Métis oppose proposed new bridge

A protest sign was erected at Tompkins Landing on the Peace River opposing the proposed new bridge.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A petition against a proposed new toll bridge across the Peace River at Tompkins Landing claims the government has not properly consult- ed Métis people about the project, which will replace the existing ferry.

“The Members of Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement were never consulted as it has been said in numerous media coverage. The people have a voice and are forced to use it in a petition in a plea to be heard,” the petition says.

“A bridge will have great impact on the Métis’s sacred, traditional land use. We need to protect our historical and traditional places. The Métis have traditionally harvested and fished along the Peace River for decades.”

So far, 66 people have signed the online petition.

“I do not want the bridge built because it will affect our traditional territory for sacred practices like hunting, gathering, fishing and camping. With increased traffic it will chase the animals away,” says Dawn Cardinal, who started the petition.

“Economic times are tough and in a crisis it’s not feasible to spend over $200 million on something that is not a necessity.

“Fox Lake needs a bridge, for their livelihood to improve, they need it more than La Crete for convenience,” she adds.

“We, as a community, were not consulted for the bridge to be on our land,” says signatory Morgan Calliou.

“This is our traditional gather[ing] grounds and home land, we were not asked or consulted,” writes signatory Cory Ferguson.

Pam Calliou, who also signed the petition, says, “This bridge goes through our traditional hunting lands and has zero benefits to the people of Paddle Prairie.”

The bridge has broad support in La Crete, a historically Mennonite community that is also benefiting from other upcoming government investments including a 92-km natural gas pipeline which will cost taxpayers $16.2 million, as well as a new La Crete Maternity and Community Health Centre at a cost of $35 million.

On March 31, Peace River MLA Dan Williams told Trending 55 News he has met with the Paddle Prairie council and chair Alden Armstrong many times, and that Paddle Prairie council will have a vote on the project in future once engineering and other plans for the bridge are complete.

Minister of Transportation Ric McIver confirms he and his staff travelled to Mackenzie County in late August 2020 for face-to-face meetings with stakeholders. That included a meeting in Paddle Prairie with the Métis Settlement councillors and chair on Aug. 24, as well as workshops in La Crete and High Level on Aug. 24 and 25.

“As with any transportation project, we continue to engage with stakeholders both during construction and after construction is complete. We are looking to meet with Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement again soon, however this has been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions,” says McKenzie Kibler, press secretary for the Minister of Infrastructure’s office.

The new Highway 697 bridge over the Peace River at Tompkins Landing will greatly improve travel times and certainty for residents in northwestern Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney visited the area Nov. 10, 2020. In a video posted to Facebook says the bridge will cost taxpayers $200 million for traffic of only 400 cars per day, making user fees the best solution to finance the bridge.

Bill 43, was introduced Nov. 3, 2020 to allow the provincial government to collect user fees such as tolls to finance the construction of the bridge and other future projects.

Meanwhile, Bill 57, or the Métis Settlements Amendment Act, proposes changes “to modernize the Metis Settlements Act [MSA] to increase community sustainability and fiscal accountability” before elections in October.

Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson says he has met with various Métis councils to discuss the bill, but president of the Métis Settlements of Alberta Herb Lehr says he was not properly consulted on the proposed changes.

“He went around me, and he had individual meetings with settlement chairmen. And now, he calls that consultation,” Lehr says.

Lehr spoke out against the bill at an Alberta NDP news conference March 11.

If passed, the bill will reduce the size of the Métis Settlement General Council executive from four officers to two.

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