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Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston eager to keep up the momentum on hospital expansion, shelter project after election

Proposed shelter site ‘will be first file we reach out on,’ said Johnston.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston will be reaching out to the newly re-elected UCP provincial government on several projects. (Advocate file photo.)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said he will waste no time in pressing the newly re-elected UCP government on the homeless shelter site, hospital expansion, and the return of local ambulance dispatching.

The state of the Red Deer Regional Hospital was the biggest election issue for Red Deerians, so Johnston said it will also remain top of mind of him and city council.

“We are watching it closely and I have a sense of optimism that the UCP gets the urgency,” said Johnston.

He congratulated Red Deer’s two UCP candidates, Adriana LaGrange and Jason Stephan, for getting re-elected, saying they have been local proponents of the project.

Alberta Infrastructure Minister Nathan Neudorf, who was overseeing the hospital expansion’s planning and design, was also re-elected in Lethbridge on Monday. But whether he’s returned to that portfolio will not be known until Premier Danielle Smith appoints a new cabinet in the coming weeks.

As for the fourth and latest proposal for a homeless shelter site, Johnston said asking whether the provincial government approves of the selection Red Deer city council put forward “will be the first file we reach out on once we know who the new minister is.”

The UCP government was returned to office with a majority in Monday’s provincial election — but without several key ministers, whose ridings fell to the NDP on Monday. Among the prominent UCP candidates who were turfed by Calgary voters was Jeremy Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services, a key player in Red Deer’s shelter project.

(Other former UCP ministers who did not get re-elected are former health minister Jason Copping, former mental health minister Nicholas Milliken, former immigration minister Kaycee Madu, former culture minister Jason Luan. Former justice minister Tyler Shandro also lost by a narrow margin — there will be a recount).

Despite Nixon’s absence, Johnston believes support staff in that department are very aware of the progress made so far in seeking a location for a new permanent homeless shelter with wrap-around services. “This has been such an active file over the last couple of years,” said Johnston, that he would be disappointed if staff advising the new minister “didn’t pick it up” and continue the momentum.

The location of the fourth proposed shelter site was not made public because of privacy requirements. Three previous selected sites didn’t pan out, either because of public or government opinion, or because the owner didn’t want to sell the land for a shelter project.

Johnston said he will also keep lobbying the UCP government for a return to local ambulance dispatching. Although the province switched to a hub model several years ago, the mayor said Red Deer and three other municipalities continue to argue that local dispatching is quicker and more effective for public safety.

Meanwhile, the mayor is pleased to see the Addictions Recovery Centre, constructed in north Red Deer, has started up operations and admitted its first clients in mid-May.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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