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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

It seems we are back in the wet cycle. I was shut down seeding at 7:30 PM last Friday evening and we have had over an inch of rain since then. I think we are fortunate as there are many areas in the province that have received much more. This rain is really great if you have the crop in, the garden in and your lawn fertilized but for the over 60% of Saskatchewan farmland that is not seeded by the May long weekend, the time clock really become a factor for good maturity. Hopefully we will get out of this cycle long enough to get the job done.

Speaking of getting the job done…our provincial government is dropping the ball on both the health care workers and our school teachers. Both of these situations appear to have come to an impasse at the bargaining table. In my time in government, this is when you would bring in a professional mediator from out of province to sit down with each of the parties and try to find a way to bring them back to the table with meaningful negotiations. This Sask Party government is adamant that they will not let themselves be brought to the table with binding arbitration. They are afraid that binding arbitration will give the two bargaining units more than the taxpayer can afford. Because of this, our teachers are holding a two-day walkout this week and hundreds of people are being affected around the province with the rotating health care walkouts. If the government is not prepared to bring in the Legislature and order people back to work, than a mediator seems to me to make common sense and would at least give the two sides the opportunity to get over whatever hurdle each one is stuck on. We are getting near the end of the school year and there is a lot going on in the lives of school children from K-12. It is particularly important that the province’s grade 12s are able to go into their final exams in the proper frame of mind and obtain their graduation certificates after all the years of working hard to achieve that goal. This province has never had more financial capability than it has today. What we now need to find is some ingenuity and the ability to govern for everyone. Let’s hope a quick resolution can be found.

On another health care note, I have noticed that the Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan (PRAS) which was created by the government in 2009 to address the chronic shortage of doctors has been busy building its own bureaucracy and has had to hire an outside agency to actually recruit because it hasn’t been able to do anything else. What they have done is hired themselves a CEO, recruiters, a board of directors and staff for all of the above. Isn’t this marvellous? We have simply once again duplicated what all of the health districts have been doing since 1994. So now to get some more immediate action, they have retained the services of Global Medics – a company out of the United Kingdom – with the goal of recruiting 15-25 doctors for Saskatchewan. So the question is….why didn’t the government or SAHO simply go out and contract Global Medics in 2009 without us having to go and hire all of these other people? I’m sure that some worthy Sask Party supporter managed to land on the board of directors and get some per diems out of it. The only thing I know about Global Medics was a comment by a Moose Jaw doctor who had attempted to hire doctors through them for his clinic. He said they were a “waste of time”. It seems like this whole process in Saskatchewan is one agency chasing the tail of another.

The people in Wakaw are even more frustrated because their health region simply plays ring-around-the-rosy with their hospital and their lack of doctors. Recently there was an article in the Regina Leader Post and I quote a Mr. Cliff Schmidt – one of the people that came from Wakaw – to protest at the Legislature. Mr. Schmidt says “we really feel that we’ve been carrying this load on our own. I mean, the feeling is the Saskatoon Health Region would just as soon let us go…we don’t think they are looking at creative solutions”. Mr. Schmidt expressed frustration with local Sask Party MLA Delbert Kirsch and Premier Brad Wall. He also says “they seem to think that rural Saskatchewan is in their back pocket. I think if we don’t get some action they’re going to find out on November 7th, 2011 that rural Saskatchewan is not in their back pocket”. There are many more communities like Wakaw. The Progressive Conservative Party’s health care policy from the last election stated we would eliminate the health districts over a period of time and go back to having our elected officials assume the responsibility that they were elected to do rather than create all of these boards and agencies to pass the buck to. This policy seems to be more relevant every day to the people of Saskatchewan. Being the Minister of Health is not an easy responsibility. The fact is the provincial cabinet still controls all of the dollars that go out to all of these other entities and it is the provincial cabinet that controls the budget and how it is spent. This huge health care bureaucracy that we have in Saskatchewan would appear to be simply window dressing at times and a good place to put supporters of whatever government is in power to take the heat away from the elected guys when the dirty work has to be done. I know I am being very blunt in my comments but we have to stop simply chasing our tail and spouting ideology when it comes to fixing what ails our health care system. It is time for an open and blunt discussion or else this will go on forever.

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