City will follow provincial lead on COVID restrictions

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus will remain until the province eases provincial guidelines, Mayor Greg Dionne said Monday.

Dionne was speaking following a demonstration by a group of about 60 people in City Hall just prior to a regularly-scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee.

“We will follow what the province does,” said Dionne.

He dismissed comments by local resident Melanie Markling comparing local COVID restrictions on city-owned facilities to fascism. The City has required proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test since October of 2021.

“That just tells me how desperate they are. They don’t have the facts of case so they’re coming up with these extremes of the Holocaust and things like that,” said Dionne. “Well, the Human Rights Commission has already ruled that we’re not.

“It is frustrating but at the end of the day, you just move on. We’ve worked and we’ve gone with the majority. I want to thank them. They were very respectful and they put masks on,” Dionne added.

Masks are required at the moment but the foyer of City Hall is one of the locations where proof of vaccination is not required. The other is in either of Prince Albert Police stations foyers.

The single man who refused to wear a mask was asked to leave by one of the two Prince Albert Police Service members who were there.

Representatives of the Sask. Health Authority were also in the foyer.
Markling spoke to council as a delegation, asking for the name of the person who evicted her from a sports event recently.

“First I would like to know the name of the person responsible for banning me from the Alfred Jenkins Field House recently,” she said. “Who bestowed this penalty on me?”
Markling said she was at the Field House to watch her son’s soccer game.

“I have the right to confront my accuser,” she said.

Markling brought with her a petition she said contained 1,500 signatures of people who are also concerned about the requirement to provide a negative test in lieu of a proof of vaccine.

“This petition represents a fraction of those who are not consenting to this medical procedure,” she said. “As well as those who have been injured by these vaccines or who have had a family member injured or passed away because of one.”

According to Health Canada, there have been 7,526 adverse events following COVID vaccinations, which represents 0.01 per cent of all the doses given. Of those, the largest single side effect was a tingling sensation followed by pain at the vaccination site.

Further broken down into adverse events that are of special interest, 277 deaths were reported following a vaccination but, of those, 135 did not have enough information to make a determination of cause, 97 were unlikely due to the vaccine and 45 remain under investigation.

So far, 33,870 deaths have been reported following COVID-19 infection.
Markling said that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives citizens the power to decide for themselves if they want to be vaccinated or not.

“We have been coerced, bribed, guilted, shamed manipulated into taking this medical injection. This is not informed consent,” Markling said.

She also quoted former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who wrote the Bill of Rights.

“Mandating restrictions on people who have decided not to receive this vaccine is a violation of our rights,” Markling said. “Today, there has been no evidence of transmission in any city facility.”

She denied that any health crisis involving COVID-19 is real.

“The emergency measures are based on the claim that we are experiencing a public health emergency,” said Markling. “There’s no evidence to substantiate this claim. The evidence indicates that we are experiencing a rate of infection consistent with a normal influenza season.”

In the last regular flu season before the start of the pandemic, 1,334 cases of the flu were reported in Saskatchewan, resulting in 11 deaths and 24 people needing intensive care throughout the season.

On Jan 31, 2022, 118 people were in the hospital with COVID-related illnesses and 33 people were in the ICU with COVID-related illness.

The province began separating COVID hospitalization reporting at the start of 2022, sorting by incidental/asymptomatic infection and actual COVID-related illness.

Markling further questioned other public health measures, such as the types of medications given to treat COVID illness.

“There are no clinical trials showing proof of asymptomatic people spreading the virus. Natural immunity and therapeutics are suppressed, ridiculed and censored by our governing health care. Whereas other countries have successfully provided early treatments, keeping people out of our hospitals,” she stated.

Several studies cited in the medical journal, The Lancet, and Jama Network have concluded that asymptomatic spread does happen and that asymptomatic people account for up to 24 per cent of transmission.

The JAMA study was published in January 2021, at the start of the spread of the Delta variant and well before the Omicron variant.

