Funding adjusted for official languages education

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Adjustments in the funding formula of the Official Languages Education Protocol (OLEP) in Alberta will mean fewer funds for French immersion programs like those offered at École Mountain View and Harry Collinge High School.

Michael Tyron, executive director of Canadian Parents for French (CPF) French Alberta branch, stated that the distribution changes result in funding reductions from 11.5 per cent to 27 per cent per student in french second language education and french immersion, despite the total amount of funding remaining the same.

Tyron said French and Francophone schools in Alberta had 8,779 students enrolled this year, while French immersion had 46,636 students, and core French had 147,766 students enrolled.

“The programs that have the most students are going to get less money per student, the programs that have fewer students are going to get more money per student and more money overall,” Tyron said.

This past school year, French immersion from K to Grade 6 received $80 per student for the year, moving forward that will decrease to $68.

Grade 7 to 12 French immersion previously received $129 per student, which is decreased to $114 going forward.

French as a second language or core french programming received $65 for K to Grade 6 and $89 for Grade 7 to 12 in the past year, which has now decreased to $53 and $65. 

“We’ve also been told that it will decrease again next year,” Tyron said.

While those two programs will lose funding, funds for francophone or French as a first language schools will increase.

Francophone funding for K to Grade 6 is going up to $69 per student and Grade 7 to 12 is going up to $120.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary of the minister of Education, stated the ministry is updating how  federal funding for K to 12 language education in Alberta is distributed so all learners are treated more fairly. 

“Beginning in 2020-21, we will move to a 50-50 split in the allocation of funding between minority-language education and second-language instruction, bringing us in line with the majority of other provinces across the country. This decision was made after significant consultation with education partners, including Alberta’s Francophone school authorities,” said Aitchison.

CPF posted that adjustments to the OLEP funding formula will have a negative impact on the ability to provide programming, and would affect the enrollment trends for French immersion. 

Kurt Scobie, principal of École Mountain View, said enrollment in French immersion has been steady in the past few years.

“Sometimes there’s more enrolment in English, sometimes there’s more enrolment in French. We have more French students overall, maybe 60/40 is the percentage. Sixty per cent French, 40 per cent English,” Scobie said.

Harry Collinge High School also offers French immersion for students beyond Grade 7.

Tyron said CPF doesn’t wish to steal funds from the francophone community as it is their constitutional right and added that the two support each other. He also stated that as enrolment in French programs rise, federal funds haven’t increased.

When asked what local impacts of these changes are, a representative from the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division said since the OLEP news for next year was just released, work to unpack and determine the implications of the grant announcement has not yet been done.

Tyron said potential impacts of less funding can include the loss of a language consultant or the loss of an entire French program.

The provincial and federal governments are now negotiating the Canada-Alberta agreement for minority-language education and second-language instruction. 

The Canada-Alberta Agreement takes an average of six to twelve month to negotiate and hopes to expand on important objectives in the Protocol for Agreements for Minority-Language Education and Second-Language Instruction, identify strategies and initiatives specific to Alberta, and create a detailed action plan to show how Alberta will distribute federal funding.

Governments renegotiate the protocol every four or five years to reflect changing priorities and it takes an average of two years to negotiate each new protocol, stated the Government of Alberta website.

CPF is now running a campaign to educate parents on what is happening with this funding, and addressing government officials about the changes. Tyron added that bilingualism should be considered a benefit to Alberta.

“Especially with the downturn in our economy, if we have kids that speak these languages and they’re in our workforce, that’s going to assist our economy because we live in a global economy and they can communicate in those languages.”

RAP helicopters used in different ways, says AAF

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) disputed a claim that helicopters previously used for the Alberta helicopter rappel program, also known as the RAP program, are not being used this season.

Justin Laurence, acting press secretary to AAF Minister Dreeshen, stated that the helicopters have been incorporated into the province’s wildfire response. This includes preparation and response to new wildfires, support moving crews and equipment and bucketing water on wildfires.

Adam Clyne from Save Alberta Rappel said helicopter contracts were paid for prior to a season and there were no cancellation clauses included. This means that rappel helicopters this season are already paid for, but not used for rappel firefighting.

