Province examining courthouse crowding

Red Deer’s MLAs will meet with the city’s mayor and the province’s justice minister to talk about creating more courtroom space in Red Deer.

Red Deer’s MLAs will meet with the city’s mayor and the province’s justice minister to talk about creating more courtroom space in Red Deer.

Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas, minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs, confirmed on Thursday that he and Mary Anne Jablonski, MLA for Red Deer North, understand the need for more courthouse space in Red Deer and support Mayor Morris Flewwelling’s desire to present a proposal to Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.

Since last summer, Flewwelling has been working with Brent Handel, president of the Central Alberta Bar Association, and Jim Foster, retired Court of Queen’s Bench justice and former Alberta Attorney General on a plan to alleviate courtroom crowding in Red Deer.

They are pushing a proposal in which the city would swap the site of the former RCMP detachment with the site of the existing courthouse, which cannot be built up because it does not have adequate foundations to support additional floors.

Such a swap would give the city some much-needed office space while giving the province an opportunity to expand its courtroom space in Red Deer and keep it in the downtown core, Flewwelling said on Thursday.

The mayor said he had misinterpreted Dallas’s reaction to the proposal, which was presented during a meeting with all seven local MLAs, government and opposition, earlier this year.

“I got the impression . . . that his greater concern was about the problems the province had, fiscally, in being able to commit to enhancing facilities,” said Flewwelling.

“I’m saying, OK, you’re the MLA for this area, I need you to understand, appreciate and support. So, my impression was that he just didn’t get it, or he wouldn’t support it. I now understand, after having talked to him, that he has been working on our behalf. He has been carrying our flag forward. He was so close to his chest, I couldn’t see there were even any cards.”

Dallas said he was unable to comment openly before this year’s budget was released.

He said spending was constrained by the desire of Albertans, who told the provincial government to continue to build infrastructure including hospitals and schools, but to operate with some constraint and rely less on resource revenue.

“How do you advocate for a $375-million courthouse with those constraints and with those priorities?” said Dallas.

“It has nothing to do with whether I support the courthouse or not. Absolutely, I do, and I’ll continue to work with the minister of Justice to ensure that our needs in Red Deer are addressed,” he said.

“My interest is not in ensuring that there’s a land swap. My interest is ensuring that there is a serious due diligence done with respect to the feasibility of what could evolve from a proposal like that.

“I haven’t drawn conclusions about what a courthouse should look like, where it would be located. But I have and continue to promote to the justice minister to take a look at this opportunity.”

Dallas said a date for the meeting has not been finalized.

Jablonski said she is “110 per cent in support” of expanding courtroom facilities in Red Deer.

“We’re doing the work we need to do behind the scenes to make things happen, but it’s a very difficult time,” said Jablonski.

“Our mayor is really good at presenting opportunities, so I’m looking forward to that meeting.”

Flewwelling said he has received a phone call from Dallas confirming his support for expanding courthouse capacity in Red Deer.

“He said he’s been keeping the minister apprised and has been pipelining the information. I said, ‘That is great good news. I will drop everything, the minute you can get me a meeting, and I will come to Edmonton.’ ”

Flewwelling said the city was able to make the unofficial offer for a land swap because a planned civic annex will not be built for at least 10 years.

He said the city will hold onto the former RCMP property for Alberta Justice if the province will enter a binding agreement stating that it will eventually develop the site.

“If they can’t build a courthouse for 10 years, they will have the land to do it, once I know that they want it, and then, we will be able to plan accordingly, so the city could take over the courthouse as a city annex.”

Flewwelling said he would like to see the deal sealed before municipal elections in October, when he will retire from office, so the new mayor and council will not have to start over from scratch.

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