Markling also claimed that hospitals have been overburdened for 10 years and that problems with capacity are due to chronic underfunding.

“In the US, there is 31 ICU beds per 100,000 people, in Germany there is 29 and here in Saskatchewan we’ve got 11,” Markling said. “There are staff in these facilities that are afraid to come forward in the threat of being dismissed, attacked and censored. It’s a torture tactic and its happening in our city.”

Melanie Markling gets a hug from a supporter after making a presentation at Prince Albert City Hall on Jan. 31, 2022.

She also said that council should have been more suspicious of the information provided by the province.

“It is your job to ask questions, Markling told council. “Where is the proof of claim? How many deaths and how many hospitalizations were prevented by these measures? If you’re not allowed to question it, is isn’t science.”

Council made its decisions on both requiring masks or proof of vaccination/negative test at the request of the local medical officer of health, Dr. Chokani.

She also said that by requiring masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test, the city is acting as a doctor.

“Elected officials are not medical professionals, therefore you are unlawfully practicing medicine by prescribing, recommending and using coercion to insist citizens submit to the experimental medical treatment for COVID-19, including the requirement of negative tests. It’s an indictable offense to force anyone to take a DNA or RNA test or deny any service, employment or any educational opportunity to anyone who refuses to take such a test,” Markling said.

“Your threats and intimidation have infringed on our human rights and you’re putting yourselves personally at risk of a civil lawsuit for damages.”

No councillors commented on Markling’s presentation before voting to receive it for information, which means that no action will be taken. The vote was unanimous.
More than 60 people showed up to listen to the presentation. Many carried Canadian and Saskatchewan flags, banners, and signs to show their support, while others banged drums and sang O Canada.

Marking received a loud cheer from those in attendance, afterward emerging from council chambers.

“It’s just the beginning,” she told supporters gathered at City Hall. “We’re still not even close to being what we can, right. There’s still a long way to go.”
Marking told reporters she was confident council would take a closer look at the petition and notice of liability they received on Monday.

“At this point, they are being presented with some other information that maybe they may or may not have had access to previously, which led to the situation we find ourselves in now, where there is segregation, bullying, (and) discrimination,” she said during an interview.

Marking added that she believed council took her concerns seriously, despite the odd chuckle. She said people have accused her of being a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist—a label she rejected.

“I’m not a scientist, or a doctor or a lawyer, but I do have a brain, and I can take it upon myself to educate myself, find resources, and make my own decisions from that,” she said.
“There’s a large group of us in the community, and we’re not just going to stop because they (critics) are uncomfortable,” she added. “There’s a lot of information that I presented, and they should be asking questions.”

—with files from Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Jim Toye retires after 8 years as city manager

The City of Prince Albert will be looking for a new City Manager after Jim Toye announced his retirement.

Toye, who had planned to retire by the end of this year, moved his schedule up when his wife Colleen was also able to retire early.

He attributed his success as an administrator to having a good team to work with.

“I’ve always been surrounded by good people. That’s what I do. It’s not just about Jim Toye. Its who I hire and how we complement the team together and work together on projects,” said Toye following his announcement at City Hall on Jan. 31.

Toye’s ability to hire good managers was one of his best characteristics, said Mayor Greg Dionne.

“When he arrived, our team was more senior. The team we have now is young and they’re aggressive, which is what you want in the changing times,” he said.

Dionne commented on Toye’s leadership during the 2016 water shortage crisis brought on by an oil spill upstream on the North Saskatchewan river.

“When you’re in a disaster, that’s when leaders step forward and our biggest disaster in my history was the 2016 water crisis,” Dionne said. “Jim really stepped forward.”

Toye created the base that will allow the city to thrive, he add.

“It’s sad that he’s leaving now, when we’re at a great point but he set up the foundation and the work for us to get there,” said Dionne.

Toye’s career has been in municipal administration throughout Saskatchewan. He worked in upper management in North Battleford, Kindersley, Leader and Unity.

