Commentary – Rural regions need funding and facilities, too

Richard Froese
Who says small rural and northern communities are not supported by provincial and federal governments?

Residents in the High Prairie region have great reason to celebrate, not one, but two big-news stories.

After waiting many years, the new High Prairie Health Complex opened April 6, to replace an aging facility. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman toured the new health complex March 27 with Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee.

Later that day, Northern Lakes College rejoiced when $21.6 million for a consolidated campus in High Prairie was announced by Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at a news conference in the aging eastside campus facility.

For a cabinet minister to visit a small rural town in one day is a big deal. When two visit in one day, you know something even bigger must be happening.

One minister tours a major health complex valued at $228.3 million. Another minister comes to town to announce funding over four years for the regional college to consolidate its three locations in town into one campus. Funding for projects, and the construction itself, don’t happen just overnight.

It takes local community leaders with a determined effort to lobby with their local MLAs and MPs to convince the subject ministers to allocate adequate funding for the projects or services.

Major upgraded healthcare and educational facilities are vital for a community, particularly for a small rural region. While the new High Prairie Health Complex and the new Northern Lakes College campus are based in High Prairie, they both serve the wider region in northern Alberta.

They will accommodate the health and post-secondary education needs of people from more than just the High Prairie region.

For those in neighbouring communities where the local hospital does not have specialized equipment and services, they may be referred to the new High Prairie Health Complex. That could include people served by local hospitals in McLennan or Slave Lake.

Northern Lakes College has long waited for a new consolidated High Prairie campus that will replace its health services site downtown, academic campus on the east side of town and the trades training center at Tolko OSB plant west of town.

Programs based in High Prairie already attract students from the local area, and nearby regions in Slave Lake and Falher. Many will graduate and get trained and will secure employment in their home towns or other communities from northern Alberta to build local economies and contribute to life wherever they live.

Small and rural communities serve a vital role in the life of the province and the provincial government values that by funding and providing services such as health care and education.

Rural regions provide the bread and butter as a strong agricultural base, to feed the world.

Northern regions have long been the driving force behind the oil and gas industries, that fuel much of the transportation services and systems.

Now that High Prairie has received great support and funding from the provincial government, other communities can expect to get their fair share.

Governments tend to dole out the dough when elections role around. The NDP government is at the midpoint of the current term with the next election before June 2019.

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