MLA Pat Stier hosts a reverse Town Hall in Pincher Creek -Pincher Creek Voice
Livingstone Macleod MLA Pat Stier hosted a "reverse Town Hall" at Pincher Creek's Heritage Inn on the evening of April 2. Approximately 40 people were in attendance at the event which was advertised as a non-partisan opportunity to inform Mr. Stier about some of the issues that concern area residents. Perhaps inevitably, the meeting did swerve into partisan territory on occasion, but for the most part was kept within Stier's self-imposed mandate.

"Pincher Creek is one of my favorite places, because we have always a great turnout," said Stier during his introductory remarks, before introducing his assistants Rachel Miller and Jacqueline Merkley. "They have a broad range of experiences, in many fields. I am so happy and lucky to have them.""I don't know if all of you know me very well or not, this riding's so huge. It's hard to get around to see people individually that's for sure. This particular event is to help with that." Stier was elected April 24, 2012 under the Wildrose Party banner, defeating Conservative incumbent Evan Berger. It's Stier's first term as an MLA. "It's been a crash course in learning for me, in many fields of knowledge that I didn't have before." "It is a big area. I have 14 municipalities that I deal with. There's a lot of people, a lot of communities. It is sometimes a bit of a challenge to be able to go to all of the different meetings that I'm asked to attend." "I am here to hear the concerns of the area, and trying to give people an opportunity to help me understand what things are important."Transmission linesCALUA's Anne Stevick was the first to accept Stier's invitation to take the mic. "I represent the Chinook Area Land Users Association," Stevick said. She was there to raise Calua's concerns about AltaLink and AESO's proposed Goose Lake to Etzikom Coulee transmission lines, and the needs assessment that was used to validate the need for the windmill-generated power."We feel that the needs assessment is outdated. It was done in 2008, 2010. Since then there's been a drastic decrease in the applications for wind farms." She said "We met, the executive, with AESO about a week, two weeks ago," to discuss the needs assessment. "Has there been discussion about any re-assessment of the needs of these lines (in the legislature)?" "We are very concerned that this line is going to cost Alberta taxpayers a lot of money, it's going to be way overbuilt, and once it's there, it'll never come down. And we just don't want to see that happen if it's not necessary."
 
Stier responded by saying, "To answer your question completely and honestly, it's something the caucus has talked about once in a while, but it hasn't got to the priority list, as far as 'do we have to ask a question about this now, today', versus a health question, or a seniors question.""What do we need to do to get it on the radar?" Stevick asked."I can perhaps put together a member's statement, saying that Albertans in southern Alberta are concerned about that," responded Stier, explaining he would have to get permission from the Wildrose caucus to present that statement.Click here for CALUA Letter to the Editor submitted by Stevick about these issues.
 
Adjournment nigh?
 
Stier also made a prediction about the immediate future of the current legislative session.  "When we get into the house to actually pass the budget we think they are going to adjourn, because they have no more legislation on the table.  We think the legislative session will be over probably mid April, and we won't be re-convening until after they chose a leader, which will be in September."No movie studio for us?Wayne Kiffiak questioned the awarding of the contract to a Calgary Film Studio. "The Calgary Economic Development Board is a non-profit of the funded organization, they're involved in it."  In early February of this year Alberta Minister of Culture Heather Klimchuk announced that Calgary Economic Development's proposal was the winner out of six others to receive a $5 million grant from the Government of Alberta to build a film studio.  Kiffiak said that Maya Media had also made an application, with 100% private funding, for the studio to be located in lower southern Alberta.  
 
Stier said he was unaware of the issue. "I haven't heard of it being discussed in caucus," he said.  "Your caucus is aware," Kiffiak said (several times during his time at the mic.  He expressed concerned about what he saw as possible favoritism during the review and awarding of this grant. "I talked to your caucus office, and they said they're aware of it."
 
"With respect, I'm not sure who you talked to, but trust me, it hasn't been during one of our meetings, it hasn't come up. You may have talked to one of our communication guys, our research guys."
 