Toye is leaving the city at a high point, with recent announcements of the re-opening of the pulp mill, building of an OSB mill, expansion of the Victoria Hospital and the city project of multiple hockey arenas and an indoor swimming facility starting construction in the spring.

“The OSB plant has up to 750 jobs. The paper mill, I’ve been out there and viewed it and they’re going to be again looking at reopening it and are spending millions and millions of dollars already in the last couple years,” Toye said.

He also mentioned the Pivot furniture plant that is to be built north of the city and will provide an economic boost to the region.

“Things are going really well right now with the City,” said Toye. “With that development comes job creation. People are going to build houses, work here, go to school here. That is in the future but for me, I think I’ve taken the city to a level where things look very, very positive.

It’s not like we’re going into a depression and things look very, very optimistic.”

The Toyes are almost done with the construction of a new home in the Blackstrap Lake area, a mid-point for seeing their three daughters and their grandchildren.

Toye will officially be done his job on March 31.

From joy to grief; Nipawin Hawks mourn death of steadfast volunteer

If there is a consistent description of Joel Verklan it is the word joy, but that’s followed by vibrant, happy and someone who lived happily in the moment

Joel, who would have turned 26 this July 1, was a fixture at the Nipawin Hawks games, practices and in the dressing room at Centennial arena. He died unexpectedly the morning of Jan. 27.

“He was innocent and sweet,” said Interim head coach and general manager, Tad Kozun, of Joel’s personality. “I don’t think he ever missed a game.” 

He was also a dedicated volunteer and fan who folded jerseys, picked up pucks, filled water bottles and carried a bag of hats to every game in order to be prepared for the occasional hat trick that saw him  throw his hats on the ice. 

One thing is certain, the mark that Joel left on the Hawks team and community is indelible. 

“It’s a whole community thing. The presence he had in this community and the difference he made in a lot of people’s lives was tremendous,” Kozun said. 

Joel’s distinct methods of celebrating the team’s successes were a part of the game experience in Nipawin. 

“He loved the Hawks. He loved hat tricks, they were a big thing. He would always have his bag of hats, packed and ready for every game. If we were on the road, that bag of hats was beside his chair if he watched the game on Hockey TV. He would throw his hats at the TV,” said his friend and mentor, Emma Galloway who is also the team’s trainer and athletic therapist. 

The next day, Joel would walk into the dressing room and throw hats at whichever player had scored the three goals. 

Joel’s parents, Tim and Lynn Verklan – and his sister Tara – have long been a billet family for Hawks’ players, so Joel formed bonds with the players who shared their home.

He was even nicknamed Goobs by some of his billet brothers who recognized Joel as a happy soul.

A huge part of his time at the rink was picking up the practice pucks from the ice following pre-game warmups. This was a job he took seriously. 

“That was something he took pride in to the point where if he was on holidays and he missed a game, that game didn’t exist because he wasn’t here to pick up pucks,” Galloway said. 

Joel would pack the jerseys for the games, and get everything ready for the team when they had away games and were taking a bus. 

“Those little things he loved to do and it brought him so much joy,” said Galloway. “Joel as a person was very happy, was very vibrant and anybody who came across him, he made their day brighter.” 

If he saw a familiar face in the grocery store, he made sure to yell out hello and to remind them that his name was Joel. 

“He enjoyed the little things in life. I think right now we get carried away with all that’s happening in the world and we get carried away with the bigger things and we forget to stop and enjoy the little things. There’s always a thing that sticks in my mind is be the change you want to see in the world and that was Joel. He brightened everybody’s day and so that is how we want to remember him,” Galloway said.

A big highlight in Joel’s time with the Hawks came in 2018. The season that ended in tragedy for the Humboldt Broncos also ended in a SJHL championship for the Hawks and Joel was very proud of his ring.  

Joel Verklan with his 2018 SJHL championship ring. Photo by Richard Peterson.