Clyne shared a Freedom of Information request from the government that examines all the internal correspondence regarding the cuts in November. In those documents, AAF officials stated cuts were made under the assumption that they would be ending the rappel contracts. 

In one of the emails, they admitted to needing more time to make proper decisions.  

The RAP program, which was cancelled prior to this wildfire season, enabled firefighters to rappel from helicopters to fight fires in remote areas that are most easily accessed by air.

Laurence said the decision to eliminate Alberta Wildfire’s rappel program was made after careful consideration of multiple effective initial response methods, the types of wildfires Alberta has experienced in the past and those we expect to experience in the future. 

“[Why] would they cut one of their most experienced initial attack resources in November only to hire 200 new firefighters after fire season was well underway, in April? It is unclear from their communications if they are now spending more or less than we are last year,” Clyne said.

Clyne believes cutting RAP might have looked like an easy initial cost saving measure, but that they’re only saving $1.4M, which he added is nothing in the grand scheme of the entire budget.

Laurence said the savings is $1.6M.

In Budget 2020, $117.6 million was allocated for Alberta’s wildfire management budget. In response to COVID-19, an additional $5 million was invested to hire additional wildland firefighters and an additional $20 million went to support community FireSmart initiatives.

“Our primary response is that the Minister should be willing to do an independent study and listen to front line workers and not just his senior bureaucrats in Edmonton before he makes these risky decisions that could endanger people’s lives,” Clyne said.

West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long stated that rappel crews were used in less than two percent of government efforts to combat wildfire in Alberta. 

“In addition to our Helitack, Firetack and unit crews, we have hired a record 864 seasonal firefighters for this wildfire season as we prepare for a reduction in our capacity to fight fires following the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately half of the seasonal rappel crew firefighters have returned this year in new units and will continue to help keep Albertans and our communities safe,” Long said.

Laurence added that Alberta Wildfire continues to maintain all 127 lookout towers, 100 tower staff, and other methods such as cameras, helicopter patrolling, and infrared technology.

Local Fire Ban Lifted 

The fire ban in Alberta’s Forest Protection Area was revoked on May 26 in response to recent precipitation in many areas of the province, and a fire advisory has been put in its place.

The wildfire danger in the Edson Forest Area, in which Hinton is located, is currently low with no active wildfires.

Since March 1, 2020, there have been 17 wildfires in the Edson Forest Area, burning approximately 1.33 hectares, according to an update from Caroline Charbonneau, wildfire information officer in the Edson Forest Area.

There are currently nine wildfires in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta, five of which are under control and four have been turned over to the responsible parties.

Charbonneau said between March 1 and May 26, Alberta has seen 243 wildfires and 429.39 hectares burned. The five year average during the same timeframe saw 509 wildfires and 141,331.18 hectares burned, and last year 462 wildfires were reported and 106,433.12 hectares burned in the same timeframe.

The fire ban previously in place in Alberta’s Forest Protection Area was part of a number of actions to help mitigate wildfire risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Reducing the number of human-caused wildfires allowed Alberta Wildfire to make the best possible use of resources when the availability of firefighters could be reduced because of the pandemic, stated the Alberta Government website.

Clyne added that experts have said that Canada is going to experience high wildfire activity in June this year.

“Historically our largest fires have started in the beginning of May. June, a lot of times can actually be the slower, more rainy part. We call it the June monsoon, but weather doesn’t stick to a schedule like it’s supposed to. It’s hard to predict,” he said.

Tips from the provincial government on how to Firesmart your own property include removing leaves, pine needles and debris from roof and gutters, mowing grass and weeds within 10 meters of the house to 10 cm or less, clearing all dead plants, leaves and weeds within 10 meters of the house, and moving combustible items such as toys, patio furniture, cushions and firewood that are within 10 meters of any structure into some type of storage.

Community Futures launches relief loan program

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Small business owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for loans up to $40,000 through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) at Community Futures West Yellowhead (CFWY).

