Hello Chestermere-Strathmore. It was wonderful to see everyone out this past weekend for Mother’s Day. We are so lucky that the weather hung in there for us to enjoy being outside, gardening, cleaning up the yard, and seeing our neighbours out on the pathways.
I want to make a clarification regarding Alberta’s Rural Remote and Northern Program for physicians. First, I would like to apologize for the incorrect information that came out in the bulletin related to variable fee payments to physicians. We had announced that for rural physicians this cap had been lifted which was important because of the consultation that happened with rural MLA’s and their doctors. This program is extremely comprehensive, is an amazing incentive, and the only one of its kind in Canada. The list that was posted had left out 144 important communities that have access to this program and we are very sorry for any confusion that this caused with the announcement.
I would like to chat about the Utility Payment Deferral Program Act-Bill 14 received Royal Assent on Friday May 8, 2020. This Bill allows the electricity and natural gas providers to apply for loans from either the provincial Balancing Pool, or from the Government directly to help cover some of the deferrals on payment.
I recently hosted an Agriculture Town Hall and heard from our agriculture community about the challenges facing them. Agriculture is a huge part of our economy and we are working hard on ways to help. Minister Dreeshen put forward 5 million in new funding towards Agriculture Training Support Programs to help this sector train new people to work in the supply chain. There will be a need for jobs, and this is an amazing opportunity to get folks trained and back to work. Also, we see the new fed cattle set-aside program that will allow beef producers to hold on to cattle that are ready for processing, and continue as we see the drop in demand. Right now we have close to 130,000 cattle that are backed up, so you can imagine the cost to the cattle producers. The AgriStability program for hog producers will go from 50 to 75 per cent. This will put about 25 million back into the hands of the pork producers right away. We are also not consuming as many French fries as we did before COVID-19 for obvious reasons, so potato farmers will also see help to get cash into this industry immediately. Our farmers and producers are a resilient group of folks, and this assistance will position them in a good place for recovery. The AgriRecovery initiatives are cost-shared 60-40 with the federal and provincial governments.
I would like to take a moment to thank Minister Schultz as well for the $17.8 million investment into child-care. This funding will help us to kickstart our economy by supporting families. 250,000 people are not working at this point and in typical Alberta style, we are ready, willing and able to get back to work. With a decline in employment of around 10 per cent, we need to collectively in phases, get our province up and running. We are investing in capital and transportation projects that are shovel ready in our province to get our folks back to work. We have had great meetings with all of our municipalities looking at their priorities, and we will hopefully see some of that come to fruition as we work to get those projects going if they are approved by the Ministers of Infrastructure and Transportation.
This year’s theme for Mental Health Week is ‘Get Real’. I encourage all members of our community to reach out to loved ones in this difficult time and ‘get real’ about how you’re feeling. If you are struggling, help is available 24/7 by calling Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.
Thank you to Minister Josephine Pon for the new online hub for Seniors called CORE (Collaborative Resources and Education) that coordinates community programs and services for our wonderful seniors during COVID-19 and beyond. This hub will create efficiencies in getting services from senior-serving organizations to the folks that need it. This includes food security, social isolation, home supports, and transportation.
Finally, I would like to thank our Premier, Health, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, for their amazing work on keeping us updated with kindness, compassion and information that along with your hard work and sacrifice has kept us bending the curve. I know that there is a broad spectrum of you that fall somewhere between-“open everything right now”, and “we need to go slower” —it’s a fine balance. We need to work with each other, be kind, and work with a great deal of common sense, and strong protocols to protect our communities and make sure that we can get back to work. It is scary I know, but know it is time to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, and focus on what we know and what we have learned. Take your wipes, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer everywhere you go, wipe surfaces, and keep your distance. Listen to the advice of our health expert sas we go forward with reopening our economy. As always, I love to hear from you.