Being autistic, Joel played on the Special O teams at LP Miller School until his graduation in 2014 and then on into adulthood. He was a part of as many teams as he could, from bocce ball, golf, curling and of course, floor hockey. 

There was more to Joel than the sports he loved so much, though, and former teacher Ren Lukoni talked of his days at the school and on the Special O team with happiness.

“You can’t help but smile when you think of Joel,” she said. “He’s a huge part of Special O Nipawin and huge part of our community.”

There was a mischievous side to him that she could see in the twinkle in his eyes, she said. 

Lukoni shared a few favourite memories of him, such as the fact that he took birthdays so seriously he made sure to give wishes to others the day before. 

As a fan, he rang his cow bell using both hands – and sometimes his upper body – when the Hawks scored. He also loved to dance and was difficult to get off the dance floor. 

“Dance, dance, dance! Dance by yourself. Dance with others. It don’t matter, just get on that dance floor and don’t come off until the DJ has started packing up. Heck, even then stay out a wee bit longer hoping for one more song,” Lukoni said. 

The Hawks team has ordered stickers with a baseball cap featuring the Nipawin Hawks logo and Joel’s nickname ‘Goobs’. 

They will wear the stickers for the rest of the season and, due to multiple requests from fans, will have them available for purchase at the Hawk’s office (price has not been determined yet). The office hours are from Monday to Thursday, starting at 10:00 am and going until 3:00 pm. 

Any money left from the cost of making the sticker sales will be donated the Nipawin Special O effort. 

Lake Country Co-op is the game sponsor on Feb. 6 and both the business and the Hawks will have a time of remembrance before puck drop at 6:00 pm. 

Hoback will meet with truckers

Randy Hoback, Conservative MP for Prince Albert is publicly supporting the goals of a group of truckers wanting to end vaccination requirements who are demonstrating in Ottawa this weekend.

Hoback released a statement on his Facebook page on Jan. 28, saying that he plans to meet with any peaceful demonstrator from this constituency while they are in Ottawa.

“On the issue of federal vaccine mandates on truckers, I and my Conservative colleagues have been very clear. We oppose them,” wrote Hoback.

Party leader Erin O’Toole has also said he will meet with truckers next week.

A convoy of transport trucks and pickups left western Canada  earlier this week. Earlier this morning, the Kingston Ont. Police tweeted that the convoy that passed through the community at 9:35 am included 17 tractor/trailer units, 104 tractors with no trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six RVs.

Hoback said in his statement that the CPC leader has instead called for more use of rapid tests to accommodate federal and federally regulated employees, including truck drivers as a way to keep the economy moving.

“Conservative Party Erin O’Toole has also been crystal clear on federally mandated vaccines. While vaccines are the best way of addressing serious illness associated with COVID-19, it is also apparent that not every Canadian will be vaccinated,” said Hoback.

He also pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implemented the vaccine requirements by regulation and Orders In Council, which eliminated a House of Commons debate.

The NDP are supporting the Liberal minority government, allowing the changes to happen.

Another point Hoback raised is that many of the restrictions being protested by the truckers are provincial responsibility, not federal.

“Mandates on doctors, nurses, hospitals, schools, bus drivers, local businesses, etc. are all implemented by our provincial governments. The power to do so is defined in Section 92 of the Constitution. I nor any federal Member of Parliament possess the power to override provincial mandates. Neither does the federal government,” said Hoback. In Saskatchewan, it would be the government led by Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party.

City plans snow lift to deal with blind spots

Local Journalism Initiative

Issues with snow piles obstructing the vision of Prince Albert drivers were discussed at Prince Albert city council’s regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 24.

Mayor Greg Dionne brought up the issue, saying there have been at least two recent accidents caused by drivers not being able to see traffic.  

“We had another accident on one of those  intersections and what was the problem? They could not see. We need to act swiftly on this,” said Dionne. 

“We cannot, when we do snow removal, cause blind corners for our citizens. We don’t allow people to build fences or grow hedges so if we do it instead of doing snow lifts we should tackle this problem right away.”