Funding through the program supports businesses not approved for support through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) or the Emergency Loan Program delivered through Aboriginal Financial Institutions.

“The longer that COVID-19 goes on, the more financial support is going to be needed for businesses in order to retain them in our community and to keep them open,” said Nancy Robbins, general manager of CFWY.

The loan includes zero per cent interest and no principal payments until Dec. 31, 2022.

Principal repayments can be voluntarily made at any time without penalty and 25 per cent, up to a maximum of $10,000 in loan forgiveness is available, if the outstanding balance is paid back by Dec. 31, 2022.

Any unpaid balance beyond that will be converted to a term loan effective Jan. 1, 2023 and the full balance must be repaid before Dec. 31, 2025.

“It’s first come, first served and if they’re eligible for the loan they will most likely receive the funds,” Robbins added.

Funds from this loan can only be used by the borrower to pay non-deferrable operating expenses of the borrower including payroll, rent, utilities, insurance, property tax and regularly scheduled debt service.

Funds from this loan cannot be used to pay expenses supported through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy or Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance.

CFWY’s website states that eligible SMEs are defined as having less than 500 employees, less than $20M in annual sales revenue, and produce goods and services for the market economy.

For more information on the program, and how to apply, head to

Four arrested in Duperron murder

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Alberta RCMP have laid charges against four individuals in connection to the homicide of Nature Duperron, a 25-year-old Athabasca woman whose remains were found outside Hinton just over a year ago.

RCMP first arrested Tyra Muskego, 21, of Onion Lake, Sask. on April 13 and charged her with first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery.

Muskego was remanded into custody, but received bail May 20 and was released on several conditions, including house arrest. She is scheduled to appear in Edmonton Provincial Court on June 5.

RCMP arrested Buddy Rae Underwood, 24, of no fixed address on April 14 and charged him with first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. Underwood was also remanded and is scheduled to appear in Edmonton Provincial Court on June 5.

Grayson Eashappie, who was an inmate at the Drumheller Institution, was arrested by RCMP on April 24. Eashappie is charged with first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. He was remanded into custody and is scheduled to appear in Edmonton Provincial Court on June 15.

RCMP obtained an arrest warrant on May 21 for Kala Leigh Bajusz, 31, of Edmonton, who is charged with first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery. Bajusz was located on May 22 and turned herself into the RCMP.

She is now awaiting a bail hearing.

RCMP believe the homicide of Duperron occurred between Edmonton and Hinton on April 7, 2019. The Alberta RCMP Major Crimes Unit stated it is not looking for any other suspects, and the investigation into Nature Duperron’s homicide is still ongoing.  

On May 3, 2019, Hinton RCMP confirmed it was investigating a recovered body from an area outside of Hinton.  An autopsy was conducted and next of kin notifications were completed.

RCMP updated the public about the found human remains on Oct. 18, 2019, identifying them as Nature Duperron. She was reported missing on April 15, 2019 and was last seen in Edmonton at the beginning of April 2019.

Some businesses staying closed amidst relaunch

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Others are adapting operations to offer services and products

Despite phase one of Alberta’s relaunch strategy allowing certain businesses to reopen, some have chosen to delay their own reopen date or find other ways to run their business.

Hinton’s Mr. Mikes is cautiously delaying their reopen date, the Hen House Textile Co. is changing the way they run their business, and the local Northern Rockies Museum of Culture and Heritage is awaiting more changes in the provincial restrictions. 

Mr. Mikes received a big order of food not long before they were ordered to shut down in March, which turned into a big loss, said Karen Halvorson, one of the owners of Mr. Mikes.

That loss had a big impact on how they decided to proceed now that they’re allowed to open again, Halvorson said.

Managers were hesitant about spending a lot of money to get their stock back, especially with the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 shutting the restaurant down in the future.

Their current plan is to open for takeout on June 1, with possible seating on the patio, and fully open the restaurant on June 15 depending on the regulations at that time.

When phase one was first announced, Halvorson was surprised and a little fearful of reopening.

She said personal protective equipment (PPE) wasn’t available then, and they still haven’t received everything they’ll need to open.

