Looking back at the year that was 2020, Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers says there were a lot of exciting plans that were interrupted and he’ll be happy when he sees the year in the rear-view mirror.
2020 was set to be a big year for tourism in the city with several events scheduled throughout the year including the annual Colonial Days Fair, the Saskatchewan Summer Games and the O.T.S. Heavy Oil Show. The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel them all and postpone them further into the future resulting in a hit to the local economy.
“As a community, we’ve been really resilient and have gotten through to where we are at. COVID has left its print on the city and it will for a long time, but we’re managing. We’re getting through it. People are working through it. It’s not always easy for everyone, but we’re getting there.”
The pandemic also put into focus one of the largest ongoing issues in healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a large strain on the healthcare system and workers across the country and spotlighted some of the issues found in the Border City including the sharing of information between the two provinces. A goal Aalbers has for the new term is getting both provincial health ministers and premiers in the city to discuss improvements to the bi-provincial health accord.
“We can’t take our foot off the gas on this one. This is one that we’re going to have to continue to elevate and get the ministers here to experience it first hand. There’s nowhere else in Alberta or Saskatchewan that has the challenges that we have right here. Our MLAs live it and understand it very well, but once it gets past that point it’s a little tougher to convince cabinet ministers of the challenges.”
Aalbers says the city as well as groups like the Lloydminster Concerned Citizens for Seniors Care Society, the Lloydminster & District Health Advisory Council and the Yellowhead Health Advisory Committee will continue to advocate on this issue, but the community will also have to do their part in voicing their concerns on the issue to their government officials.
Economic diversification, development and growing businesses in Lloydminster were hot topics discussed many times during the election season.
“We need to maintain the businesses we have as best as we can, grow those businesses and help connect them to the world and attract new business. One of the challenges is is that we are not the only people doing exactly the same thing all over Canada, the United States or across the world very likely.”
The city’s economic development team is looking into finding ways to differentiate Lloydminster from other cities and Aalbers notes the team is planting seeds which he hopes will bear fruit in 2021.
Aalbers says the city can only help lift the economy to a certain extent as agriculture and oil industries price changes are beyond their control. He adds the things they can control include cutting red tape for businesses in the city and finding ways to help them grow in the future.
“We have a strong entrepreneurial spirit in this city that’s been noted in the past on a national level. I think it’s still there, we’ve just have to get through the humps we have right now with COVID and oil keeps going up. If we can get oil to that $60-$70 range then I think that will help lighten the heavy load and get some people working.”
An initiative residents can take part in and help local businesses recover is the Thinklloydfirst campaign. He says the relationship between citizens and local businesses are vital to keeping them running and supporting programs in the city.
“The businesses are the people that everybody turns to when they’re looking for a raffle prize or donations for their association like minor sports or culture. We always look for support and the businesses do support us and support the community very well. It’s a relationship. If we don’t spend those dollars in our own community to start with then how can we ask them to support something that they don’t see the benefits from.”
A company that plays a big role in the local economy is Husky Energy. In October, Husky announced Cenovus Energy was looking to take over the company which would consolidate the two. Aalbers is optimistic about the merger and believes the Upgrader and Refinery were major factors in Cenovus’ decision.
“I think it will be beneficial. Where do the jobs sit? That’ll be a challenge because there’s going to be rationalization when this happens with two head offices. I’m hoping based on the knowledge and experience that our folks have here will be beneficial and Cenovus will realize the full benefits of that. We’ll see where it goes.”
Aalbers plans to speak with the President and CEO of the combined company Alex Pourbaix once the transaction is complete.
Infrastructure projects in 2021
He says 2021 will be a big year for infrastructure work in the city. With funding secured and plans now in place, construction on the new wastewater treatment plant will begin. The city will also be building a new firehall as well as moving the Lloydminster Public Library and Lloydminster Cultural and Science Centre to their new location.
Major roadwork projects include improvements to the intersection of College Drive and 44 Street (Highway 16) on top of extra work on the street.
Aalbers says the new year will see plenty of changes to the city and things will get better in 2021. He hopes to be able to meet residents again in-person at Your Voice nights and other events next year.
“I want to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a happy New Year. 2021 will be better folks, I really believe that and I hope you join me in that. We can start by whatever events that do happen so we can get out there and enjoy them.”