He said another accident happened near the RCMP detachment, also caused by a lack of ability to see over snow piles. 

Dionne proposed that the City lift snow that it has piled and that businesses and private landowners also be told to deal with piles on their property. 

“As a city we have to correct the ones we have done and do it quickly and at the same time, get on the private residents and businesses that have piled  it on their property and caused blind spots,” he stated. 

As of Monday, the city has seen two feet of snow fall already this winter and more is expected. 

With over 240 kilometres of roads and streets, dealing with all the snow is a challenge. 

In budget discussions in November, council discussed the snow levy that is attached to property tax bills—a $60 add on that was to go snow removal and infrastructure. 

The levy has collected $1.3 million since it was implemented, Finance Director Cheryl Tkachuk said.

“It went for snow management and it went for future infrastructure reserves,” Tkachuk told council, following a question by Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick. 

“That’s what we want this $1.3 million to go to. Just snow, so the public knows how much was collected and that it went to its intended purpose, which was snow,” he said. 

Some discussion centred around changing the purpose of the reserve to eliminate infrastructure and have it dedicated to snow removal only. 

Dionne emphasized that the City funds snow removal, however it happens. 

“We fund snow removal. Whether it’s a credit or a deficit, we fund snow removal,” he stated. 

Council has one more meeting before the budget is finalized and Coun. Charlene Miller said she would like to see a breakdown of how much of the money raised in the levy went to snow removal and how much went to infrastructure needs. 

Council defers vote on banning fireworks

Local Journalism Initiative 

Low hazard fireworks and sky lanterns could soon be been banned in the City of Prince Albert, except for July 1 and New Year’s.

City council was set to modify the Fire Services bylaw during their Jan. 27 regular meeting, but the decision was deferred in order to allow for better details around timing and the precise wording of the changes. 

“The purpose of banning is (when) people shoot them off at night on any given night (and) it ticks people off. People think it’s gunfire,” Coun. Blake Edwards said. “This is because of the people that do this on a regular basis.” 

Issues were raised in the summer of 2021 with multiple complaints about fireworks being ignited in the middle of the night. 

Edwards proposed the two exceptions of allowing people to shoot off fireworks on private property on two nights a year; Canada Day and New Year’s Eve. 

As it stands, the only restriction is that fireworks are not allowed on City Property. 

“Currently anyone can go buy a firework and shoot it off in the neighbourhood. It’s allowed, so we are doing a major change,” said Edwards. “That’s why I thought I don’t want to make good people bad because they want to have a little firework in their backyard.” 

Coun. Tony Head said he would not support the amendment and his constituents would prefer to have an outright ban with no exceptions. 

He also said that allowing the public to ignite them is a safety hazard.

“My experience is that when individuals who aren’t trained let off fireworks, they’re going to go into the crowd, let alone into the neighbour’s house, the neighbour’s garage,” Head stated. “I think it’s a fire hazard, a huge one. There might be some individuals that do it responsibly, but there’s going to be individuals that pose a risk.”

He proposed instead that the City take on having fireworks on the two excepted days. 

“The best solution is to not have it (exceptions) at all and if we’re going to do it on Canada Day or New Year’s, we do it as a city and not as an individual in the back yard,” he said. 

Fire Chief Kris Olsen said that the department looked at other bylaws across Western Canada to see what other municipalities are doing, they found that times around noise bylaws also became a concern. 

“When we have other municipalities with allowances, they actually shore up responsibilities as well. Responsibilities on a property owner for care, use and discharge of those fireworks,” Olsen said. 

The bylaw will be added to agenda of the next meeting for final reading.

City vows new indoor rec facility will draw crowds to Prince Albert

City councilors compared the plan for the new aquatics centres to the City of Melfort’s existing facility, saying Prince Albert’s will be larger, have more slides and pull people to Prince Albert for recreation.

Council approved multiple aspects of a project that will see two ice arenas and an indoor swimming complex built at the south end of the city, at their regular meeting on Jan. 24.

