Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. Take an extra minute today to say thanks to the special someone in your life. I know I will be.
There are a couple of issues which have come up in the last week which I think have big ramifications for Saskatchewan and particularly, for our rural areas. As we all know in this province, you cannot separate rural and urban issues because there are ramifications for all of us. When there is bad public policy in one area, it quickly affects all of us across this province because rural and urban are still very much intertwined with our finances, our governing institutions and our people.
One of the first jobs I had when moving from government to opposition was to take on the responsibility of being the Chairman of Public Accounts. As the Chairman of Public Accounts, you work very closely with the Provincial Auditor and his staff. I will never forget the Provincial Auditor saying over and over again that issues of public policy must transcend short-term political gain and short-term budgeting in order to become good public policy. There are two issues that have come up this past week which I think have large implications down the road and in my view, are not good public policy.
There is much speculation in the media about the announcement that Potash Corp. is going to make this coming week with their new found commitments to Saskatchewan people. The rumour is that Potash Corp. is going to fund a large part of the province’s announcement last year about a helicopter-based emergency response medical system for rural Saskatchewan. The announcement was that there would be 2 helicopters – one in the north and one in the south – that would be available for medical evacuation purposes over and above our current air ambulance system. There is nothing wrong with adding such a component to our medical system if we can number one, afford it and number two, we are not going to put emergency type services at risk or fail to maintain the current services in some of our smaller medical centres. If this becomes a replacement service for what has been available outside of Regina and Saskatoon then it has big ramifications for health services provided outside of the two big cities. If it is going to be good public policy and a necessary service, it should be something that our government would budget for on an annual basis and be prepared to maintain as a viable entity for years to come. I don’t believe that we should be relying on the good wishes of potash companies or anyone else in the business world who may be trying to buy favour with governing politicians. I really wonder if Brad Wall’s campaign against BHP had gone differently, if Potash Corp. would now be stepping up with a rumoured $24-30 million gift. I will be really interested to hear what the Provincial Auditor’s comments are on this item if it comes to pass and how the taxpayers of Saskatchewan will handle both the renewal of our rural medical services and the upkeep of what will become a pair of used helicopters.
Good resource policy should be creating an environment whereby companies want to come to our province to develop and extract our resources in a worldwide competitive environment and at the same time, offering fair return to the resource owner – the people of this province. That return on our resources should be sufficient for us to budget on an annual basis for good quality medical care for both rural and urban residences and provide the necessary emergency facilities to make our province a good place in which to live.
Speaking of good places in which to live, I notice the City of Saskatoon putting in place initiatives to encourage young people to become first-time homeowners instead of renters. I think for most of us, the goal of being able to own our own home and at the same time, build some equity for later in life is a wise investment. In fact, the history of our province is of people coming here from around the world so that they could achieve ownership of land, businesses, homes and have a better outlook for their families than they would have had staying in their countries of origin. My own ancestors on both sides of my family came to Saskatchewan so that their sons and daughters could achieve ownership of land which would have never happened in the old country. I find it totally mystifying that government policy in this province and across Canada is going in the opposite direction. We are increasingly hearing about and seeing articles in the print media of these large land acquiring corporations spreading out across Saskatchewan buying up farmland with outside investment money with the sole purpose of turning a profit for the investors.
You have heard me comment about the Assiniboia Land Company in other commentaries because the two principle owners are certainly known to us in the PC Party. One of them - Mr. Emsley - was one of our five Trustees who has denied the PC Party of Saskatchewan access to our Trust Funds. It turns out that this land-buying company has been the largest recipient of Farm Credit Canada loans in our entire province. This is at a time where fewer and fewer of our young people are remaining in agriculture in an ownership position because they cannot start out and compete with the likes of the Assiniboia Land Company. Instead they are being told by both levels of government to simply go out and become “renters”. Are we going back to the days of the Czars in Russia and the Ukraine or the land holding nobility in Great Britain? It seems there has been no concerted effort in this province to encourage land ownership by young people since the last PC administration here between 1982 and 1991. It was the PC government that got rid of the NDP’s Land Bank program because it simply created a bunch of renters who could be controlled by the government of the day and didn’t get people back on the land as owners. As I have said before, I don’t think turning Saskatchewan over to outside investors who may have the ability to pick and choose who they wish to rent to based on their own philosophy, prejudices or political affiliation is a good way to run a stable agricultural community. Corporate farms controlled by outside investors who have a few employees running around the province with 100 foot air seeders is also not a good solution to intergenerational transfer. We are a great province because we have hundreds of great communities with good values and we should do everything we can to maintain that and still be profitable individuals who are not reliant on government.
These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.