“Another reason why we’re behind the eight ball, basically, it’s going to cost us more for that safety equipment then plus our inventory on top of it. It’s a scary time,” Halvorson said.

Halvorson is also concerned about their lease payments for the building, as no revenue is coming in.

“We’re behind in our utilities and a few other bills that didn’t get paid because there just wasn’t any money coming in. It’s just a cashflow thing,” Halvorson said.

On top of that, there will be extra training for staff on how to clear tables and clean them.

Another issue is not bringing back all the staff at the same time; physical distancing restrictions make it difficult to have a fully staffed kitchen, Halvorson added.

Graeme Jones, kitchen manager at Mr. Mikes, said he doesn’t know how many staff members to bring back to work since it’s unclear how busy they will be.

He faces the same issue with how much food the restaurant should order, which is why delaying the reopen date was important.

“Half of [the staff] are still in that phase where they’re skeptical to leave their own houses,” Jones said, but he added that they all look forward to a return to work.

He said it would be hard for front-of-house staff to deal with the different mindsets of customers around the pandemic. Jones said the preliminary issue of why the reopen date is delayed is the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus that could potentially shut down the restaurant again and damage the business more.

“Hopefully by [June] 15, for dine-in, they’ve cut back on some of the restrictions because I just find it makes for a really uncomfortable dining experience,” Jones added.

Jones is watching how other restaurants in Hinton handle reopening in the hopes of doing it right when they open their own doors. He added that people should be reminded to support locally, even if it is a big name, since some are locally owned, like Mr. Mikes.

“At the same time I want people to remember to go to Opa’s, the small places like that in town. Keep in mind that those are those people’s livelihoods, their incomes, and their businesses too,” Jones said.

The Hen House Textile Co. in Hinton, which sells everything from fabrics to needles and yarn, has also learned to adapt and delayed a full reopening of their store, said Gerry Cherman, one of the store owners. While they decided to reopen on limited hours and take online and phone orders, customers can stop by only by appointment in an attempt to avoid too many people in the store at once. The Hen House is also attempting to restock their products through their suppliers, which are delayed due to the pandemic.

“We ran out of elastic. We sold almost 300 metres of elastic. And that we can’t get any more of and we’re still getting requests,” said Cherman.

The lack of sales has been rough on them too, but slowly some orders are trickling in.

Cherman said elastic only costs about $1.30 per metre, which doesn’t add up to much even though it flew off the shelves with many people making their own face masks at home.

Another big reason for the changes and delay to reopen is due to a lot of their clientele being seniors, Cherman added.

“We’re making sure that we have everything well organized for them when they come in,” Cherman said 

Specific appointments for customers every half hour have helped in sanitizing everything before someone else comes in. While Hinton has been fortunate with a low number of COVID-19 cases, Cherman remains cautious.

“The majority of our customers are older. Myself, I am a senior, I’m over 70. You do think twice about it,” she said.

Museums were included as part of phase one of the relaunch strategy as well, but the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture & Heritage in Hinton won’t be fully opening until more restrictions are lifted. Madison Sharman, manager at the museum, said there was some panic when they first heard they could reopen, due to the mountain of work to get the museum up to par with the Alberta Museum Association standards. 

“They are just a guide for the museums but they are the gold standard, you want to make sure you follow what they are recommending,” Sharman said.

Recommendations from the Alberta Museum Association came out after May 14 when businesses were allowed to reopen again. Sharman added that there wasn’t a lot of guidance from the province for museums, and some directions were confusing.

Without the space to facilitate proper distancing, the Northern Rockies Museum remains closed.

“Our experience is so hands on and personal here, so much of what makes this place great will be lost trying to give a haphazard pseudo tour,” Sharman said.

Tours wouldn’t be possible right now, since the distancing restrictions only allow one person in a room. One of the recommendations included having separate entrance and exit ways for visitors and employees, which the Northern Rockies Museum doesn’t have.

Most of the museum’s revenue streams are also lost. Normally, the museum would be welcoming school tours, tourists from the highway, and special events.