“The square footage of the aquatics pad in the new arena is 150,000 square feet, That’s considerably larger than in Melfort,” said Director of Public Works, Wes Hicks, in response to questions from council.

In addition, there is a main pool, a wave pool and two water slides that are larger than Melfort has. The jacuzzi and lazy river are also larger, he said. The pool will also have a gradual entry with play structures for smaller children.

“This is going to be a very, very, impressive building,” said Coun. Blake Edwards. “This is very exciting for Prince Albert. I can’t wait for this to be built.”

Staff plan to start construction in April. They expect it will take about two years to be completed.

Council made no effort to hide they are competing for recreation business from Melfort.

“They have got us for the last 10 years, and now we’ll reverse it,” said Mayor Greg Dionne.

The 75 per cent detailed design was presented to council in order to allow the architects to get ready to invite qualified general contractors to bid.

People with reduced mobility were consulted about accessibility and user groups were also given input.

“They’re going to be a big part of the excitement to move into this facility,” said Coun. Ted Zurakowski.

The City has been facing issues such as pool temperatures when competitive swims happen versus what is needed for more recreational needs. The new facility will not have that problem.

“In my opinion on the parks and recreation said the biggest value in the new aquatics centre is that you’re going to be able to operate a leisure area in conjunction with a 25 meter, eight lane competitive pool,” said Jody Boulet, Director of Community Services.

“We’re going to see much greater attendance as this new facility. And not just from Prince Albert residents. We’re going to see the region and we’re going to see the province.”

The competition pool was approved with the design concept of stairs and a lift davit in order to meet accessibility specifications.

“There is no limitation because we have both stairs and a lift. We can do wheelchairs, we can do walkers, any disabled person we can get into the water,” said Dionne.

Having two ice pads for the skating arena area will allow for larger events and tournaments to be hosted in Prince Albert and solves some problems for user groups. 

“The ability to go back and forth to two rinks that are under one roof creates logistical opportunities for those tournaments or event hosting opportunities,” Boulet explained.

Council also approved the parking lot design but not without discussion. Some councillors asked about how environmental considerations impacted decisions and whether there would be electric vehicle charging stations.

“We can confirm that the technology that goes into these new builds takes into account that sustainability moving forward,” said Boulet.

He used the example of capturing heat from the ice plant and distributing it around the building to reduce heating costs.

“The new technology allows you to capture it and distribute it around your facility,” Boulet said. “It allows you to reduce your requirement and reduce your footprint.”

All lighting will be LED and things like taps will be contactless.

Coun. Tara Lennox-Zepp asked if electric charging stations would be available and was told that they would be considered where there is charging for it.

“We are looking at where there’s power putting in towers so you can put $10 in and get $10 worth of power,” said Dionne.

That decision has not been finalized yet.

Council approved the decisions recommended by staff, with Councillors Tony Head, Charlene Miller and Tara Lennox -Zepp opposed.

City tweaks home buyer/reno program

Local Journalism Initiative

Council approved several changes to the wording of some programs created in 2020 to make it easier to get financing for prospective first time home owners.

Some of the wording led banks deny mortgages to those accessing the program. 

“The wording specifically caused lending banks to see it as a contribution to the mortgage,” Coun. Dawn Kilmer said during the Jan. 25 regular council meeting. “By changing this program we’re hoping to enhance the people that wish to become homeowners.”

Seven of the City’s eight councillors approved continuing the program with some changes, despite a lack of uptake since it was created. Coun. Tony Head was the only elected official to oppose it.

“It’s the availability of just a little boost to help them become first time homeowners,” Kilmer said. 

Applicants can get 50 per cent of their needed down payment to a maximum of $5,000 or they can get funding up to $2,000 for closing costs. 

A third avenue is to ask for grant funding that will pay for significant or immediate home repairs. The money would cover one-half of the cost of the work up to a maximum of $5,000. 

