Rural Albertans taking surprising hits

Written by Brenda Schimke

As Premier Kenney dribbles out budget cuts in dribs and drabs, it intentionally makes it hard for Albertans to realize the cumulative damage he is doing to the soul and fibre of Alberta’s rural communities.

Many of Kenney’s actions are truly puzzling.

His law and order agenda to hire 500 more RCMP officers and civilian officers to patrol rural communities—paid for by municipalities—and to hire more Crown prosecutors appears positive if it weren’t for a judicial system in crisis.

Our Crown prosecutors are collectively disillusioned because of poor working conditions, inadequate resources and decades without proper remuneration.

Today the courts aren’t able to keep up with the attribution of senior Crown prosecutors leaving to move to the private sector.

Certainly, putting more police on the ground in rural areas has value if deployed properly. But with an underresourced Justice system, it will just put more criminals through the revolving door.

As we lose experienced Crown prosecutors and continue to cut clerks and administrative staff, the judicial system becomes more inefficient and unsustainable.

What our Justice Minister could be focussed on is working with the federal government to effectively change the law to deal with the few who commit the majority of crimes, and invest significantly more in mental health and addictions—the two malaises that clog up our courts and emergency wards.

Rural Albertans should also be concerned about the provinces $500,000 cut to volunteer firefighter training.

Without proper and ongoing training, these volunteer men and women will be putting their lives at an even greater risk to save others.

I’ve always marvelled at the Boyle volunteer firefighters who over the decades are often the first emergency providers at horrific vehicle accidents on Highway 63 to Fort McMurray.

Then there are the scary wildfires that occurred in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray and the prediction of more to come. Prudence would suggest well-trained, rural volunteer firefighters would be an asset to the province, not a liability.

East Central Alberta was particularly hit hard with provincial park closures—Gooseberry Lake, Dry Island Buffalo Jump – Tolman Bridge Campgrounds (east and west), Bleriot Ferry Provincial Recreation Area, and Little Fish Lake.

By lopping off small provincial parks, Premier Kenney saves a whopping $5M, a rounding error in a budget as big as Alberta’s.

Small, provincial parks serve regions hours from the “big” parks. Kenney seems unable to see any intrinsic value in nature or community and how that translates into individual well-being and productivity.

Most egregious is the tax increase from a government that said it wouldn’t increase taxes.

Kenney jumped the education portion of property taxes—which goes to general revenue—by four per cent leaving little or no room for municipalities to increase their revenue and fund all the “budget dumps” from the provincial government.

The restructuring of doctor compensation disproportionately affects family physicians again hitting rural areas hardest.

The cuts to education and health care in the fall budget disproportionately hurt rural areas more than larger centres.

A cut of one teacher and a loss of one family simply has a huge impact on a small rural community.

The unilateral cuts in dribs and drabs by our provincial governments misses the big picture.

Alberta’s fiscal problems are systemic, it goes much deeper than simply laying off tens of thousands of civil servants or closing 20 underutilized parks.

But to understand that, Kenney needs to start talking and listening to those who deliver government services on or close to the front lines—not the complainers, not the ideologues, but the doers.

But, alas, that would mean consultation— an apparent foreign concept for Premier Kenney.


B. Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.