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Mayor Ken Johnston: Advocating for Red Deer

This month I would like to bring you up to speed on the ongoing advocacy efforts of Council and I, and update you on a few key issues that we have been tackling from the Mayor’s Office.

This month I would like to bring you up to speed on the ongoing advocacy efforts of Council and I, and update you on a few key issues that we have been tackling from the Mayor’s Office.

But first, what really is advocacy, and what does that mean in municipal government. Advocacy works to ensure that provincial and federal decision makers, and sometimes industry and other stakeholders, understand what a municipality needs and wants, on behalf of their citizens.

It is important to ensure that all people in our great city are able to have their voice heard, their issues brought forward when decisions are being made at other orders of government that affect our lives. For example, when the Government of Alberta centralized ambulance emergency dispatch services, we stepped up and did not back down. City Council, along with the Mayors and Councils of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo advocated to great lengths for the Government of Alberta to reverse this decision for the safety and wellbeing of all Albertans. We also pushed for a third-party review of the system due to the many community impact stories we had been hearing about cases of increased response times and technical errors, which have put Albertans’ lives at risk. Finally, after months of effort, the province agreed and a third-party review is underway right now.

Now, let’s talk about the Red Deer Regional Hospital. The hospital falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction. City Council and The City of Red Deer hold no decision-making power for health care. What we can do, as your City Council, is to continue to encourage information on the expansion of our local hospital, for the needs of our community, to the Government of Alberta through discussions, letters, and meetings with Ministers, for example.

I have been open in the media as of late about my disappointment with the progress of the much needed hospital expansion in Red Deer. It has been three years since the announcement of funding, and yet we don’t see shovels in the ground, or any progress being made towards this commitment.

Council contacted Premier Danielle Smith’s new cabinet ministers as soon as they were sworn in last week to press our case, and as a result, I was able to meet with Infrastructure Minister Nathan Neudorf on Wednesday, November 2. What he was able to share with me was that the plan is to add new floors on top of the existing hospital building, and construct a new ambulatory care building on the site in an area that is now a gravel parking lot. They will also renovate the existing building.

The sequencing is still unknown, but we were told that construction of the new building and additional floors will proceed first, followed by the redevelopment of the old hospital. I want to reassure Red Deerians, and all in Central Alberta that rely heavily on the Red Deer Regional Hospital, that we will not cease in any way from moving this file forward, and continuing to advocate for the services we need and deserve in our region.

Another project I would like to update you on is the selection of a site for a permanent shelter in our city. We have recommended a site to the Province of Alberta, however at this time we are unable to share that location with the public.

We have involved and engaged our provincial colleagues, and we anticipate our recommendation will be formally accepted soon, and we can start to make progress on this very important social infrastructure project for Red Deer. This is an exciting step in the process, and we will continue to work with our provincial counterparts and the private landowner of the recommended site as we navigate next steps.

We know our community has been awaiting a decision about the future location for the future shelter, and we will share the future location as soon as possible but right now, we have a legal responsibility to work through these negotiations while respecting the role of the Province of Alberta and the private landowner.

I truly believe the proposed site will foster integration and innovation in a whole new way as we look to address the unique challenges those experiencing homelessness face daily. I believe we have recommended the right site for Red Deer – a site that considers the needs of not only our most vulnerable but the needs of our entire community. The site being recommended by City Council considers the input of our community, stakeholders, and partners in this process. I speak on behalf of my Council when I say how appreciative we are of our community’s contribution to the site selection process and that we have truly listened to what our community shared with us.

Another crisis our community is facing, and one that City Council has been working hard at is finding long-term solutions to housing and homelessness. Our primary goal is to end homelessness in our community, and there are a lot of partners required to make that happen. The City works in partnership with community and government partners to build and implement a responsive, sustainable and well-performing housing and homelessness response that is informed by evidence-based research and best practice. Our Council team has met with both provincial and federal ministers to advocate the need for more affordable housing units in our community.

Current core housing need is at 2,683 individuals. Despite Red Deer’s general affordability, many people remain in a place of dire need for affordable housing. We will continue to work hard with our housing management bodies, and both the provincial and federal governments in reducing this affordable housing deficit.

Those are but a few of the key issues that are driving your City Council everyday. We have worked hard over the last year to continue to build relationships with the Province of Alberta, MLA’s and MP’s in our community, to work together for the best of our community.

Ken Johnston is the mayor of Red Deer.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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