Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Foothills MP John Barlow visits Pincher Creek Town Council

Toni Lucas

Foothills MP John Barlow visited Pincher Creek Town Council during their regular meeting of Monday evening, February 8. He spoke to council at length and answered a number of questions from the councillors. He started off by touching on a number of programs available to municipalities and other subjects of interest. This included the Canada Summer Jobs program, the Building Canada Program, the Connecting Canadians Program, an e-petition on Electoral Reform, a discussion about Energy East, agriculture, and community housing.

Barlow said the Canada Summer Jobs program has been renewed for the summer of 2016 and the deadline to apply is February 26. "Why this is really more important than ever this year is simply the downturn in the economy." This program supplements a students wage for a period of time up to 100%. The program is open for not for profits, small businesses, and public sector positions. Another job creation program mentioned was the STEP wage subsidy program.

"The Building Canada Program sounds like it's going to be split up into two separate programs," explained Barlow. He said this year the focus will be on transportation and to support infrastructure on projects such as roads and bridges. "Last year was water, and waste water, but they have taken water and waste water and it sounds like they're going to move that into a separate group called the green innovative fund."

Barlow explained the Connecting Canadians Program has been confirmed for the upcoming year. "That's 300 million dollars over the next two years for programs to improve access of high speed internet for rural Canadians."

"We have to start treating high speed internet as a utility. It's an economic development tool."

Barlow voiced concerns about planned upcoming electoral reform by the federal government. "They are going to reform our election process, how we choose our Members of Parliament, our federal government." Barlow said he is open to a review of the process but has concerns as to how it is being approached. "What I am concerned about is they have decided they will proceed with whichever system they want to pick, on their own, without a referendum. I think anytime that you change a fundamental piece of our democracy, on how we select our government, how your vote is counted, every Canadian should have their voice heard on this."

 Barlow has an e-petition regarding electoral reform to be sent to the House of Commons available on his website. "I am not advocating one system over another, what I am saying is whatever system or options we come up with, or the Liberal Government comes up with every Canadian should have a vote on how that system finally works. I don't think we have a lot of time on this, this is probably one of the most important issues that we are going to be facing as a government over the next several months and I hope we can bring a lot more attention to this than it has gotten so far."

"Energy East and agriculture have been two big topics for me. Agriculture was not even mentioned in the Speech to the Throne and that bothered me a lot.  It shows me there is no strategy, no plan in place for the agriculture industry. Especially in Alberta with the downturn in the energy sector, if it wasn't for a strong agricultural economy right now, our rural communities would really be in tough shape." He later said, "It really took us by surprise that it wasn't even mentioned at all."

When asked about the 700 million dollars in Alberta infrastructure spending which has been fast tracked by the Prime Minister Trudeau earlier this month, Barlow said he did appreciate the funding, with some reservations. "The concern with the 700 million dollars is that there are no strings attached. So it is given to the NDP government, and they can spend it however they want to spend it.  He said he was concerned that "rural Alberta is not exactly a priority for the NDP government." He said his second concern is that there are currently 9 billion dollars of projects ready to roll out in the Building Canada Fund once they have federal government approval. "What we're hearing is that the're going to try and fast track some of these dollars that come out. But fast tracking that means some of these programs that have already been approved will be put on the back burner." He said he is concerned about missing a building season. "The 700 million dollars is great, but what Albertans really want to do is get back to work." He also said he was very concerned by what he called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's lack of commitment regarding the Energy East pipeline project. "His cabinet and the Prime Minister have veto power over any energy project."

Barlow was asked about community housing funding for municipalities. He said a commitment of two billion dollars over the next two years for social infrastructure and affordable housing has been announced . "How they are going to roll that out, I don't know, but at least that's a good sign that there will be funding there for us, specifically for affordable housing."

Mayor Don Anderberg told Barlow some of the planning and progress made in the Pincher Creek area, including upgrades to water and waste water service and treatment, including the water intake being installed in the Pincher Creek near the agricultural grounds, and updated him on the progress of Crestview Lodge building project. Mayor Anderberg also voiced his concerns about the economy. Barlow said "It's a tough time for Alberta right now, and we understand that."

Barlow asked for the council to keep his office updated on projects and concerns and took the time to support the Pincher Creek Kraft Hockeyville bid with a photo op.

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