New economic group appears dead

Richard Froese
South Peace News

A new economic alliance highly touted months ago for the region around High Prairie and Slave Lake appears to be a dead issue.

At its regular meeting Feb. 13, Big Lakes County council learned the idea seems unfeasible.

It was the outcome of a meeting Jan. 30 with Alberta Economic Development and Trade.

CAO Jordan Panasiuk summarizes the meeting in a report to council.

“The general feeling was that the region is not in a position to pursue another economic development agency,” Panasiuk writes.

Reeve Richard Simard says the meeting included about 40 people from municipalities and Indigenous governments. The Town of High Prairie, Town of Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, Peavine Metis Settlement, Sucker Creek First Nation, Sawridge First Nation and Northern Lakes College were represented at the meeting.

Invitations were also sent to East Prairie Metis Settlement, Gift Lake Metis Settlement, Drift- pile Cree Nation, Kapawe’no First Nation, Swan River First Nation and Town of Swan Hills.

Consultants interviewed each of the partners that attended, Simard says.

“Consensus at the meeting was that it’s OK to work on ongoing projects when we have mutual projects of common interest,” Simard says.

“I don’t see any difference it will have having another economic alliance.”

Talks of a new regional economic alliance started last May after the Alberta government cut annual funding of $100,000 to the Lesser Slave Lake Economic Alliance in April.

The LSLEA started in 2007 and is funded under the Alberta regional economic development alliance program.

“There’s no money available for a new economic alliance,” says North Gilwood – Triangle Councillor Ken Matthews.

“Eight months ago, the government said $100,000 was available for a new economic alliance.”

As reeve, Matthews said last May that Big Lakes was ready to lead a new economic alliance to focus on tourism.

During a meeting in Slave Lake on July 7, Alberta Economic and Trade confirmed $100,000 was available for a new alliance.

Panasiuk says another meeting will be set in the coming weeks. A report and recommendations will be presented by McSweeney and Associates economic development management consultants.

Simard questions the process.

“Why are we trying to do this when we don’t have any projects to work on?” he asks.

He notes municipalities and Indigenous communities already create partnerships in various projects.

LSLEA chair Barry Sharkawi is still disappointed the provincial government chooses to not support LSLEA as the regional economic development agency.

“Economic projects with different partners each time are an inefficient way of doing business,” Sharkawi says in a prepared statement.

“With the withdrawal of provincial funding for the LSLEA and no support for any other economic agency, there is a gap in economic development in central northwestern Alberta.

“LSLEA continues to work in our region to try to fill this gap.”

Sharkawi added the door is still open for more local partners.

“We welcome any municipality that is truly interested in economic development to join our Indigenous members in this effort,” he says.

LSLEA co-ordinates projects and partners throughout the region which extends from Loon River to Wabasca to Slave Lake to High Prairie.

“Our region offers agricultural products such as canola, wheat, barley, beef and honey, Indigenous cultural experience and products, tourism with excellent lakefront resorts and a host of other opportunities,” Sharkawi says.

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