‘Lobbied a little bit’ says mayor

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ president Sandra Azocar appeared before High Prairie town council April 26 asking for support to reopen the Campus Based Treatment Centre (known locally at the former Youth Assessment Centre) in High Prairie.

But who knew what and when is a question being asked by many.

“I can say that we have already put out. . .and lobbied already a little bit, but certainly I can think looking at doing some more . . . working with the minister and our MLA. See what we can have happen there,” Mayor Brian Panasiuk told the Azocar, who was accompanied by several AUPE members.

At stake are two critical issues: about 30 full time jobs pumping well over $1 million into the local economy plus the treatment for at-risk youth.

Meanwhile, some, if not all councillors, were left in the dark as to what was going on. Panasiuk received an email March 21 from a source informing him what was happening. The letter is published on page 3. Most councillors are now saying they did not receive the email or were not part of any response from council to the Alberta government, which operates the centre.

“I did not know about the email sent to the mayor in relation to YAC,” Councillor Donna Deynaka wrote to South Peace News after them meeting.

“The public delegation was also the first time I was made aware of the uncertain future of the facility,” she added.

“To my knowledge, there has been no communication from the (Alberta) government, Minister of Children’s Services or (Lesser Slave Lake MLA Scott Sinclair) advising the Town of the status of their intentions regarding the future of YAC,” Deynaka concluded.

In an email sent April 25, Councillor Sacha Martens shared a letter with South Peace News sent to the mayor.

“Is there merit to the email re: YAC closure being sent to you, and notshared with the rest of council?” Martens wrote.

Councillor Judy Stenhouse also replied by email April 25.

“I also would like to know who ‘we’ lobbied,” wrote Stenhouse, adding she was not part of any response.

“I don’t recall any discussions on this topic. This was the first time hearing about the YAC uncertainty and how the effects on job loss to the community,” she added.

Councillor John Dunn also responded by email to South Peace News’ inquiries April 25.

“In that meeting (April 23) . . . you heard the union representative and the staff state that they were not aware of what was happening after the fire. I actually was under the impression that they were working to restore the building and it was reopening, until I heard from the union reps that they had been told that the government was not planning on reopening the centre,” he added.

Had Dunn or any councillor been forwarded the March 21 email he would have known, or at the very least, investigated the matter.

Councillor Therese Yacyshyn and Councillor James Waikle did not respond to the question if they knew about the March 21 email. If they knew, they are not coming to the defence of the mayor.

Councils are elected share information and make decisions together.

South Peace News also published a story in its April 10 edition making it clear the claim made by Azocar regarding the centre’s future.

On April 25, after councillors began disclosing they did not know about the March 21 email, South Peace News requested Panasiuk to forward a copy of the email if he sent it to the rest of council. Panasiuk has not responded.

However, Panasiuk responded in another email after the April 23 meeting on efforts to reopen the centre made so far.

“The Town council fully supports the Youth Assessment Centre’s staying open, as it is an important resource for at-risk youth in our region and is a major employer in our town. The Town’s concerns about the YAC staying open have been communicated to our MLA and the Town will continue to lobby for the centre to reopen while the facility is being assessed.”

There was no mention of writing the premier, minister of Childrnes Services Big Lakes County or neighbouring First Nations and Metis Settlements asking for their support.

Panasiuk added the following.

“The email came at a time when I was behind in my emails due to being in Edmonton with a life-threatening medical emergency. I did verbally bring up the issue of YAC to council, which included the concerns raised in the email and a phone call received by the employer.”

Yet, some councillors are claiming they did not know about the matter until the April 23 meeting or are neither denying or confirming they knew.

Also, since the March 21 email, council has met several times including a March 23 special meeting, March 26 regular meeting, April 4 special meeting, April 9 regular meeting, April 13 special meeting, April 13 committee-of-the-whole meeting, and April 16 special meeting. Minutes show Panasiuk was at each meeting yet councillors are saying they did not know about the YAC issue.

A fire closed the centre in November 2023. At the April 23 meeting, Azocar who is the AUPE vice-president serving the northwest area of Alberta, told council the Alberta government was sending “mixed messages” about the centre. The government has said they are studying the matter and will reach a decision by August.

“Why is it taking nine months to study . . .?” asks Azocar.

“There is no reason to study if the centre is needed. We think it is time for the government to come clean with its intention to the people of High Prairie,” she added.

At the meeting, Panasiuk agreed.

“It’s a major employer. It is a much-needed facility in our region.”

The centre is accredited for 12 youth and licenced for 16.

Azocar was more specific in a letter to the editor published on page 7 this week.

“The government’s message to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represents workers at the centre, was that it will remain closed ‘for the foreseeable future.’ That literally means the government cannot see a future where the centre reopens.”

She adds the centre’s workers lost their jobs or were forced to transfer hundreds of kilometres away from home.

“The government told them the closure is permanent. Their jobs aren’t coming back,” writes Azocar.

“For the sake of the children, for the sake of their families, and for the sake of this community, we demand better,” she adds.

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