The return of the diamond industry, asking Husky Energy for a $1 million apology, and approaching the surrounding rural municipalities for funding topped Mayor Greg Dionne’s State of the City address.
Sporting a limited-edition Raiders jersey in a call to support the team, Dionne took to the podium Thursday at the Ches Leach Lounge for his annual update on municipal happenings.
While the speech is typically a time to tout investment and recent progress — something the mayor took full advantage of — some new information found the floor.
For the first time in years, the mayor spouted the word “diamond,” saying there has been “some positive movement on this file.” He said Shore Gold, in a partnership with Rio Tinto Exploration Canada, who are looking to develop a project 60 kilometres east of Prince Albert, recently wrapped up a 30 community consulting forum. It ended with a new committee being struck to help move the project forward. Coun. Don Cody will chair this new committee to give the city a “fast track to what is going on.”
“I think it is important now that we be there and get involved,” he said to media after the speech. He said Cody will assist in liaising with the American company and Canadian government. A large drill set to be barged in and trucked up to P.A. in an effort to better examine the bounty and quality of diamonds underground.
Dionne next told the crowd he plans to ask Husky Energy next week for a financial apology to the tune of of $1 million.
“I don’t think my request is unreasonable,” he said. Dionne wants to spend $350,000 to finish the Rotary Trail, $275,000 to replace the paddling pool at Kinsmen with a splash park and call it Husky Park, and the rest in community centres.
Husky already turned down a similar request from the City of North Battleford, but the mayor said Prince Albert was “totally effected differently” by the event. While Husky has paid its final bills to the city for damages incurred from the 2016 water crisis, Dionne said there were other large inconveniences that flowed down to area residents.
“[North Battleford] continued to have water. We had to pump [water] and layoff summer staff and close our water facilities,” he added. Closing water parks, he said, cut-short summer holidays for lots of the city’s younger and less fortunate families.
“That upset me,” he added.
Admitting he will be limited in his negotiating power, Dionne warned if the two parties are not able to “voluntarily negotiate an apology,” he may seek legal action. When asked how far he would go, the mayor was blunt in his reply: “How far can you push bullheaded? …I don’t move.”
The mayor explained if his ask is met, the city would agree not to claim additional costs associated with the spill.
Approaching surrounding municipalities to assist in funding city facilities was another request the mayor plans to pursue in 2018. The subject recently came up when the city approved funding for Marion Aquatics, as a number of users come from surrounding RMs.
“It is not going to be friendly,” Dionne acknowledged. “The RMs, for years, have had a free ride. It is time you step up."
With RM elections soon to come, the mayor wanted a question placed on the ballot, asking residents if they would support a levy to help build a new pool and rink structure in the city.
“It is not unique to P.A. We build all these structures and they benefit,” he added. "I don’t think it is an unreasonable request. At the end of the day, we are supposed to be partners.”
Dionne also promised to create incentives to spur business and private home developments in 2018. After recently approving a new country residential scheme for properties in Nordale and around the airport, the mayor said it is time to look south of the river.
Branding it as “building our tax base,” Dionne, if able to get the province and school boards on his side, wanted to introduce a hearty tax break for new builds.
“If you buy or build a new home in 2018, you will get an exemption [on your tax bill] until 2020 and 2021,” he explained. “The key is the more houses we can get under construction, the more people we can get back to work. We [can no longer] afford to discount the lots.”
Alongside this, the mayor touted the growing number of businesses in the city — up to 1,700 in 2017 from 1,670 in 2016 — dropping crime statistics, and solid investment flowing down from the provincial and federal governments.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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