Deputy PM visits Peace River

The newly-elected Peace River Chamber of Commerce Board. Left-right are president Justin Hicks, past president Shelly Sorenson, second vice president Layne Gardner, secretary-treasuer Jenn Sych-Gravel, new member Dani Davis, new member Branden Thoma, board member Dan VanOort, board member Dan Doucette, and first vice-president Peter Herrit. Missing are Jasmine Downing and Annie Giesbracht.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland returned to her hometown of Peace River Jan. 8 to build some bridges not only with prominent members of the community, but also between Alberta and the rest of Canada.

Peace River’s mayor and council welcomed Freeland during a short media availability before a closed-door meeting.

“We certainly are very proud of and certainly feel the prime minister made a brilliant decision in appointing Chrystia to the position of Deputy PM with the responsibilities for intergovernmental affairs,” Mayor Tom Tarpey says.

“The deputy prime minister exemplifies the character of Peace Riverites and Albertans in general. She is smart, she has a great sense of humour, is hard working and gets the job done.

“Witness NAFTA 2.0 and the European trade deal.”

Freeland opened her statements by acknowledging the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 which claimed the lives of 63 Canadians, calling the tragedy “a very sad moment” for both Canadians and for Albertans.

She adds she was delighted to have the chance to spend some time with people in Peace River.

“I really feel I’m back home here, and I thought it was really important to hear directly from the people of the Peace Country about their concerns. Also about their aspirations, because I know that this is a very optimistic part of the world, even though we have a place called Misery Mountain,” Freeland says. “We’re optimists nonetheless.”

She adds “the Peace Country is an amazing place full of really smart, really hard working, and really entrepreneurial people. People up here really do know how to get things done.”

Tarpey says council concentrated on three different issues when speaking with Freeland.

“We kept our discussion focused, but we did go from micro to macro,” Tarpey says.

The Town raised the issue of their unexpected GST reassessment on the new multiplex for over $600,000. The issue could affect not only the Town but also other municipalities in Alberta and across Canada if GST policies have changed.

“We got that sense that she would be able to help,” Tarpey says.

Tarpey says the Town also talked to Freeland about airport sustainability, specifically the federal Airports Capital Assistance Program [ACAP] funding the Town may lose with the cancellation of scheduled airline service by Northern Air, and how that may play out in any kind of RFP proposal.

“She has an interest in the airport and she understands its value to the region,” Tarpey says.

Tarpey says Freeland related an anecdote from her own early years about her parents getting divorced and her mother moving to Edmonton. Her parents had joint custody, and every two weeks Freeland would fly to Peace River to spend time with her father.

“She said I don’t know what my relationship with my father would have been like if it hadn’t been for the airport flights,” Tarpey says.

The final issue raised by council was the transition away from oil and gas.

“We, as a council and as a community, understand the need to transition to a carbon neutral economy and we want to be part of that transition,” Tarpey says.

“We did talk about you know, just because you go to a carbon free energy system doesn’t mean you have to leave the oil in the ground.

“She understood exactly what we were saying.”

Freeland also spoke with Peace River Chamber of Commerce members. Tarpey attended that meeting as well. He says representatives of oil and gas companies were there and talked about pipeline access, while chamber members also highlighted the economy.

“In the chamber she got a broad swath of what the issues are,” Tarpey says.

“She said that the prime minister is very concerned about the unity of the country. Because she’s an Albertan and her roots are here, he felt she was one of the best people to help get the country back together again and I would concur with that.”

Freeland also spoke with local farmers, who raised concerns including the carbon tax on natural gas and propane, access to market and trade issues, CN grain movement issues, Agrastability restructuring, FCC input loan repayment issues, PRMA issues, and fears and concerns over the banning of certain chemicals that make zero-till possible in the Peace.

Christi Friesen, who attended that meeting and posted about her experience on Facebook, says, “She listened to each one of us in the room and took notes, and I feel that she heard us loud and clear on the types of struggles we farmers in the Peace have had the last few years.”

Tarpey says Freeland will likely return for the official opening of the new Peace River bridge.

“One of the reasons why she may have a real desire to come to that is her father Don shared with me that in 1968, he drove her and her mother across the railway bridge to the hospital. She was delivered and when they were discharged they drove back across the new bridge.”

As a result, Tarpey noted “it would only be fitting for her to be there.”

Freeland did not take any questions from media during her visit.

She also met with Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given, after previously meeting the Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Premier Jason Kenney.

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