Stier said that he is in favour of economic development within this community, and all communities, and is watching the bid on the Canada Winter Games 2019 which is currently in the bidding process. Lethbridge is one of the areas bidding, in conjunction with Castle Mountain.Market access for meat producers Phil Burpee addressed Stier with concerns about the future of market access for small producers in the area.  According to Burpee, Ken Lewis looked into developing a meat processing co-op here  a number of years ago when the Alberta government was under the Klein administration.  He said the proposed plan was three phased, including a processing plant and abbatoir,  value added infrastructure including bone meal processing, and a biomass converter to create electricity."The marketplace expects us to process through either Brooks, or High River. There's really no other game in town."  Pincher Creek's current abbatoir is up for sale, according to Burpee. "We will have lost another opportunity for small producers to have our meat slaughtered and butchered here in Pincher Creek, southern Alberta.""It's making it increasingly difficult, especially for small producers such as ourselves, to get a handle on their market access."  He said he was very concerned that processing is becoming a monopoly industry in Alberta. "Thank you for raising that topic," replied Stier.  "I must say that that one has been one of the most controversial ones in the past two years, due to what happened up in Brooks."  The processing plant in Brooks, then owned by XL Foods, was  temporarily closed on September 27, 2012 by order of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency due to Escherichia coli O157:H7 being discovered in processed meat originating from the plant.*Stier also made reference to the new small plant recently (re)opened in Balzac.**"I'm cognizant of the issue," said Stier.  "There's a lot of rural influence on our caucus.  It's certainly on our radar.""This is one of the larger cattle producing areas in the province."SSRP consultation a sham?