“In the winter time it’s mostly locals, but in the summertime it’s 90 per cent people travelling and birthday parties. They’re all things that we can’t make happen right now,” Sharman said.

For now, the Northern Rockies Museum is waiting for more restrictions to be lifted before they consider fully reopening.

“Right now we do not have space to accommodate what they require and we can’t provide a meaningful experience,” Sharman said.

Looking at alternatives, there are plans in the works to host tours and facilitate activities outside the building. The museum is still offering online programs, which they started as soon as they were ordered to close in March.

A six week online program called Quarantrain provided packages and educational classes three times each week for ages six to twelve. Since that program has ended, it has transitioned into other online education content like the Learning Railway. All which can be found on their website.

Council discusses future of legal policy

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council went back and forth in discussion of council’s legal policy during the standing committee meeting on May 26.

Coun. Dewly Nelson immediately abstained from the discussion, due to the possibility that he would receive reimbursement of legal fees as a result of the legal policy development, he stated.

Nelson stated any comment regarding the matter would come from Mayor Marcel Michaels, as the official spokesperson of Council.

Michaels stated Nelson was given a recommendation from the Town’s legal counsel through the CAO which supported him to exercise his right to recuse himself from the discussion. 

“I do not speak nor decide to why a councillor may or may not exercise their right to recuse themselves. This decision lies in the hands of the individual to do so at their discretion,” Michaels said.

The current legal policy states that councillors are solely responsible for their own legal fees even in cases they may not be culpable, Coun. Ryan Maguhn explained.

He said there are a number of potential situations in which a councillor may be in need of receiving legal advice on issues in conflict with the town or separate from the town.

In a council meeting on Oct. 1, 2019, administration admitted they had two outstanding legal cases, however details of the cases were not provided.

According to the report at that time from administration, additional funds were anticipated in 2020 to address unsettled legal matters of approximately $300,000.

Additionally, $330,000 would be required to meet a worst-case scenario as estimated by Legal Council, stated the report. 

In the 2020-2023 budget document available on the Town website, the CAO department includes a 2020 line item of $264,030 in pending legal costs as well as $189,800 in 2021. The planning and development services capital plan includes $300,000 in 2020 for legal.

Councillors are currently solely responsible for their own legal fees for issues potentially outside of their control through the course of doing their jobs. 

“Quite frankly I have some huge concerns with that, I think if a councillor is doing their diligence, is doing their job, in the best faith according to the town, and they need for whatever reason outside of their control to get involved in investigations, any kind of situation like that, and if they’re ultimately not responsible or if they’re ultimately not culpable they shouldn’t be on the hook for having to go to bat for themselves,” Maguhn said.

Coun. Trevor Haas said he was curious about policies of other municipalities to see what is common practice.

While Haas said there could be things that come forward that may not be the fault of the councillor, he also felt that councillors are responsible for whatever issues may come up.

“I take that responsibility knowing that going into this position and I guess I’m a little bit on the fence,” Haas said.

He added that he’s not sure the town should be responsible for legal issues of council members.

“As a councillor, it’s my responsibility and I don’t feel very comfortable putting that on the taxpayers,” Haas continued.

Coun. Tyler Waugh and Coun. Albert Ostashek agreed that they would like to look at what other municipalities have as policies.

Waugh added that the code of conduct is the only document that speaks to any sort of legal cost, and there is a much broader scope of potential activity beyond a code of conduct complaint. 

“Whether or not it’s in favour or against, we need to address the broader range of potential action that might be faced,” Waugh said.

Coun. JoAnn Race said there are many considerations to be made when looking at the legal policy, like how much money would be covered in legal fees, or how many times someone can require legal assistance.

Mayor Michaels questioned how council should be prioritizing the legal policy discussion as there are many other policies to revisit.

He added that while he would like to revisit every policy, his concern is that this policy might not be an immediate priority.

“Administration has a number of policies, and bylaws that are slated to be reviewed and brought forward. And there’s new ones added from time to time as well on the list,” said Emily Olsen, interim CAO. 

