Looking closer to home

Prince Albert firefighters extinguish a car fire in a back alley behind Central Avenue in the summer of 2016. -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne wants to see more homegrown police officers and firefighters in Prince Albert, and he’s willing to bring forward a new proposal to make it happen.

On Monday, Dionne served notice that he intended to put forward a motion at the next council meeting that would give higher priority to local residents who applied for new positions at the Prince Albert Police Service and Prince Albert Fire Department.

After the meeting, Dionne said he wanted to see more recent high school graduates stay in Prince Albert, and believes creating a residency requirement is the best way to do it.

“I don’t understand why we’d hire outside the community,” he said. “We have a large youth force here that is unemployed and I believe they should have a little ‘hand up’ to get city jobs.”

Ideally, Dionne wants to see the policy expand to all city jobs, but said it’s prudent to start small with the city’s police and fire department and see how things work out. If implemented, the policy would be confined to lower level positions and not affect major job hunts that require candidates with advanced education or experience.

“In some cases, we have no choice in the city, but to look outside,” he explained.

Issuing residency requirements for city employees is a common, but controversial, topic. Some Canadian cities, like Vancouver, require their fire and rescue personnel to live within a pre-defined area to be eligible for jobs in that sector.

The topic is hotly debated in the U.S., where the court system has struck down and upheld a number of residency requirement challenges in various states. For example, in 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that laws forcing Milwaukee police officers, firefighters, teachers and other public workers to live within city limits were in violation of state law. Cities like Vancouver have maintained that such laws are necessary due to the on-call nature of the job.

Dionne said he’s already been in contact with cities that have residency requirement laws on the books. He doesn’t expect the adoption of such laws to have any negative effects on the city’s relationship with other Saskatchewan communities.

“I can’t see any repercussions coming,” he said. “It’s not like a trade war.”

Dionne added that he’s concerned a lack of employment opportunities are the main reason young people are leaving Prince Albert, and he’s hopeful they’ll stay if given priority when new jobs open up.

Notices of motion are formal actions that allow city council members to introduce new items for discussion. They cannot become law unless discussed and approved by council at a future meeting.