Mike Vidricaire was concerned about the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) Land Use Framework consultations that were underway in Alberta recently, and what they could lead to.
"My impression of the SSRP is that the government got together with a friendly select group of people a few years back, came up with a pie-in-the-sky proposal that would allow a lot of industrial expansion in some areas were it isn't permitted today," he said. "The consultation process is mostly a sham."Vidricaire said that issues brought forward at the consultations were not listed, or were minimized, and no funds were being made available to monitor the areas that would be redesignated by the SSRP."We're basically short on answers.""At one point, the government wanted to give force of the law to this in April.  It's looking like their agenda's been disrupted.""It looks like where they want to be has been pre-determined all along, their just giving lip service to the process without listening to any of the inputs.""This is a big deal, this is a really big deal," replied Stier. "The SSRP is a document that guides how planning and land use will be conducted in the future.""It is a document that's binding and legal once it is finally approved.""The province controls how land use is done currently, through the Municipal Government Act (MGA). The MGA controls municipalities. Individual municipalities, locally...decide how to approve or not approve developments and land use within their own area."Stier said that in 2004 "The government at that time had the Municipal Affairs Minister and Environmental Minister together, they decided to change the way land use planning was going to be done," making a move to central planning or regional planning laws "instead of local autonomy being the order of the day, as we had been used to for the past 20 years.""It looks like it's going to be suspended now for a bit. We now hear rumblings through the department that they probably won't bring it out until fall.  The implications are big. Everyone should if they get a chance, go to the Government of Alberta website (link).""Look at the plan and look at their own land, and look at the different rules that are in there."Cowley election results questionedStuart Townsend, who was a candidate in Cowley's council election last October, told Stier he was concerned with what he saw as an "illegal election".  Townshend finished last of six candidates in that election with 25 votes.  Garry Hackler had the most votes,  68, in that election."I am saying for myself, They do absolutely nothing for the taxpayer in these municipalities. The municipality I live in, we had an illegal election. I confronted them, I went to the Municipal Affairs office and to this date, all they do is pass the buck."Townsend said he has asked the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Justice Minister, and the RCMP to have an investigation into the election. "The RCMP are not allowed to do it, because they are not a Provincial police force, so I've been told."Stier said he had no authority in this kind of situation.  "I cannot interfere with the issues that are going on between a resident and the municipality. I have no power over municipalities, I am the MLA for the region, the constituency for Livingstone-Macleod."Highway 3 concerns
Cory Anderson spoke about his concerns about Highway 3 and when, if ever, it would be twinned. The Alberta Transportation recently announced "2014-17 Tentative Major Construction Projects" and Highway 3 was not on the list with the exception of a CPR overpass bridge rehabilitation project in Crowsnest Pass, a new Crowlodge Creek Culvert west of Fort Macleod, and major girder repairs to the Oldman River Bridge in Lethbridge.
"On March fifth I stood up in the house and I did a 2 minute speech on Highway 3," responded Stier.  Click here for the text of that speech."In 2007 a fellow named Ed Stelmach stood in Fort Macleod and said that he was going to twin Highway 3.  It hasn't happened."Solar solutions proposedGeorge Reynolds, owner of NRG Energy, spoke of his desire to see solar energy be more accepted in Alberta.  He said "a grid connected system that would supply in the neighborhood of 500 killowatt hours per month" would cost approximately  $30,000."I'm saying it's a very legitimate alternate energy source."Stier asked Reynolds  if a comparable amount of money spent on solar production compared to natural gas production, would solar be able to deliver the same amount of supply? "There was a program out that they killed about a year ago, to partially support the conversion to solar. We have to look at the efficiency,"  said Stier.  "All of these efficiencies come back and kind of bite us a little bit, because it seems that the technology isn't out there to compete against the natural gas plants, at this point in time."Phil Burpee asked to comment and said "You can sell electricity to Fortis, they'll buy it, wholesale price. But when the wind stops, or the sun's not shining, they will sell you the power back, retail price."  That comment resulted in a hum of assent from a number of people in attendance. "Anybody get huge power bills recently?" asked Stier.  "Huge utility bills? It's going way off the map.""We're investigating that one.""Our research department is actually looking into it, because we think there could be some hanky-panky there."Anne Stevick said that  "It's not the cost of the energy, it's the transmission switch. We're paying for all these power lines they are putting all over Alberta."In connection with the above Stier mentioned recent news reports about market manipulation by Transalta.One man in the audience compared hydro rates in Ontario to Alberta's.  He said he had friends who own a 1600 square foot house, who are away working often, and the man said that their bill was $694.  He said in his opinion Alberta's rates were actually quite reasonable.Tourism undervalued in Pincher Creek?Larry Haynes spoke about his concern that tourism is undervalued in the Pincher Creek area.  "We have all this natural beauty," he said.  "We don't have the way-finding signs, we have a dying downtown.""I'm kind of surprised by your comments," said Stier, explaining he feels Pincher Creek and various organizations such as AlbertaSW are doing a good job of promoting the area. "You're pointing out a couple of missing links, but nonetheless I think everybody down here deserves a actually a great round of applause for doing a great job with tourism."Haynes said "the fact is that the Roger Brooks Report ....cost $53,000".  He suggested that report, completed in 2007 with suggestions as to how to improve Pincher Creek's 'curb appeal', should be revisited.Wildlife controlBob Lawson said he had concerns about wildlife control, and said the number of herds in the area is increasing. "They're getting to be a problem. Is there a solution, or do we just live with it and let them eat our flowers?""I went to Town Hall, they said to go to Fish and Game, I went to Fish and Game, and they said they had to deal with it on (Town) council, they have to pass a resolution."Stier said "We are getting complaints," saying they were for elk, moose, deer, caribou, and "about every type of animal you can imagine."At this point the meeting became more informal in tone, and various concerns about the integrity and fiscal responsibility of the current government were raised."I think it's a huge issue, speaking to corruption," said one woman in the crowd.  "This has become a very corrupt province."Medical care in decline?Sheila Pfeifer addressed Stier with her concerns about medical care in the province.  She said she has been in the medical field for 40 years and has seen a big decline.  "We just released a press release about that, and we're trying to get an investigation on that stuff and see what is going on," said Stier.  He cited emergency wait times and surgery wait times as being of particular concern."It's an enormous business, that's gone right off the map.""We feel there has to be a whole revamping of the whole thing."Our front line workers are the most important people we have."Unnecessarily adversarial politicking?Peter Vandervalk spoke of his concerns about how politicians conduct themselves in their seats and in the press.
"Government has become an adversarial exercise, it is trying to prove the other guy wrong" he said to a murmur of agreement from several in attendance.  "It looks to be very reactive, I don't see it being proactive."  He said his criticism extended to all parties."Is there some way that we as general population can get more involved with the governing process?""Can we put forward some kind of a plebiscite mechanism, whereby the government proposes a certain law, they have to go back, if asked to by the general populous?"A woman in the audience also commented, supporting Vandervalk's contention that the process has become dysfunctionally combative. She mentioned the Innisfail middle school  that will no longer take students to the legislature after one class "witnessed members tell each other that they ‘suck and blow,’ motions across the floor from one representative to another inviting them outside to fight, verbal invitation to fight, and again, numerous reprimands from the Speaker".**"Into the absolute chaos that is apparent, and the rudeness, and all those kinds of things.  How is it that we come to such a point in this province that school children are not allowed to observe the process of government which they will eventually have to take over?" the woman asked.Stier said that a small part of the process tends to be over-exaggerated. "There is no question that the 50 minutes that we sit in question period appears to be a gong show. That is the only opportunity we're allowed as members to question the government on matters.""I don't like it  necessarily either..."Overcompensating?Charles Price spoke of his concerns about the size of compensation packages for those exiting the employ of the government."How can we go about making the government bring the salaries and compensations back in line with what the business owners can afford to pay?" he asked."Vote for Wildrose," said Siter, tongue mostly n cheek, to the biggest laugh of the night. "I mean, every party has their policies...""Most of the parties talk about the same problems that you're talking about."He said "to be fair", to attract the executive level staff, they need to offer executive level packages an that corporations do offer similar packages.  "I'm not trying to make excuses for the severance packages," then Stier explained about corporate compensation.  "These things are not unusual in the big corporate world."After some final remarks and minor discussions Stier thanked everyone for coming and concluded the evening.
 
 
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