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Yea or nay

Administration weighs in on how they feel about 10 proposed RMA resolutions
Marvin Schatz Nov 19 copy
County of Barrhead deputy reeve Marvin Schatz said he liked the fact that the province has allowed municipalities to decide on whether they would like to participate in some public health regulations, referring specifically to the Restriction Exemption Program.

BARRHEAD-County of Barrhead administration put in their two cents, on how councillors attending the Rural Municipalities of Alberta's(RMA) fall convention should cast their vote during the resolution session.

The RMA is an independent association comprising Alberta’s 69 counties and municipal districts. Its purpose is to act as an advocate for issues impacting rural municipalities at the provincial and federal levels.

County manager Debbie Oyarzun told councillors during their Nov. 17 meeting that the resolutions delegates decide at the conference are critical to the RMA's advocacy efforts.

Delegates will be voting on 10 resolutions. 

Resolutions are typically directed at the provincial or federal government and usually seek changes to legislation, regulations or policy, address funding or program issues, or encourage alternative policy approaches with rural municipalities concerns at the forefront.

"Administration goes through the resolutions, and based on what we know, give our opinion on how we believe they might impact the county and whether we believe the municipality should be supporting it," Oyarzun said.

However, she noted that in the end, individual councillors are free to vote as they see fit.

Resolutions

One of the more pertinent resolutions for rural municipalities is one endorsed by Wheatland County, Emergency Medical Services Capacity and Service Delivery in Rural Alberta.

The resolution requests that the province immediately consults with municipalities "to develop a plan to make urgently needed improvements to capacity, delivery and performance of the emergency medical services system (ambulance)." 

Municipal intern Erica Head said they are recommending that councillors support the resolution.

"When the Government of Alberta transitioned emergency medical services (EMS) from a municipal responsibility to the province, they committed to maintain service levels," she said. "But they weren't maintained. When you take into account rising populations and increased demand, it has decreased."

As a result, she said, the number of Code Reds issued where there isn't an ambulance available in a rural community has increased.

From August to October, Head said there were 135 Code Reds issued, in Alberta one of the latest being Nov. 8 for Barrhead.

More often than not, the reason is that a rural ambulance is being called upon to cover a shortage in an urban centre, or that they are transporting patients from a rural hospital to one in a larger centre, Head said.

Because of these shortfalls, she noted Barrhead Regional Fire Services (BRFS) firefighters are being called upon to pick up the slack.

In recent months, the vast majority of calls the BRFS respond to are medical assist calls.

This is something Town of Barrhead councillors have also noted, which is why they are also supporting similar resolutions that will be presented at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association's upcoming convention.

They have also written to Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping about their concerns.

A few years ago, Oyarzun said the province polled residents asking them if they were satisfied with the EMS services. She noted the majority said yes.

However, she believes the survey does not represent an accurate picture.

"(County and town councils) have decided that (the fire department) will provide emergency medical service, beyond first aid," Oyarzun said, adding the public does not distinguish or care who provides the service.

Another resolution that could have an impact is one put forward by Brazeau County, which calls on the province to remove the requirement for municipalities to contribute 10 per cent of eligible claims made under the Disaster Recovery Program for disasters within their boundaries.

"Administration supports this but on the caveat that it only applies to municipalities and Metis settlements," Oyarzun said, adding there are two streams for applying for the funds, public and private.

She added it was only in the last year that the province decided to impose the requirement.

Oyarzun said funds from the Disaster Recovery Program are only available in large scale disaster scenarios where a municipality declares a local state of emergency and does not cover anything insurable.

"Municipalities do need to take more responsibility and focus on suitable building sites," she said. "Some municipalities, in their effort to grow and develop, may approve development and infrastructure in flood plains, where they will experience a disaster at some point."

Oyarzun said although municipalities put away reserves to deal with such emergencies, it is difficult to know how much is necessary, and in the unfortunate event of back-to-back wide-scale disasters such as a wildfire followed by mass flooding a municipality might not have the ability to contribute.

Another resolution that can impact rural municipalities (and one administration recommends supporting) is one endorsed by Lac La Biche County, which asks the province to stop downloading the responsibilities onto municipalities for public health restrictions.

Head said province-wide restrictions and decisions allow for consistency and reduces the potential of conflicts arising from misunderstandings.

She added municipalities do not have the medical expertise or access to the health data needed for adequate decision making.

"(Having the province) implement the measures also potentially increases the effectiveness of the measures because they are more widely implemented and it is easier to gain more support for measures if it comes from a higher authority," Head said.

Oyarzun referred to the Restriction Exemption Program (REP) that allowed businesses, mainly in the restaurant, entertainment and fitness sectors, to operate outside the majority of the restrictions.

To be eligible for the program, operators must request proof of a patron's (12 and over) double vaccination status, a medical exemption or a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of the date to allow them into their establishment.

Deputy reeve Marvin Schatz said he appreciated municipalities having the option of opting into restrictions.

"If the government is making rules for urban centres, like Calgary and Edmonton, why should rural municipalities which are not as densely populated have to follow the same regulations?" he asked.

Reeve Doug Drozd agreed but said that is not why the province did not impose the REP province-wide.

"They just didn't want to be the bad guy," he said.

The other resolution to note would have been one sponsored by the county, asking the province to consult with municipalities before going through with its plan to privatize registry concession, which includes Alberta Land Titles.

The issue, Oyarzun said, at this point is moot as the province has backed away from its privatization plans, at least for the time being. 

Councillors decided to withdraw the resolution.

However, Oyarzun noted if any delegate voted against withdrawing the resolution, it would still go to a final vote.

Barry Kerton, TownandCountryToday.com



Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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