Massive cuts are coming and the public shouldn't idly stand by, according to a town hall meeting last night.
Held at the Quality Hotel and hosted by the newly-formed Join Together Alberta, the meeting had about 50 people in attendance including representatives from council and labour groups.
Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, ran the meeting and said the event was about informing Albertans about what's going on and what they can do about it.
"We're trying to send the message that spending on things like schools and hospitals and other public services shouldn't be seen as money lost down the drain," McGowan said.
"It's not money sucked down a black hole. Instead, they should be seen as investments in our people, our community and our future."
The event featured examples of the effects of provincial funding cuts by attendees, speeches by local leaders and a presentation by McGowan on why cuts are a bad idea.
"Public services - whether it's health care, education or that broad range of public services that support Albertans - all those services strengthen the fabric of our communities," McGowan said.
Information pamphlets were distributed and those in the crowd were asked for their thoughts on the cuts. McGowan said that close to $500 million has already been cut from the province's public services and that likely a further $2 billion is planned.
He said that the effects have already been felt through things like increased wait times at hospitals, arguing there is no good reason to make cuts.
Coun. Sheldon Germain was on hand at the meeting to lend his support to the movement. He said that while this is primarily a provincial issue the municipality has experienced the same funding issues that many other organizations have.
"We've experienced, at the municipality, tons of downloading over the years. Our funding agreement is fundamentally flawed," Germain said. "It's based on a one-for-one for kilometres of road and population, which isn't fair because everyone knows it costs more to do business in Fort McMurray, yet we're funded to the same levels of other communities."
Local representatives from organizations like Keyano College, the Association of Community Living and the Alberta Teachers Association spoke about the effect cuts will have on their organizations and the services they provide.
Brennan Conroy, third year music student at Keyano College and the president of the Keyano College Student Association, spoke at the meeting about how tuition increases as a result of provincial cuts would hurt students and thus the entire country.
"If you look at the University of Calgary, they're proposing a 47% increase in tuition to professional programs. If you look at the University of Alberta, they're adding a $530 fee just to keep the budget alive," Conroy said. "When you take money away from the funding, then the students have to pay for it and when you have to pay more, post-secondary education is less appealing and less accessible."
Last night's meeting was one of 22 to be held across Alberta on the proposed cuts. For more information on Join Together Alberta, visit their website at www.jointogetheralberta.ca.
Fort McMurray Today, Sat Feb 6 2010
Byline: Roland Cilliers