News | DrumhellerMail
Last updateWed, 15 Aug 2018 3pm

Phoenix Pay System still broken for pen employees

Kevin Sorenson

MP for Battle River Crowfoot, Kevin Sorenson, is hoping a new Senate report on the Phoenix Pay System will help get it fixed once and for good.

  The price tag of the system is three times the initial estimate to be implemented and is expected to cost millions more over the next few years. But worse, it has turned into a nightmare for federal employees simply wanting to get paid.  It has been estimated to have affected over 193,000 employees.

Sorenson says this has been a concern he has heard loud and clear, especially for those at the Drumheller Institution.

    “The Senate report came out this week, and to paraphrase it ‘enough is enough,’” he said  “It is time to try to prioritize exactly the ones they are going to finish, in so far as the files that have been outstanding the longest, and then give us some real timelines as to when they can give a better progress report.”

He says he continues to work on the issue with people in his office and as chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

“We are seeing some results, but it is just not enough. It has just been going on for so long we are running out of patience,” he said.

He hopes the most recent report helps to get action.

“Our report was quite strong as well. We have issued two reports on the Phoenix system and there will be another study, I think this fall when we get back to parliament,” said Sorenson.  “I think we are  both on the same page, we want to see timelines have some prioritization.”

The Senate report also recommends that in the long term to look at options it is considering to replace the system.

“And if you are looking to replacing it and then you start again, what are the costs going to be, what is the impact on employees going to be and as well setting out the monitoring and project management measures that would be put in place to avoid the mistakes of the Phoenix system,” he said. “Both with the House reports and the Senate reports, it shows there is unanimity in the frustration of the government to get their act together and make this a priority.”

    The planning for the new system began in 2009 under the Conservatives and was launched in 2016 when the Liberal government was in power.

    “All along we said this is a very complex system and it shouldn’t be launched until we know it is ready. We told them it wasn’t ready and they launched it anyway, now everyone is paying for it.”    

Positive signs in local energy industry

oil derrick

Bolstered by improving oil prices, it appears the province is getting back to work, however, there is untapped potential in the valley.

  The Drumheller-Camrose region, according to Alberta Labour Force Statistics, is leading the province with a 4.5 per cent unemployment rate, down from a year ago where it was hovering at the 7 per cent rate.

Gordon McKinnon who has worked in energy services for many years shared with The Mail some of his insight from the local industry. He says he has seen some recovery, but it could be better.

“From an oil field standpoint, I think oilfield activity has gone up fairly substantially, and I think on the horizon there is lots of positive talk, much more than in 2016 and 2017,’ he said. “I think everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens with our government situation.”

He says Drumheller is in a competitive market, but after years of a slumping industry, many of the former players are no longer around.

“In Drumheller, we suffer a lot from the Brooks and Red Deer markets. They are very well serviced as far as oilfield services, so they can supply the whole package of equipment, whereas Drumheller has been decimated to the point that our services are down so much, the community doesn’t have much to offer as a whole. It makes it hard to sell Drumheller as a centre where you can get whatever you need.”

Drumheller CAO Darryl Drohomerski says they have seen more activity in the last four or five months in the industrial area, but it not back to the levels before the downturn.

“We have seen more applications and more drilling going on in the valley and on the edge of the valley  and some battery sites,” he said. “It is definitely an uptick from last year.”

Brad Peake has been in the  industry for many years and while there has been some local recovery, the valley is hampered  by a lack of services.

“I’m not overly optimistic, there has been some pick up but I wouldn’t say it is anything ,” he said.

He explains that  for producers during the downturn  they were able to reduce expenses to remain viable. The one expense they haven’t been able to shake is land taxes and surface leases.

“I personally think when those become too much you need to say I can no longer keep my doors open,” said Peake. ‘That is the top two costs that industry is looking at.”

“It hasn’t hit yet but the counties are going to have to find a new source of revenue in the next decade to replace all of this.”

McKinnon adds that while things in Drumheller are not as busy as other parts of the province, many from Drumheller are taking their expertise on the road.

“Lots of people connected to me are now working up north on a rotation, whereas before they were home every night before it fell apart. The north side of the province has been enjoying relatively good activity even through 2017, they bounced back pretty well, whereas Red Deer South it hasn’t been that way.”

While oil has recovered, natural gas prices are still soft.

“We have such an abundance of natural gas, but we still really haven’t’ come to terms with exporting it due in large part to governments that don’t have the resolve,” he said.   

McKinnon points to the Duvernay Play in central Alberta having potential to boost the industry. He says a portion of the play runs from Red Deer South and borders the Drumheller area.

“There is lots of talk about that, it is going to be a pretty major source of activity should conditions be right, and oil prices are decent,” he said. “I hear lots of company guys saying it is supposed to be really good.”

Delia community rallies to enhance new K-12 school

delia school

The Delia School Enhancement Society has kicked off their campaign to raise $1.2 million in funds to improve the new school planned for the community.

In March of this year, Alberta Education had approved the construction of a K-12 school in Delia because the community’s existing school was in need of structural repair to the point where the cost of repair would be so high that a replacement was the fiscally obvious choice. Typically, Alberta Education approves a prototype of school build based on the school’s enrollment numbers. But the people of Delia saw the opportunity of having a new school was ‘once in a lifetime’ for the little community school with an enrollment of 150 students, so they approached the school division to see about how they could enhance it.

The Delia School Enhancement Society (DSES) has created a funding plan to raise over $1 million to make the school a ‘community hub.’ A community-wide value management assessment was done and found three key areas to improve at the school. One is to commit $120,000 to retain a ‘brick and mortar’ in-school library space which will also house the Delia municipal library which will either retain or exceed the existing library’s size. Secondly, a $450,000 multi-purpose learning space for both teachers and the community which will be optimized to be used as a classroom, drama, music, art, and fitness area. Expanding capacity in athletics was also identified, and $630,000 will be used to upgrade the provincial regulation courts into a bigger space which can be used by both the school and by the community for extra-curricular/community events after school hours.

DSES President Amber Marshall says the community sees this as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to create a community hub essential to the village’s future.

“Delia has a very tight knit community. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm here, because this is our school and it’s about the sustainability of our community into the future,” she says. “The school really is the hub of the community. When people drop their kids at school they go to the bank, they go to Luke’s, they go to the post office. We have a lot of recreational programs and to tie that together and give all those groups an umbrella to go to meet is an incredible thing for our community.”

While raising $1.2 million may be a daunting task, DSES has a 2-year fundraising program which will be brought to Prairie Land School Division at the end of August. Sixty-eight per cent of the funds are expected to come from the‘Make Your Mark’ campaign which will offer individuals and corporations the ability to name the individual rooms in the school at a predetermined cost. Grant and funding opportunities, community fundraising, and an agriculture for education campaign are expected to make up the rest of the funds. The Village of Delia has already committed $100,000 over five years to the cause.

Marshall says the ideas came from the group of over 40 community members who frequently attend meetings.

“We went from nothing to a well-oiled machine.”

Prairie Land School Division superintendent Cam McKeage says the division is fully behind the project.

“The way that schools are funded in Alberta is they are funded at the basic educational level. That may work in bigger centres where there are other facilities where people can go to access services. But in a small community, the school is usually the hub. To enhance the way of life of a small community, and also basic education, you have to go above and beyond what Alberta Education has granted you.”

Construction of the new school is expected to break ground next year and is expected to be completed within a year from that time, McKeage says.

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