Any high priority items wouldn’t be completed until the end of 2020, Olsen added, due to empty positions and no meetings being held currently.

Olsen added that the town hasn’t hired a new legislative clerk to fill the vacancy, which means there is nobody to actually complete the work until that position is hired.

The town hasn’t posted the position yet.

Race responded to say that with the number of policies and bylaws administration is working on, the legal policy could wait.

Maguhn added that administration doesn’t’ need to build an entire policy in the next month, but that work to gather information of policies in other municipalities could start.

“I think this is a high priority issue and it’s something that I feel strongly enough about it where, I’m not saying I’m doing this now, but I would be willing to put forward a notice of motion in the future to deal with it as such,” Maguhn said.

Michaels said a high level report could aim to come back in Oct. 2020 at the earliest.

No definitive instruction was given about the next steps on this issue.

Recreation Centre Action Items

Later in the meeting, administration read through the action pending list with council, going over items where they recommended amendments.

One action item spoke to presenting the Recreation Centre Project funding plan options by the end of Dec. 31, 2018. 

Administration recommended this be removed from the action pending list as the funding

plan and other subsequent steps will be addressed once the Recreation Centre Project is defined through Council approval.

A second action item stated that the Recreation Centre Project Management Request for Proposal Key Deliverables be brought back at a Standing Committee meeting before the end of March 2019. 

This direction was on hold as per discussions between CAO and Council in January 2019 regarding developments and progress. 

Administration now recommended that Council affirm or modify this motion as step one of establishing a direction for the Recreation Centre Project and modifying or removing other items that referred to the recreation centre and aquatics centre.

Coun. Albert Ostashek wanted something to capture the recreation centre project in the action pending list so it doesn’t completely fall off the action pending list.

Coun. Tyler Waugh agreed but said there are a couple of overarching issues that need to be better defined before council can really dig into the recreation centre issue, like recovering from COVID-19 and a better definition of the water treatment project.

“Until we have some definition there, that will define some of our financial realities as well, I think, there’s not a lot of urgency to dealing with this,” Waugh said.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn said it is still possible to advance the project itself without a sizeable capital investment.

Coun. Dewly Nelson added that he would like to see a report on the recreation centre come back before making any changes to those items on the action pending list.

“Especially for some of those big ticket items, the best place to have that discussion is in either a standing committee or regular council where we can make those decisions in a way that is most transparent,” Maguhn followed up.

Nelson sought consensus that all recreation centre related action items remain unchanged until such time administration can bring a report to council.

He added that this item needs some major changes and that something of that importance needs its own report.

“I have no interest in the public seeing us starting to remove and change recreation centre items,” he said.

Other councillors agreed that all recreation centre items remain unchanged.

Council then recommended that administration bring an amended tracking list to the regular council of June 16 2020 for decision.

Town office temporarily laid off 68 employees

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Many union and non-union positions for the Town of Hinton received temporary lay-off notices in March and April, due to the municipal response to COVID-19.

In March, Council provided direction regarding the use of cost-mitigating strategies to manage the financial effects of COVID-19.

Among strategies used, temporary lay-offs assisted in managing losses and expenditures due to the pandemic.

Temporary elimination of services and programs resulted in lack of work, as well as budgetary concerns.

A total of 53 unionized workers and 15 staff positions were temporarily laid off across all departments.

Services which the town is unable to provide during the COVID-19 pandemic have higher numbers of unionized employees, resulting in more union employees temporarily laid off than salaried employees, explained Nikiea Hope, Human Resources manager. 

She added that the majority of Town employees are unionized. 

Out of 157 employees in mid-March, 55 are salaried-staff and 102 are unionized.

“As an example, in the pool, all staff except one are unionized. All received a temporary lay-off notice as the entire service area is closed. Whether an employee was unionized or not did not factor into the decision,” Hope stated.

Employees were also given an option to take temporary lay-offs due to childcare concerns, or to reduce their hours.

Triggers that will  recall employees are based on the phased reopening put in place by the Province of Alberta, and the Town’s subsequent reopening strategy.

