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Issues with reliable internet, energy, and opportunities for High Level as a transport gateway to Canada’s far north were part of a discussion held with the regional Member of Parliament.
Mayor Crystal McAteer and Town CAO Clark McAskile met with MP for Grande Prairie-Mackenzie Chris Warkentin on Friday, Aug. 23.
Warkentin said he was hoping to have a chance to talk to the mayor and learn more about the priorities for the community.
“This has been a difficult year,” he said. “It’s been a challenging year for everybody in the region, with the fires and the dry conditions. But it’s important for me as the Member of Parliament that I’ve got a finger on the pulse, but also, that I’m working together with local municipalities so we continue to work to see our communities grow and prosper.”
One of the issues raised had to do with ensuring reliable high-speed internet service in northern Alberta. McAteer said the limited internet infrastructure could have caused serious communications issues if it had been damaged or destroyed by the Chuckegg Creek fire.
“Had that gone down, we would not have had interaction with anybody else,” she said.
The issue is compounded by the fact reliable high speed internet is so badly needed to attract and retain business in the area. The costs have proven prohibitive, however.
Warkentin echoed belief of the Mayor and CAO that internet infrastructure is vital to local economies, and that strong rural internet service allows for more economic development opportunities outside large cities.
“That is where the world is now,” he said. “It is as important as electricity or roads.”
“Every community should have it,” said McAteer.
Additionally, the town was without power for two days during the evacuation due to limited power line infrastructure. The event highlighted the need for more stable power infrastructure.
Rail service continues to be a concern for the area, and the issue was raised with Warkentin.
“There is development activity up here,” said McAteer. “But it is difficult to attract more activity with limited rail (and other infrastructure concerns).”
Future developments being followed with interest include efforts to connect Alaska with northern Alberta – and the rest of the continent – by rail. However, McAteer said the project has been very slow-moving and she has been involved with it for the past seven years.
Warkentin said he would bring those concerns forward to Ottawa on behalf of the Town. He noted reduced infrastructure and resource development were contributing factors in how successful northern communities can be at attracting outside investment.
“We’re going to try to bring voice to those concerns in Ottawa,” he said. “We’ll try to convince the politicians and the public that it is important to continue to develop the resources in places like High Level and northern Alberta to ensure we have a prosperous province and country.
“Without the development of our resources, nobody is going to prosper.”
Looking at the future of the community, McAteer and Warkentin discussed the town’s potential as a transportation gateway to Canada’s far north, and as a service community.
“Really, we need to look at what we are, and that is a transportation hub,” said McAskile.
“And a service town,” McAteer added.
Warkentin also expressed his gratitude and appreciation for efforts made to save the community from the Chuckegg Creek wildfire.
“This is an important opportunity for us to reflect on some of the challenges, the experiences, and different lessons that could be learned from that,” he said.
“Obviously, we are very thankful for the first responders for the local fire and the regional fire services that collaborated to make sure we saw as little a loss of property as was possible. There was a great coordination of moving people in and out of the community. It’s something no community wants to live through, but it’s important that we learn and reflect on those things.”