Supporting area businesses as they attempt to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 will be one of his highest priorities in 2021, says Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP MLA Nathan Cooper.
Many businesses of all sizes in the region has suffered significant financial hardships during the pandemic, with restaurants and other service industries particularly hard hit.
As one of the major economic engines in the region, the local business community must thrive if the overall recovery is to be successful, he said.
“We’ve seen such significant economic challenges over the past year, along with health challenges,” said Cooper. “The restrictions have created major challenges for our businesses, which in our region are certainly a significant driver of the economy.
“Obviously as we proceed forward and restrictions are lifted, I think there will be that hope and optimism come back into the economy.”
The provincial government will be supporting the business community going forward, he said.
“The government has made changes to the small business grant, including raising it to $20,000, and I think these are some positive steps to try to support small business,” he said. “Hopefully we can get back to normal as quickly as possible and we can recover even stronger than we were previously.”
He called on residents and visitors to the region to shop locally whenever possible. A number of other local elected officials have also recently called for support of local businesses in 2021.
In a year-end interview with The Albertan last week, Cooper also talked about health care, education and other topics.
Front-line health-care workers in the region, including those working in seniors lodges, should be applauded for their efforts during the pandemic, he said.
“Largely we have been very fortunate in Olds-Three Hills-Didsbury, and that isn’t just because of luck but also because of the good work that the health-care aides, the nurses, the doctors, all those folks have done right across the region,” he said.
With general population vaccinations expected to get underway in 2021, Cooper says he would encourage everyone to get the shots.
“I think that it is important that people make good health decisions for themselves,” he said. “I will be getting the vaccine when it’s available to me; obviously I’m not in any sort of high-risk category given my age and current health. It’s important that as many people as possible do get vaccinated.
“As we see more folk across the province get vaccinated, I’m certain we will see a reduction in restrictions.”
Until the pandemic is over, Cooper says residents should be encouraged to continue to follow health guidelines, including mask usage.
“All signs are pointing to the pandemic coming to a conclusion in 2021, but certainly a cautious approach is important at this time,” he said. “We’ve seen some early signs of case reductions over the past couple of weeks and hopefully those will continue.”
Cooper says he is hopeful that schools will be able to get back to in-class learning early this year.
“How quickly that takes place is still to be determined, but certainly in this school year I think we will be back to full in-class learning,” he said.
Over the coming weeks the provincial government’s pandemic response will be robust, he said.
“I think the government’s COVID response continues to be top of mind for Albertans and constituents (in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills),” he said. “I think the vaccine rollout is obviously going to be a big part of that and the government is taking an aggressive approach in trying to get as much vaccine out to those at risk at present.”
Overall the new year will hopefully be a chance for the region and province to thrive, he said.
“2021 has the opportunity to be a great year for us,” he said. “We’ve come through some significant challenges and there are still some ahead, but I think that it’s important that we rally together to have a hope in the new year.
“I think the pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves. The role that community has played has made us stronger and I think we will see that magnified over the next year.”
Nathan Cooper, 40, is a second-term MLA, the current speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and a Kneehill County resident.