Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson said he’s fed up with the UCP’s pattern of non-consultation with municipalities before making sweeping changes. The latest casualty? The current model for Victim Services across the province.
The topic came up during council’s regular meeting on Nov. 22, when council reviewed correspondence items, having received a copy of a letter the Town of Fox Creek sent to Minister Tyler Shandro, expressing their concerns about the proposal.
Ferguson said he couldn’t count all the letters he’s written to ministers and other government officials lately, objecting to changes that bypass municipalities, and while he doesn’t mind writing them, he wishes the “pattern would stop.”
He addded with the new Premier Danielle Smith set to address the province that same night, he hoped that pattern might start to change.
He said municipalities are the first level of government and see first-hand the issues facing their citizens, such as crime, ambulance services and now this proposal about Victim Services.
“We really are the canaries in the coal mine,” he said.
Coun. Carla Prediger was the first to raise the issue, questioning if this change was a precursor to the province’s plans for the RCMP, as Victim Services and RCMP go hand-in-hand.
“Victim Services is core to any community,” said Prediger. “For government to say, ‘Sorry, you’re not that important’ is so disrespectful.”
Ferguson said he completely supported that and said he would work on a letter to send to the province in support of Victim Services and Fox Creek.
The province has been looking at a new victim services model for some time. The Government of Alberta’s website states a Phase I engagement with stakeholders was conducted in 2019.
The group that consulted with victim advocacy groups and victim-serving organizations was co-chaired by MLAs Angela Pitt and Nathan Neudorf.
The final report and recommendations was submitted to the Minster of Justice in early 2021, and the new victim assistance program was to launch on Sept. 1, 2022.
The website states that “to ensure victims have consistent access to services across Alberta,” the program delivery would be shifting to a four-zone model that aligns with RCMP districts.
“We will be engaging with stakeholders and Indigenous communities on the best way to implement the new service delivery model as it’s rolled out in stages over the next year.”
The letter from Fox Creek says the areas in the redesign are “incredibly large” and the town is concerned about where services would be provided from and the wait times for victims.
“We have been made aware that it is being proposed to replace 17 police-based Victim Services Units in western Alberta with one board that will more than likely be based in an urban centre,” the letter stated.
“Once again, rural Albertans will be the ones to suffer from the decisions made by the government.”
The letter goes on to say they had been informed the proposal going forward would mean the loss of support for victims of non-criminal trauma.
“The loss of this support or change of how the support is being offered will have huge negative impacts,” the letter concludes.