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Restrictions causing widespread concerns, MLA told

Carstairs councillor calls for advocacy on regional approach

CARSTAIRS - Town councillors have told Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper that the Kenney government should modify COVID-19 restrictions to take rural community circumstances into consideration.

Cooper appeared before council as a delegation during the Jan. 25 council meeting, held by teleconference.

During the appearance, Town of Carstairs Mayor Lance Colby and councillors told the UCP MLA that government restrictions are causing widespread financial, mental health and other challenges for area residents and businesses.

In December the provincial government ordered restaurants closed to in-person dinning, closed recreation facilities and stopped teams sports, among other measures.

Coun. Al Gil called for small businesses in rural communities to be allowed to reopen for in-person service.

“I wonder why they don’t look at small businesses. We can go to the shopping mall and Costco but a small business here can’t open up. Is there any rhyme or reason?” said Gil.

Cooper replied that he “continues to advocate for a regional approach” to COVID restrictions.

“Where there are areas of the province where there are very, very few cases, I think it is reasonable to be different there than they are in, say, the city of Calgary.”

Coun. Bob Green said the restrictions have caused a “major disruption in the way our communities operate” in rural Alberta.

“I think it is your responsibility as an MLA to take our feelings, and I don’t care if you take them to Premier Kenney or Hinshaw (chief medical officer of health), either one because neither one of them are listening to the small communities,” said Green.

“This town and a lot of other towns in the area are suffering. (Provincial government officials) say they can’t open the minor hockey yet they still can’t tell you how many cases there are because of a situation with a minor hockey team. They’ve got no facts to back up a lot of things they are doing. It is guess work on their part and I think the guess work has got to stop.”

Cooper replied that, “Every town in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills is feeling the negative impacts of the restrictions” and he has communicated those concerns to Dr. Hinshaw and MLAs.

“I have reached out to them expressing my concerns,” he said. “I will continue to advocate for a more regional approach to COVID restrictions.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that regions of the province that have less than 150 actual cases are treated the same as communities that have thousands of cases.”

Coun. Dean Allan said he is concerned about the rise in mental health concerns for children due to the COVID restrictions, including restrictions on minor sports.

Cooper replied that, “I have heard from lots and lots of constituents about the need for minor sports to be back, be it dance or gymnastics or hockey or otherwise, and I have expressed as strongly as possible my belief that those things can be done safely and in conjunction with COVID protocols. I am certainly advocating to see gyms and minor sports open as quickly as possible.”

Coun. Shannon Wilcox told Cooper that the mental health support and addiction support systems in the region are under very heavy pressure right now.

“Our Mountain View emergency shelter has seen an uptick of 235 per cent of the phone calls in 2020 compared with 2019,” Wilcox said.

Cooper replied, “I am well aware that our mental health resources have been pushed to their limits. They’ve been pushed all across the region, throughout the constituency. 

“We need to take into stronger consideration the impact that the pandemic is having on the mental health of those who the restrictions impact the most, be it minor sports, gyms, in-person dinning.”

Wilcox told Cooper she was forwarding letters of concern from numerous Carstairs businesses, community groups and others. She called on Cooper to make communication with community stakeholders a priority.

Coun. Rick Blair called on Cooper to continue to advocate for a regional approach to COVID restrictions.

“I think you can tell by gauging our council that that is certainly something we are interested in,” said Blair.

The mayor told Cooper that the financial impacts of restrictions on the municipality and local businesses have become severe.

“We have an arena sitting there that costs $10,000 a month to operate and nobody can go in it,” said Colby. “Those things are a big concern. Those things are hard on people. 

“When you are looking at the costs of operating these businesses it throws everybody into a quandary on what they can really expect to keep their businesses open or keep our town on a semi-normal basis.”

He called on Cooper to inform the town of any updates on restrictions.

Council accepted Cooper’s presentation as information.

Dan Singleton

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