Work such as replacing or fixing a furnace, secondary heat source, water heater, shingles, windows and wiring are examples. 

In the proposal to council, staff explained that the changes shift the focus from a specific type of applicant to moving people through the ‘housing continuum’. 

The maximum value of eligible home is $200,000 and household income is capped at $80,000. 

As Craig Guidinger, Director of Planning, explained, people that can save money for a down payment sometimes have problems paying for large repairs. 

“Anecdotally, we have talked to a lot of lending agencies and they have told us that people save for a down payment – they can save for a home but its either/or,” he explained. “They don’t have money for a down payment and money to replace a furnace or replace shingles on their property. They have said that a program like this certainly does help.”

Coun. Tony Head, who voted against the changes, discussed using some of the money in the housing reserve for areas, such as a $10,000 grant to the newly expanded overnight shelter being operated by the Prince Albert Grand Council. 

He said the uptake on the program was limited, pointing out that no actual applicants met the criteria. 

“I don’t know how many people are going to apply for or qualify for these programs, even with the changes,” he said. 

Some councillors expressed concern over what they called downloading of responsibility from higher levels of government, such as the province or the federal government. 

“If the birth of this program is a result of the province stepping away, I‘m concerned about us filling the void, us filling the gap. If we continue the practice of filling in the void every time another level of government walks away from an existing program, frankly we can’t afford anything to fill the void,” said Coun. Ted Zurakowski. He said that the program fills a need in the community. 

Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick had similar concerns, but said that helping people become home owners has long term benefits to the City. 

“A first time home buyer is finally going to get their own place. They are then going contribute in the form of taxes back to the city. It’s a small investment on the part of the city to get and to build our tax base,” he said. 

“The renovation is the same thing. If we’re going to approve properties that are run down, it’s going to improve the assessed value of that property by investing into those neighbourhoods. We will see the return in the long run.”

At the recommendation of staff, the secondary suite program was discontinued. 

City approves Moose Lodge shelter beds

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The new warmup shelter downtown now has 20 overnight beds after receiving funding from the province and a permit from the City of Prince Albert.

Prince Albert Grand Council opened the Union Centre on 8th St. East as a daytime warming shelter at the beginning of December, but has now expanded the services. 

Council unanimously supported the PAGC request. 

“I feel that this is very much needed in our city and I think we can all agree that these have been ongoing issues,” said Coun. Tony Head, who made the motion to approve the request. 

“This shelter would assist with some of the most vulnerable having a place to sleep at night. I know there’s some limitations to the current shelter we have at the Exhibition Centre.”

Funding came from the province following a joint effort by staff, said Mayor Greg Dionne. 

“I want to thank Jeff Desmond from the Grand Council and City Manager Jim Toye. They tag teamed Minister Carr from Social Service and got $88,000 from the province to run the shelter,” said Dionne. 

A cold winter so far meant that the need was urgent and Dionne said he polled council by email when he learned the money had been granted and all councillors voted in favour.  

“We moved swiftly to approve their location. We’re just confirming it today,” he said. 

Planning and Development Director Craig Guidinger said during the Jan. 24 regular meeting where the permit was approved that the Stepping Stones shelter also received a federal government grant. The $30,000 grant will cover shelter renovations. 

Head asked later in the meeting to have the City grant an additional $10,000 for the PAGC shelter 

“I think this money, this is going to save lives this shelter,” he said. “It’s important that we do our best and all we can to support that and that means financial. $10,000 doesn’t seem a lot when we’re passing $3 million for a design. It’s not going to put the city out but it will make a huge difference to the people that are going to use that shelter.”

Council as a whole was not in favour, saying that homelessness is a provincial responsibility. 

“Each level of government has a responsibility. Our responsibility is to make sure that we zone the building properly. Our responsibility is make sure there is police protection. We spend a lot of money on policing and we provide protection for not only this shelter, but Stepping Stones and Homeward Bound,” Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said. 

