Pre-budget consultations were held in Labrador West recently, with 20 participants willing to share their thoughts on priorities for the upcoming provincial budget.
The number of participants was the biggest turnout for any of the consultations up to that point in time.
Labrador West MHA and Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto chaired the session along with the assistance of Nina Mitchelmore from the public engagement division of executive council.
Throughout the evening some of the major issues brought forward at the round table discussion were the need to provide for seniors.
Noreen Careen, chairperson of the Twin Cities Seniors 50+ group, spoke on the topic.
“Our senior population is increasing, and we have no facilities here for them, many of them want to stay here,” she said.
Careen pointed out there are some long-term care beds at the local hospital but there is no facility to provide first or second level care, no cottages like those that exist elsewhere.
She says government has to make this one of the priorities in this budget.
“The time has come to make plans for our seniors,” Careen said.
The group discussions pointed out that private developers did look at establishing a facility locally but felt it wasn’t economically feasible to do so. Careen suggested it might be time for government to increase subsidies to private developers or put incentives in place that would make it attractive to put something in place for seniors.
Wabush Mayor Ron Barron reflected Careens thoughts on seniors, and says the matter has been discussed for the last number of pre-budget consultations. He feels a bigger effort has to be made to deal with the issue, including making salaries of people who work in this field competitive in the local job market.
“Finding people to work will be a challenge,” he said.
It was noted in a town where there are a lot of good paying jobs, finding people to work might be an issue. The need for the government to provide incentives came up for discussion.
Another point of discussion was the cost of transportation. The group said airfares to the area were very high and pointed to the recent call by the mayor of Stephenville for government to look at the cost of flying within the province.
That discussion turned to subsidies for medical air travel. The program has undergone changes recently and many people at the consultation say people have problems getting their rebates, and at times waited months and months to be reimbursed.
Again Careen spoke of the frustration she’s encountered as she assists seniors who apply for the rebates, and said sometimes there is so much paperwork involved that people sometimes cancel trips to doctors’ appointments outside the area.
She’s asking government to look at providing a voucher system that would be easier for those who have to travel, and those who process the forms.
Careen says she is willing to work with government to show how she, and many others think such a system could work.
Letto said additional people have been hired to deal with medical travel, but noted they are looking at the issue very closely.
Throughout the evening there was discussion on a number of topics such as economic development for things like small businesses, and thoughts on finding ways to keep young people in the area.
One topic was on the difficulty in recruiting doctors. It was suggested that government help put students through medical school in return for a long-term commitment to return to communities like Labrador City and Wabush.
When participants were asked what are the three most important things government could do to improve their lives, the top three answers were maintaining spending on services they rely on; making investment in infrastructure and reducing taxes and fees.