“Some employees have already been recalled to work (~9), and more will be recalled in the coming months,” stated Hope in an email.

Interim CAO, Emily Olsen, stated by early to mid-June, recalls of parks employees will be seen, bringing that area nearly back to full staff. 

“That will leave the majority of the remaining lay-offs directly related to the closure of facilities, such as the recreation centre,” said Olsen.

On March 12, the town operated with a total of 157 employees, and 85 employees continued working throughout the pandemic. 

The majority of employees that remained were 30 unionized workers and five staff in the Infrastructure Services department.

Protective services and the CAO’s office had no temporary lay-offs, but Parks, Recreation and Culture saw the most layoffs of 36 people.

In March, four other employees were laid off not related to COVID-19, including due to the closure of the Parent Link program. 

President of UNIFOR Local 855 who represents the town’s unionized employees, did not respond to a request for comment from the Hinton Voice before deadline.

Both the Hinton Public Library and the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture & Heritage are partly funded by the Town of Hinton, and both saw service and staff reductions, said Laura Howarth, community services director.

The library reduced staffing levels by 60 per cent during the pandemic as programs and services were temporarily halted, reduced, or modified. 

As per provincial legislation, the library board includes a town council representative and alternate, but is an independent governing board.

They have complete autonomy but work with the Town as there are many supports that the Town provides, such as the facility space, maintenance, custodial, finance, payroll, and safety.

The only influence Town Council has on the funds allocated to the library is the total amount, and not how the funds are spent, Howarth explained.

“As always, the Library Board is managing their budget within their own legislated mandate and making adjustments to ensure it remains balanced, specifically (but not only) during pandemic times,” Howarth said.

The museum was closed during the pandemic as mandated by the Alberta Government, but continued offering modified online programs.

The museum received operating funds through the Town’s budget process, but the relationship between the Town and the museum is not governed by legislation, and is ever-evolving based on previous projects, land agreements, grant application requests etc, said Howarth.

 Funds received by the Museum are treated like an operational grant in that it requires some degree of reporting and accountability to be spent in the way it was intended. 

The library and museum both receive funding through different avenues as well.

Details of the financial status of the Town of Hinton through COVID-19 will be coming to a Council meeting on June 9.

New Brule Community Hall to open this fall

Yellowhead County Photo
Construction continues on the new Brule Community Hall that is scheduled to open this fall.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A new community hall is scheduled to open its doors in Brule this coming fall, as construction is currently under way.

The existing Brule community hall is at its end of life and needed a lot of renovations to remain functional. That hall was also home to the old Brule school and was not built for community hall duties. This limited the events that could be held, explained Christopher Read, Yellowhead County director of community services.

“It is not that the old hall was unusable, it’s just the new one will be bigger and designed with events in mind,” Read said.

The community hosted events like weddings, rodeo dances, concerts, and various other community events in that old schoolhouse for the past 50 years, but they were restricted in size. Sight lines and acoustics were also not ideal.

The new hall will be fit for purpose, designed for the needs of the community and region and built to last 50 years or more, Read said. The new building will hold 250 people for events like dances and concerts, and capacity for 200 seated for events like weddings. 

The stage is appropriate for all manner of live shows, such as YRAF concerts or theatre events.

Construction of the building started in late summer 2019, and is completely funded by Yellowhead County reserve funds at a $5.5M price tag.

The old hall would have taken over $1M in repairs just to keep it standing and bring it to code, which was a big reason why a new hall was preferable, Read explained. The COVID-19 pandemic created some slight delays for crew spacing and scheduling, but caused no major negative impacts.

“Milbrandt, (general contractor) has been very good in dealing with this new challenge,” Read said.

Lavone Olson, Yellowhead County Councillor of Division 8 – Hinton, Cadomin/Robb Areas, added “There are local contractors on site which is good for our area, keeping people working. The residents of Brule are very excited to see the finished project and to be able to use the new hall.”

Werbicki scores improbable ‘29’ hand for third time

Ren Werbicki pictured with his latest ’29’ hand in cribbage
Submitted photo

Tyler Waugh

Ren Werbicki has managed to pull off a feat more rare than a hole in one … and he’s done it three times in 50 years of playing.

