Political leaders speak on La Loche concerns of abandonment

By Bryan Eneas
January 12, 2017 - 4:55pm

The people of La Loche say they feel abandoned and the provincial NDP agrees with the sentiment.

According to Buckley Belanger, the deputy leader and representative for the Athabasca riding, it’s time for leaders who made promises to fulfill those commitments.

“We really thought when the government came to La Loche, they had the crowd of people there, they saw the community itself, first-hand the challenges they had,” Belanger said. “Of course the school shooting… we thought they would rise up to the occasion; a year later, nothing [has] moved.”

Belanger said the provincial government is walking away from the commitments which were made to the community a year ago.

The provincial government is “cold, callous and disingenuous to the commitments they made,” he said.

Belanger added the SaskParty should follow through on the promises which were made regardless of the financial situation.

“It is such a unique traumatic event that you have to do something, to discourage this and to also support the community to rebuild their hopes and dreams for their children,” Belanger said. “Walking away from them is just ridiculous.”

Belanger said for him there are options when it comes to seeking improvement in La Loche, particularly when it comes to the educational system and work opportunities - points raised by local leaders at a press conference Jan. 9.

Belanger said the completion of a road to Fort McMurray would be beneficial to the residents of La Loche.

“What is so difficult for the premier of this province to reach out to the premier of Alberta?” he asked. “There are a lot of people already working in Fort McMurray already that travel in from La Loche. You can almost double that overnight if you have that road built.”

Belanger noted there are other energy-based opportunities around La Loche, such as uranium mining or oil sands extraction. He said it’s not a matter of “if” these opportunities arise, it’s simply a matter of when.

“Many leaders have said that something dramatic has to happen. A shift of responsiveness, or a shift of attitudes has to occur when it comes to northern Saskatchewan,” Belanger said. “Otherwise the young people feel this, otherwise the young people will start to lose hope.”

Donna Harpauer, the SaskParty’s minister for government relations and First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs, said she sees it differently when leaders in La Loche say they’ve been abandoned.

“Well the counsellors in the school has over doubled. Plus there’s a full time mental health nurse in that community now,” Harpauer said. “The ongoing meetings with the different ministries, and it’s an inter-sector ministry, is still meetings with them on an ongoing basis.”

As for addressing issues within the community, Harpauer said community members have not identified one particular initiative locals want to see addressed.

“I am not aware of one initiative they would like to see happen tomorrow,” Harpauer said.


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