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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

It’s another cold long weekend in Saskatchewan and another rural health facilities shutdown because of a lack of staffing. If you are anywhere in the Shaunavon area in southwest Saskatchewan this past weekend, you couldn’t go to your local hospital for medical services. It seems there were not enough nurses or lab techs available to run the facility. People were advised that they would have to go to either Swift Current or Maple Creek for service.

I would imagine many of you saw the articles around the Finance Minister’s musings about all sorts of tax breaks in the upcoming provincial budget. Of course this being an election year, every governing Finance Minister would like to give tax breaks to the voters. The fact is you have to look after the necessary things before you can start giving things away. This is the same government that claims we do not need to look at our potash royalty structure which has not changed in 17 years and at the same time, they are not meeting the medical needs of citizens in a place like Shaunavon. Shaunavon is a major service centre in that part of Saskatchewan and the medical services provided there cover a large service area. It is an area with a lot of oil and gas activity and that activity along with the surrounding rich agricultural land pays its fair share of taxes and royalties to the provincial coiffeurs. They deserve the same considerations that people in larger centres take for granted and given a choice between looking at more fair and equitable potash royalties and sufficient health care, I think health care will win every time. This is simply another example of the Sask Party government taking the rural areas of our province for granted because the NDP are not a viable opposition anymore. The people of Shaunavon need the PC Party back.

This past week Joanne and I took a hurried trip out to the Calgary area to help out some family members that have relocated to Airdrie which is a bedroom community north of Calgary. I also visited with a sister who is in the Okotoks area south of Calgary. The amount of home building which is going on in both areas is quite amazing. You see row upon row of new two-story homes crammed together on small lots with very little in the way of privacy or other amenities. These homes can cost anywhere from $350,000 and up. In fact $350,000 doesn’t get you much in these two communities or anywhere else in the area. If Saskatchewan is going to go through a sustained period of economic prosperity, there really needs to be attention given to the quality and affordability of family housing in our province. Housing has already been identified by many of our civic leaders as an area that must be attended to immediately. Much of our current housing is falling into the sub-standard level and much of our new single family dwelling housing seems to be prohibitively expensive to many of our citizens. A lot of Alberta’s current economic activity is centered around the building industry. A lot of that activity would be adversely affected if interest rates go up and if the earning power of its citizens remains stagnant.

Government must be conscious of the factors that drive this industry because an American style housing meltdown would be catastrophic. Here in Saskatchewan, we are blessed with lower prices for our land base and have not had the need until very recently to have a dramatic increase in housing. If the provincial government has excess resource income available to it, there must be a concerted effort to provide the proper infrastructure so that urban and rural governments can handle the demand for new single and multi-family house construction. It is still an admirable goal for all families to try and achieve the ownership of their own home. If this government has the ability to give individuals and their families a break, perhaps this is one place that would make the most sense. The ownership of a home, the maintenance of a home and the potential resale value down the road – the simple building of equity – is a principle the PC Party has always pushed. It isn’t the role of government to dictate to the house building industry but at the same time, there is a responsibility to help set the parameters and make sure our communities grow in a well-planned and a well thought out manner. We will watch the budget with great interest to see if this is addressed.

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