Werbicki notched his third and latest ‘29’ hand in cribbage last week while playing against his wife, Sue.

“I saw the Jack of Hearts and three fives, and quickly checked to see if I had the five of hearts in my hand,” he recalled.

“I didn’t, so I knew I had a chance at a 29 hand, slim though it was.  Sue cut the deck, and I couldn’t believe it! I put on my poker face, and we played it through!”

Sue attested to her husband’s poker face.

“I couldn’t believe it, he was just playing like normal. Even when he cut the 5 he didn’t show anything,” she said, adding that Ren went on to win the game. “Wouldn’t that have been funny if he hadn’t?”

The odds of getting a perfect 29 hand in a two-player game of cribbage is one in 216,580. The odds for a hole in one in golf is one in 12,500. 

The 29 hand breaks down like this – 12 points for a four of a kind and 16 points for eight different combination of cards that create a score of 15 (jack and a five, for example, or multiple combinations of the different fives.

Lastly, a player gets one point for having the turned card match the suit of the jack in your hand.

Sue says the two of them are pretty evenly split in crib contests, but that she had been on a two-day winning streak leading up to the day of the 29 hand.

“We do keep track of the big winner day to day, but we tried playing for money and Ren beat me bad for a few days, so that was the end of that!”

The Werbickis played at Good Companions Hall back when it was open before COVID-19, but are playing a few games every morning at home in the meantime.

WSHL pulls plug on 2020-21 season

Tyler Waugh

The Hinton Timberwolves were just about to start its playoffs when the Western States Hockey League WSHL cancelled the remainder of the 2019-2020 season due to COVID-19.

News from the league this week means the squad is going to have to wait a little longer than hoped before it’s next run to a postseason shot at the Thorne Cup.

The WSHL announced May 26 that it is going dormant for the 2020-21, citing continued safety and logistical concerns, as well as liability, related to COVID.

“The majority of the variables which impact our sport and participation are still in effect, and will continue to be for an indefinite period of time,” reads a press release from the league.

“Given that the WSHL has over 300 international players on its teams, plays regular season games internationally, has over 500 players living with our gracious host families, has bus travel to games that can exceed 12 hours, and the inability to social distance and wear medical type facemasks in training and/or game situations, the medical reasons alone make it a major safety issue. Additionally, the logistics of operation, in uncertain times, is an unfathomable task for each team to undertake, as well as at a league level. The obvious potential liability for team owners in the face of COVID-19 requires significant consideration.”

The league went on to say that very few ice rinks are open across Canada and the United States and tryouts cannot be held. With that said, teams need to continue to recruit, adding payroll and other expenses without any knowledge 

Currently, across Canada and the United States, very few ice rinks are open, and tryouts cannot be held. The WSHL release stated that, even if they were open, the tryout would be minimized due to the governmental restrictions over crowd control. Nonetheless teams need to continue to recruit, which creates payroll and expenses, without any assured knowledge that the 2020-2021 season will start on-time, or start at all.  

“Medical predictions indicate the likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 as the winter months approach. Given the current status of closed borders, it would seem optimistic, at best, to project that the required number of players, for summer tryout camps or fall training camps, would be able to lawfully attend,” reads the release.  

“As important is the very recent announcements by several universities and colleges, even minor pro leagues that likely they will not participate in the 2020-2021 season either which impacts the players advancing to higher levels without recruiting being done at the higher levels.”

The league said that operating in this financial climate could easily result in failure, based on potential losses or inability to generate ticket sales, sponsorship or advertising dollars. The aforementioned revenue streams are crucial to the success and sustainability of WSHL member clubs, and junior hockey clubs around the globe.

The press release issued by the league on behalf of the board of governors went on to say that it will immediately start preparing for a return in the 2021 season.

“This is the most burdensome and painful decision ever made at the WSHL Board of Governors level, however, we strongly feel that continuing operations in the current climate is not safe or conducive to the success of our member players, nor teams,” the release concluded.