Prentice urged to reverse Michener decision

Central Alberta has a flashing neon message for Premier Jim Prentice — reverse the closure of Michener Centre.

Central Alberta has a flashing neon message for Premier Jim Prentice — reverse the closure of Michener Centre.

Roads, health care, oil and gas pipelines and educational opportunities also made a local list of priorities put forward for the new premier.

Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle said Prentice must commit to keeping Michener Centre open.

“Premier Hancock could have done it and didn’t have the courage to do it. Premier Prentice can end this right now,” said Towle on Monday after Prentice’s weekend Progressive Conservative leadership win.

Not only have five Michener residents died after they were moved, a terminally ill resident still living at Michener is scheduled to be moved, she said.

“Today I was made aware of a resident who is terminally ill who is being moved in October. Why would we remove residents who are terminally ill?” Towle said.

“These people are being forgotten and ignored by the government. This is just shocking.”

The MLA for Innisfail and Sylvan Lake is trying to find out where the resident will be going, but the five former residents who passed away all went into continuing care or long-term care, she said.

Prentice was the only leadership candidate who did not commit to whether the longtime centre for the developmentally disabled should close or remain open.

Michael Dawe, the Red Deer North Liberal candidate in the 2012 provincial election, said allowing Michener residents to stay would go a long way for Prentice to build public trust.

“It certainly would show a lot of courage and compassion and change of attitude if they not only ended the transfers, but also if there were people who were moved who wish to return were allowed to,” said Dawe, who is the guardian of a Michener resident.

During his campaign, Prentice said he wants to meet with families of Michener residents before making a decision.

“Judging by what (Prentice) has said on other issues, he has the sensibility to listen to people who are in the know and work towards a solution that will serve everybody’s needs,” said former Red Deer mayor Morris Flewwelling about Michener’s future.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the future of Michener Centre is a “long-standing and unsettled question.”

“City council’s official position is to keep Michener open. That continues to be our position. If the government continues on the closure, we have also indicated we need extremely fair and safe transition plans for the people of Michener Centre,” Veer said.

Michener Centre is public land and needs to be maintained as a public asset, she added.

The city also has a stake in transportation issues, including the reconfiguration of the south access to Red Deer to improve safety; the 20th Avenue ring road that would pull traffic from Hwy 2; and the protection of Maskepetoon Park from future upgrades to Hwy 2.

The city is waiting to find out when and where a new courthouse will be built, and whether municipalities can expect either a complete overhaul or minor revisions to Municipal Government Act.

“We need the government to land on a really clear position one way or the other because the MGA ultimately charts our future. That’s an area of substantial uncertainty to us,” Veer said.

Flewwelling said getting oil and gas to market is serious business for Red Deer.

“The part we play in that industry will be diminished if we’re not producing large amounts of our products and not getting it to market with the Northern Gateway pipeline and the XL pipeline and the eastern pipeline. Getting our goods to market will be critical,” Flewwelling said.

Towle said Sylvan Lake residents have been calling for an urgent care centre and the PC government has been “stringing them along for the last two years.”

“Right now they have no ability to deal with a broken arm or stitches. Red Deer hospital has wait times in excess of 10 hours. A real focus on primary care, which includes urgent care centres, could do a lot to further exactly what is required in this province,” Towle said.

Dawe said Prentice has already come out in favour of a new provincial Alberta Health Services board. The last board was hand-picked by the premier’s office and eventually dissolved by government.

The board should be elected or involve some process for public input, he said.

“It’s not just enough to say we’ll restore the superboard. It has to be done with true public input, not just rhetoric,” Dawe said.

Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said as government minister, he couldn’t comment on the future of Michener Centre because of the judicial review.

But Dallas said he will be advocating on behalf of his constituents on a number of issues once Prentice officially takes over the premier’s office.

“Building capacity in terms of care provision for seniors is certainly a priority. Looking at opportunities for further expansion of the regional hospital is certainly one, and the vision being formulated around enhanced opportunities for students at Red Deer College, including more degree granting,” Dallas said.

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