Dionne said that city staff and other organizations have worked hard on getting the shelter approved and they have spent time advocating to provincial authorities for funding but taxpayers are not supportive of city money going to the shelter. 

“I’ve heard loud and clear from our taxpayers that they don’t want us to get involved,” he said. “As soon as we open the door to downloading from the government, that door will be wide open. We’ll be inviting in more and more.”

Prince Albert drivers aim for peaceful demonstration as part of Ottawa-bound convoy

A convoy of big rigs and passenger vehicles heading for Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements in the trucking industry will include some drivers from the Prince Albert area. 

Ryan Mihilewicz, one of the organizers at the Prince Albert send off on Jan. 24, said they are not anti-vaccine, they are against mandated vaccinations. 

“Our plan is we want to end mandates. This isn’t an anti-vax rally,” said Mihilewicz, standing outside the Lake Country Co-op’s cardlock fuel location north of the city. “This is an ‘end mandates and give Canadians our freedom back rally’.”

About 100 people in passenger vehicles were at the cardlock with many coming from surrounding areas. 

“I’ve been getting hundreds and hundreds of calls every day. We’ve got people from the North, we’ve got people from every direction coming,” he said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s crazy and pretty exciting.”

A portion of those gathered were driving to Saskatoon where they would meet a convoy from Northern Alberta before heading towards Regina where they will stay overnight. 

Tuesday morning they drive eastwards to Kenora, Ontario, before heading to Ottawa.

Mihilewicz said he has been told the convoy was 75 kilometres long before it reached Calgary, where it will pick up more drivers and also from Swift Current. 

“It’s going to be massive,” he said.

Mihilewicz said that their goal is to have a peaceful demonstration as they head to join other trucks driving from western Canadian locations. 

“We want this to be a peaceful rally. Anything that’s going on, if there’s violence, it won’t be part of our crew, I can assure you of that,” he said. “Anyone in our crew that does create violence will be removed instantly and the police will be called.”

The entire group plans to be in Ottawa on January 24. 

Premier Scott Moe said the same day that he sees the federal mandate as unnecessary, given the high vaccination rates in the trucking industry already. 

“First and foremost the vast majority of our truckers already are vaccinated and we have tools in the way of rapid tests that our truckers can use. They didn’t have these tools available to them a year ago either,” Moe said in a news conference. 

He also said that the trucking industry is essential and has been operating in a safe manner since the start of the pandemic.

“This is an essential service, these are the folks that are delivering our products, our food in many cases to our communities in Saskatchewan and Canada and they have operated safely throughout the pandemic, long before we had access to vaccines, long before we had many of the tools that have proven to be effective in our battle against the omicron wave here today,” said Moe. 

One of the main organizers of the rally is Pat King, a western separatist and part of the Yellow Vests Canada group. 

King has said publicly that he sees government measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 32,294 Canadians so far, including 77 yesterday, as too far-reaching. 

“If we don’t put a stop to this now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m telling you, you won’t recognize your home country,” he said in an online interview on Jan. 18. 

Once in Ottawa, he told a talk show host, they plan to address the Senate. 

The convoy does not have the support of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which says the vast majority of its members are indeed vaccinated and rates mirror that of the general population. 

“The Government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated.”

The CTA issued the statement on Jan. 22, saying it strongly disapproves of any protests on public roads, highways and bridges. 

CTA believes such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed, the statement said. 

Instead, it suggested members that want to publicly express their opinions on government policies do so by holding a legal and organized event on Parliament Hill or by contacting their local Member of Parliament. 

“What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border,” said the statement. 

The US has required all foreigners crossing their border to be fully vaccinated since Jan. 22.

As a federally regulated industry, Canadian truckers will be required to be vaccinated early this year, as were those in the airline, rail and marine industries. 

The Government of Canada says there are about 18,500 employers in the affected industries that employ 955,000 people including pipelines, banks and postal services. 

Following a short phase-in period, employees will be required to show proof of vaccination. Those that don’t will be unable to work. Exemptions are granted for medical reasons.