Land swap in hands of justice minister

A proposed land swap that would clear the way for a bigger courthouse in Red Deer has been placed in the hands of Alberta’s justice minister.

A proposed land swap that would clear the way for a bigger courthouse in Red Deer has been placed in the hands of Alberta’s justice minister.

Since last summer, a committee including Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling has been working on a deal that would provide space for a bigger courthouse while giving the city more room for its own offices.

Accompanied by Red Deer MLAs Cal Dallas and Mary Anne Jablonski, Flewwelling met Justice Minister Jonathan Denis in Edmonton on Thursday to lay out an offer which would see the province trade its Red Deer courthouse for the former Red Deer City RCMP building, which is now vacant.

The existing courthouse cannot be built up, but would provide an ideal office space for city staff while the former RCMP site would be ideal for a new courthouse, Flewwelling said earlier.

The mayor said after his meeting with Denis that he and his partners in the committee — former Alberta Attorney General Jim Foster and Brent Handel, president of the Central Alberta Bar Association — developed the plan to address their shared concerns about the detrimental effects of overcrowding in Red Deer courtrooms.

Most crucial is the backlog in family court, which puts children at risk while their parents deal with legal issues, Handel said earlier.

Flewwelling said he felt the meeting on Thursday was productive.

“We had a very cordial meeting with the minister. My interest as mayor was to make sure the minister clearly understood that there was land available and that we would hold that land for some time if they indicated that they were interested in it,” said Flewwelling.

“He has agreed to continue pursuing the whole issue of court facilities in Alberta. He of course is working within the constraints of the current budgeting system and the backlog of court facilities that are needed, not just in Red Deer, but in other facilities.”

Dallas said he and Jablonski arranged the meeting to allow the mayor an opportunity to present the city’s proposal directly to the minister.

“What it looks like is exactly what we’ve been trying to achieve all along, and that is to have some plain-talk dialogue about what the options were,” said Dallas, who is MLA for Red Deer South and Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations.

Minister Denis outlined the various means his department is using to try and relieve pressures on crowded courtrooms, he said.

“Even if you can address some of those pressures in the short term, given the growth of Central Alberta and Red Deer in particular, . . . we’re going to have pressure in the long term. So, it’s really a discussion about what does this look like, five, 10, 15 years out and in what way does the potential site that the city has available look like a solution.”

The minister would not be in a position to make any decisions, but will take the information and explore some ideas, said Dallas.

Denis could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Flewwelling, Foster and Handel were to meet this morning to discuss the progress of their proposal.