Notes from the MLA: Northern Lakes College a win for communities

Danielle Larivee
MLA for Lesser Slave Lake

Last week, I stood with Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, watching an excavator break ground at the future Northern Lakes College campus.

It was a great day for High Prairie and a great day for students, staff and faculty of Northern Lakes College. Thanks to a $22 million investment, their future includes a modern collaborative training facility that will serve communities for decades to come.

The new Northern Lakes College campus will gradually take shape over the next four years, but the conversations that got us here began earlier. Shortly after I was elected in 2015 as MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, I sat down with Ann Everatt and Dan Vandermeulen, the president and board chair of Northern Lakes College.

Ann and Dan talked about the High Prairie campus, housed in three repurposed facilities in town. They talked about their vision for creating a hub for high quality education in northern Alberta. They had a vision of post-secondary education that would grow with the region, helping to diversify and sustain the local economy.

They also talked about how they had been frustrated with previous governments, who hadn’t listened to their calls for a modern, purpose-built campus.

Having lived and worked in the region for most of my life, I knew northern Alberta was often an afterthought at the Legislature. But coming off a two-year stint as a Northern Lakes College instructor, I understood what this institution meant. I promised to change that.

Whenever I could, wherever I could, I brought it up. Within a week of Marlin Schmidt’s appointment, I was in his office, advocating for Northern Lakes College. He was always willing to listen and do his part to fight for High Prairie too.

Not everybody can afford to leave family behind and move to the city, I told him. Those who do often don’t come back. Rather than forcing people to leave our communities, we could bring high quality education there.

I told him about my own classroom experience teaching nursing students, smart, motivated learners with deep roots in the region. Some were recent high school graduates. Some were parents of young children. Some were caring for elderly parents. There were students from Indigenous communities eager to make a difference.

The vast majority enrolled because they wanted to stay and work right where they lived. More importantly, they knew the needs and demands of their community.

As a registered nurse with nearly two decades of experience in the Slave Lake area, I also knew how time-consuming and expensive it can be to attract staff to this region. Although people here know that it’s an incredible place to live, to raise a family and to explore and grow, it’s not always easy to convince someone from another part of the province to move here.

That’s why it’s so satisfying to see Northern Lakes College excel. Last year, Marlin and I were able to announce that we had secured the budget to support the planning, design, and construction of the High Prairie campus.

With centralized access to services, a consolidated Northern Lakes College campus will give students more opportunities to engage with classmates. It will create more of a close-knit, community atmosphere for students and visitors and reduce the environmental footprint and increase its energy efficiency.

It will mean apprentices with more innovative trades training. It will help efforts with local schools on dual-credit partnerships, giving young people joining the trades a headstart on their careers. It will help train the paramedics, child care workers, entrepreneurs and community leaders that will keep our region strong.

Watching the excavator, I knew that our investment was more than bricks and mortar. It was an investment in High Prairie, and an investment in the communities of Lesser Slave Lake, and most of all, an investment in our future.

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