The purpose of this State of the Region Report is to provide the socio-economic and environmental conditions of the NWSAR region as of 2020. The NWSAR region consists of the geographic areas of Clear Hills County, the County of Northern Lights and Mackenzie County.
This report builds on government statistics and documents, and provides a contextual understanding of critical economic, social and environmental needs, challenges and opportunities within the NWSAR region. Environmental data and analyses demonstrate the current environmental state and the natural vulnerabilities of the region, which have direct relationships to the socio-economic landscape of the NWSAR region.
This report was a huge undertaking for the NWSAR Committee, and one of the major objectives of this report was to identify any social, economic and environmental data gaps across the study area.
NWSAR’s 2021 State of the Region Report concluded that there are significant data limitations and gaps across key social, economic and environmental indicators, and NWSAR plans to engage and collaborate with external groups and researchers over time to begin to fill some of these data gaps.
While several areas require improved data to increase their quality and usability, the 13 indicators highlighted in the following section were identified (as shown on Page 8 of this report) as the most significant data gaps for a variety of reasons.
The external expertise of Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI), CMR Consulting and Natural Resources Canada Northern Forestry Centre were utilized in the development of this report.
The internet service levels vary across the NWSAR region, and the available services within many of the communities do not meet the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) objectives (50/Mb download and 10/Mb upload). Several of the maximum available upload and download speeds are not actually deliverable within the NWSAR communities, and access to accurate available speeds by NWSAR community or Municipality is unknown. Access to quality internet services and capacity is important to business investors, residents, education providers, health services, and newcomers to the region.
The rate per capita of residents addicted to alcohol and other substances, and residents who require access to mental health support is unknown. Despite this, addiction and mental health services has been identified as an urgent priority across the NWSAR region from the primary data collection. It was repeatedly emphasized that there is a complete lack of addiction services and no treatment facilities within the region, and the demand is increasing greatly. Capturing accurate data for these indicators is essential to advocacy efforts to address this demand – until then, residents in need must travel 130–600km / 1.5–6hrs one-way depending on their origin.
Data on the number of residents across the region in need of childcare services, the number of facilities available and the average cost per child is unavailable. This missing data is a significant gap in this report and are important to capture accurately for the benefit of current and newcomer residents. Many of the industries within the NWSAR region involve shift work and long distance travel for parents. One of the biggest challenges is finding and retaining qualified staff to manage and operate childcare facilities, which is significantly harder in rural, remote and northern areas.
Data on care services for the elderly population within the NWSAR region is a significant gap within this report. The level of demand for beds needed in senior care homes and palliative care, the number of residents in need of social services and support programs, and residents in need of full and part-time care is unknown. Some of the NWSAR communities have populations above the age of 65 years that are higher than the Provincial average. Developing accurate data on demand and service availability is essential for ensuring the needs of the NWSAR region’s elderly populations are not forgotten about and planned for over the long-term.
Data on industry sector growth and decline trends, the number and type of seasonal labour, and salaries by sector is sporadic and inconsistent across the NWSAR region – with reports spanning many years; reporting on employment data at different times for different reasons. Developing a consistent dataset is important for Municipalities and higher levels of government to have, this can be shared with investors from a range of industry sectors to increase or diversify local industry opportunities across the NWSAR region.
The attraction and retention of health service professionals in rural areas is a significant problem affecting the sustainability and social cohesion of rural communities. Many of the residents within the NWSAR region travel up-to 18hrs round-trip by car for a minor procedure or consultation. Understanding current and future levels of demand for standardized and specialized health care services is important for Municipalities and regional health managers to understand for advocacy efforts, and to plan for future community growth and needs. For example, the current number of patients per physician within each community is unknown.
Data on housing demand, availability, values, and the number of residents per household is not consistently available across the NWSAR region. While many of the NWSAR communities harbor local knowledge on the housing needs of residents and newcomers, accurate data is unknown. This data is important for Municipalities to understand the exact nature of housing demands and challenges; the data must be accurate in order to guide housing needs assessments to deliver on current and future demands.
Understanding the full extent or true nature of the human footprint (habitat disturbance) on a landscape is important as Federal and Provincial governments and land managers seek to restore or improve habitat for at-risk species, and to enhance overall biodiversity abundance. Across the NWSAR region, legacy seismic lines are a type of human footprint which are not fully documented, and yet a high government priority for developing vegetation inventories (i.e. type, height and condition of species) and completing habitat restoration activities.
Across the NWSAR region, there is a significant amount of natural resource industry infrastructure and facilities, of which companies are obligated to pay taxes on. The current availability, condition and costs of maintaining existing infrastructure is unknown. The availability of current resources (i.e. inventory of occupied, vacant/available facilities – industrial camps, machinery, etc.) is also unknown. Having a better understanding of the condition and availability of existing natural resource industry infrastructure would assist in future planning for repurposing this infrastructure across a variety of other industries (i.e. other natural resource extraction, tourism, etc.).
Accurate community populations are important to have as annual Federal and Provincial funding for Municipalities is driven by these figures, which are developed by Census data collected once every 5 years. In 2021, the Government of Alberta moved away from accepting and using Municipal Census data back to Federal Statistics Canada Census data – this makes the accuracy of population datasets within rural and remote areas even more important. Across the NWSAR region, accurate population growth and decline rates, transient and seasonal population rates are unknown.
Some of the NWSAR communities have tried and failed in past endeavours to provide emergency social services for people in need. While Victim Services are offered at many of the community RCMP detachments, emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence are unavailable across many NWSAR communities. While some communities experience increased domestic violence, others have disproportionate (seasonal) levels of vagrancy or transitional outdoor populations. Understanding the level of demand can help municipalities to advocate and plan to address local emergency social services needs.
There are two tourism associations within the NWSAR region, both of whom promote several tourism opportunities and operators across the region in digital and hardcopy media. Data gaps include current annual cultural / community events, current structures and facilities, current annual revenue the local industry brings in and the total visitors per year to local facilities and events. This data is important and warrants research to support long-term tourism development across the NWSAR region.
There are many challenges with utilities in northern and remote rural Alberta – some of which include access, costs and the vulnerability of services (i.e. access to potable water, transmission and distribution charges, frequency of shortages and outages, etc.). Capturing these data by community or per capita is essential for Municipalities to advocate and plan to bolster or improve available utility services across the NWSAR region.
This project is funded by Alberta Municipal Affairs and NWSAR Committee.