McLeod said the university remains committed to Athabasca. “We’re based in Athabasca; our headquarters are in Athabasca; a large number of our staff are in Athabasca,” McLeod said in an interview. “Nothing in the works that’s been occurring that changes that.” However, McLeod said AU is adaptable in terms of where it hires.

“As any employer, whether that’s AU or somewhere else, you want to make sure you’re attracting the best staff we can. We have to be adaptable around what that looks like,” McLeod said, adding the university might be flexible if an outstanding professor wanted to work part-time in Athabasca and part-time from somewhere else. “I don’t think we’d want to limit our ability to attract great people.”

McLeod also said the university does not keep track of any statistics relating to staff working away from Athabasca. The subject of AU’s presence in Athabasca was a focus in the independent third-party review conducted by Ken Coates last year.

The report, publicly presented last June, said the university should develop a “more focused presence” in Athabasca, but also suggested “AU relocate selected core AU activities to AU offices in the Edmonton region.” The final of 13 recommendations in the Coates report was to produce for the AU board of governors of a fully costed plan for an enhanced and focused presence in the Town of Athabasca by May 1.

Powell said in an interview the report carried forward an implication that professional jobs at the university would move out of Athabasca. “That’s the direction they’re going in,” Powell said. “That doesn’t mean there will be no professional jobs in Athabasca, but there’s more empty offices now than I’ve ever seen.”

He added this is an issue because of how prominent of an employer AU is in Athabasca, and members of the AUFA identify strongly with the town. “We grew up here and we strongly identify with the community,” Powell said.

Piquette said in an interview the province has done a lot for Athabasca University and the future of the school is secure.

But Piquette added the information relayed by the AUFA at the meeting was concerning. “Work needs to be done to ensure all the positions that make sense to be in Athabasca are here,” he said. “I think it’s totally legitimate that we encourage higher-income, high-tech type jobs in local communities. There needs to be a range of employment opportunity available.”


Redwater School receives a Climate and Environment Student Action Challenge grant – March 1, 2018

Students at Redwater School are building an outdoor classroom this spring. All students and groups are invited to participate making the space somewhere they can enjoy nature, relax, learn and grow their own food.  It is so great to see youth engaged and thinking of exciting ways to protect and nurture our environment. 

Climate and Environment Student Action Challenge

Do you have an idea for a project that could reduce the environmental footprint of your school? Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) could help make it happen!

The Climate and Environment Student Action Challenge invites Alberta students from kindergarten to grade 12 to develop a school-based initiative or project that will address climate change or minimize other negative human impacts to the environment.

Students are invited to submit their project idea for a chance to win one of 10 grants (maximum of $1,000) that can be used to turn their proposal into a reality – and give them hands-on experience tackling an environmental issue that directly impacts them, their school or their community.

Successful applicants have now been selected from each school level (Division 1, 2, 3, 4) for 2017/2018.

Participating teams are invited to contribute to the online learning community! Provide real-time project updates, share tips, ask questions and inspire new levels of learning – the provincial Climate and Environment Student Action Challenge community is a great way to explore new ideas throughout the school year.

Students at Redwater School received a grant for their outdoor classroom.

Stand Against Bullying – February 28, 2018

Pink Shirt Day may take place only once a year, but taking a stand against bullying and making our world a more welcoming place needs to be a part of our daily routine. I’m proud our government is committed to promoting healthy relationships everywhere Albertans live, learn, work and play. 

  • If you see bullying—say something.
  • If you are being bullied—tell someone.
  • And we all benefit when we embrace diversity, welcome differences and promote understanding.
  • If you are being bullied, our government provides community supports that are available to support you.