ATHABASCA — With a change in leadership of Alberta's ruling party imminent, the Keep Athabasca in Athabasca University (KAAU) advocacy group is extending its contract with Canadian Strategy Group (CSG) for at least six months, with another major injection of cash from local municipalities.
The Town of Athabasca and Athabasca County agreed to put in another $15,000 at this time, while the Village of Boyle will also add $7,500 to the mix for two reasons — local jobs at Athabasca University (AU) and to prevent further reduction of hours at Boyle Healthcare Centre.
“How long would this additional funding (get them),” asked town Coun. Jon LeMessurier during the Sept. 19 meeting.
Mayor Rob Balay said it would give the group and municipalities six months of lobbying through public affairs company CSG.
“Part of it is because of the potential change in leadership for the governing party,” said Balay. "The group felt that lobbying may be required to make sure that the stance of the current government has taken is adopted by the potential new leader and new caucus.”
He added under the new contract, Hal Danchilla, co-founder CSG, will continue to lobby for whatever the advocacy group, or the three municipalities want.
“I would say it's going to be needed until the final resolution is made between the university and current government,” Balay added.
After a public early summer with the minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides and AU president Peter Scott exchanging barbs, August and September were relatively quiet with further discussions taking place behind closed doors.
“Unfortunately, the minister will not be available for any media until an agreement is signed,” said Nicolaides press secretary, Sam Blackett, in a recent e-mail to the Advocate. “This is being done to respect the confidential discussions taking place between the university and the government, as a private setting is more productive than another back and forth in the media.”
Village of Boyle mayor Colin Derko knows all too well how losing local workers impacts the region.
“Our council realizes that anything that happens in our area affects all of us in some way, shape, or form,” he said in a Sept. 24 text message. “It’s no different than when we lost Millar Western (in 2016). The village, the town, and the county were all affected by the closure of that mill.”
That closure saw 91 employees cut and it impacted the grocery stores, schools, retail, restaurants, housing and more, added Derko, and if the Boyle hospital ends up being closed, that’s dozens more people who will leave the area.
“In a world where all municipalities are competing for local investments, we cannot afford to have a narrow mind and no vision of what is good for our entire area,” he said.
Coun. Sara Graling voted in favour of the money being spent but asked for more information to come back.
“I would appreciate a little bit more itemized feedback on some of the lobbying efforts from the group,” she said. “That was one thing I think I brought up earlier with one of the other requests for funding is to really have an understanding of how the lobbyist works on behalf of the group.”