MLA for Lesser Slave Lake
On May 24, 2015, the day Rachel Notley was swearing in her cabinet, a wildfire was burning out of control near Wabasca.
As we stood in front of the Alberta Legislature that hot Sunday afternoon, the fire grew in intensity. A voluntary evacuation became mandatory for the Bigstone Cree First Nation and the Municipal District of Opportunity. Nearly 5,000 people would leave their homes.
I hadn’t even been sworn in as MLA, but having been in Slave Lake in 2011, I knew that I had to go help. I jumped in my car and drove to Calling Lake, helping exhausted families check in at the Multiplex. As a nurse, I spent hours on the phone with the Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, ensuring necessary supports were coming.
Much has happened these past three years, but I still remember that day. There are always ‘fires’ to put out and challenges ahead. The situation in Wabasca improved, but a little over a year later, I was helping families who had fled Fort McMurray.
Trial by fire is a good description for Rachel Notley’s government. With her northern roots and steely determination, Rachel showed her mettle during Fort McMurray’s wildfire, and again in the face of a global downturn in oil prices. She refused to follow the problematic path of slashing spending. She built on advice from David Dodge, the former Bank of Canada economist, and made infrastructure investments while stabilizing health care and education.
May and early June are always difficult in wildfire country. But there are signs of renewal all around us. We’ve gotten through difficult days before. And while not everyone is feeling it yet, things are looking up for Alberta.
I’m proud of what our government has done these last three years, things that can get forgotten in a busy province. We took big money out of politics, banned corporate and union donations to political parties. We said no to a flat tax that only helped the one per cent. We overhauled Alberta’s agencies, boards and commissions, ripping up taxpayer-funded golf club memberships. We made it illegal to fire an employee simply for being sick. And we scrapped health care fees that punished families, investing in health care and education instead.
I’m proud to bring a pragmatic Northern Alberta perspective to the Legislature. My nursing background was an asset when I was co-chair of Alberta’s Mental Health Review. As Minister of Municipal Affairs, I spent countless hours in hockey arenas and coffee shops, building relationships with mayors, reeves and communities as we worked together on the Municipal Government Act, the legal framework between provinces and municipalities.
As Minister of Children’s Services and a mother of three, I’ve overseen a historic expansion of $25-a-day child care, which parents have repeatedly described to me as “life-changing.”
As MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, I’m particularly proud of our government’s accomplishments close to home. We stood beside Tolko in April to announce grants to restart the strand-board mill in High Prairie and to modernize another near Slave Lake. We opened a new hospital in High Prairie and invested in Northern Lakes College. We built a runway in Slave Lake, paved the road from Faust to Triangle, and funded a new courthouse for Red Earth Creek. A few weeks ago, I stood with Rachel Notley in Wabasca, where we announced a massive renovation of Mistassiniy school.
People around here have been through a few fires. We know that when fires are burning, we jump in the car and go help make things better.
Being your representative has been an honour, more meaningful than the public ceremonies, celebrations and attention. I can think of no better welcome than that day at the Calling Lake multiplex, where I helped connect families with the things they needed.
You might call it trial by fire. But I’m just proud to be on your side.