Bashaw town council says proposed addiction centre should be discussed openly

The Town of Bashaw will send another letter to the Bear Hills Family Wellness Centre applicants claiming the council still does not have answers it needs to consider a proposed First Nations development.

The discussion took place at the April 19 regular meeting of council.

Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Theresa Fuller presented council with an update on the application for property at 5340 51a Street, which the applicants, listed at the meeting as James Carpenter, Dr. Tony Mucciarone, Lucy Smolcic and Audrey Ward, have described as a “family wellness centre,” the exact meaning of which has been the subject of discussion, although several times at Bashaw council meetings it’s been stated the centre would be intended for First Nations families apparently from the Maskwacis community and may include a youth addictions program called Young Spirit Winds of which Ward is executive director.

At a previous council meeting town staff reported the development permit application, which would allow the wellness centre to operate, didn’t include all the detail council needed to make a decision. Council will make the decision because the property is located in the direct control zone.

Fuller noted the development permit application was submitted in January 2022 and town staff sent four letters to the applicants over the next two months stating the application wasn’t complete.

Councillors reviewed the application at the March 7 regular council meeting and agreed the town should send another letter to the applicants stating the application remained incomplete, and listed the necessary details.

“On April 1, 2022 the applicant provided additional information in hard copy format,” stated Fuller in her report.

“Administration requested the information be provided digitally. On April 4, 2022 Mr. Carpenter’s email response stated the materials will not be submitted digitally and are not to be shared publicly.”

Fuller stated she wasn’t comfortable with presenting the hard copy at the council meeting, which is public, because the applicant requested that not be done.

This detail was the subject of much of council’s discussion. Mayor Rob McDonald stated he personally “…was not inclined” to discuss the application “in camera,” which means behind closed doors.

Coun. Cindy Orom stated she wanted to see what was on the submitted materials. Orom also stated the Bashaw community seems invested in this application and wants the issue discussed publicly.

Liz Armitage, a professional planner contracted by the town to help with this application, told council the applicants requested certain application details not be presented publicly, although council meetings are open to the public and it’s up to councillors whether they move “in camera” or not.

Armitage stated it’s her opinion development permit applications are public information and should be discussed publicly.

Armitage further stated she’s never heard a request from a development permit applicant like this before and added that, if the permit is approved, much information becomes public under the FOIP law.

As well, Armitage noted the town’s development permit process follows the rules laid out by the provincial government in the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and would be handled the same way anywhere in Alberta.

Fuller also noted about 1,000 pages of documents were sent by the applicants over the Easter weekend, and staff hadn’t had time to read them yet; the CAO stated she also has heard residents want this application discussed openly.

However, Armitage pointed out these documents also had a note on them stating they were not for public release.

Coun. Jackie Northey stated it’s important to discuss things like this openly so people know how councillors reach decisions. Northey added that Bashaw is an open community and she feels “…this process has gone off-base.”

Coun. Kyle McIntosh stated several times in the meeting he was “frustrated” by this issue and agreed the process should be public.

In her report Fuller also noted the Town of Bashaw was recommending more stakeholder engagement for this application.

“Administration continues to recommend council consider holding a Bashaw community information session upon receipt of publicly available information,” stated Fuller’s report.

“In the spirit of reconciliation the community information session should be held jointly with a Maskwacis elder and Maskwacis service providers.

Such a meeting will provide a formal venue for Bashaw residents to submit feedback directly to council.

“Administration is currently seeking the services of a third party to help support the invitation of the Maskwacis elders to a meeting.

“As administration does not have experience in arranging these meetings, we need to be sure it is done correctly.”

Councillors unanimously agreed by resolution to send the applicants another “incomplete letter” asking for the same information they requested after the March 7 council meeting, including both hard copy and digital formats and with the applicants acknowledging the development permit material will be discussed publicly.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.