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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

Saskatchewan just went through the annual CAA “Worst Highways” contest. Saskatchewan citizens indicated to the motor club which highways they thought deserve this designation. I listened with a great deal of interest because many of the highways mentioned are in southern Saskatchewan and are roads I travel each and every year. You hear the news stories and see a few pictures but you don’t really get a sense of what people are complaining about until you actually drive down the road.

Well, last week I drove down one of the top 10 worst highways in Saskatchewan. I had to run down to Scobey, Montana to pick up some parts for my older four-wheel drive John Deere tractor. Scobey is located just south of Coronach, Saskatchewan so I took Highway 36 from its junction with Highway 2 south of Moose Jaw all the way to the Canada/US border.

After fifteen months of written articles, press releases, radio and tv advertising and public meetings around the province, the PC Party can feel a sense of satisfaction that the government of Saskatchewan has bowed to public pressure on the land ownership question.

The Sask Party government says it’s not about the CPPIB land purchase and tries to say with a straight face that this is not an election issue, but we all know the only reason that this review is taking place is because of the public backlash to the Canada Pension Plan land purchase from the Assiniboia Land Company. The Sask Party government will try and keep this review to an online survey with questions of their choosing as they did with the liquor consumption issue. The public of Saskatchewan and particularly farm and ranch families should demand a much wider review with public meetings.

Many times in this commentary you have seen me write about this Sask Party government’s cavalier attitude to one of our greatest resources and that is our farm and ranch land. The issues around ownership, environment, soil health and general stewardship are very important to the well-being of this province and its people.

The PC Party of Saskatchewan has always had a strong relationship to this sector of our economy and in the last few years, has led the fight to make sure that going well into the future Saskatchewan farm and ranch families remain the primary stewards of this resource.

As I sit by my kitchen window doing this commentary, there is still lots of snow falling. My fir trees are hanging down with heavy snow on the boughs and I’m hoping there are no calves born this morning. It’s hard to believe this is still going on but then again we do live in Saskatchewan and can expect anything. I hope all of you had a good Easter long weekend. We had the opportunity to host both sides of the family at the farm this past weekend. We were able to worship together on a number of occasions and of course, spoiled the grandchildren with lots of Easter treats and egg hunting.

This morning as I listened to the first newscast of the day, a couple of items jumped out that really makes you wonder about our government’s priorities. Saskatchewan is having its annual “worst roads” contest sponsored by CAA where members of the public can vote on the worst highways in the province. It appears there is a long list! The second news item that caught my attention and is certainly related to this first one is the fact that we are once again way behind in getting the necessary railcars to ship our grains, oilseeds and pulses to their world-wide markets.

Here we are with a few days still left in March and I am looking out the kitchen window and not seeing any snow on the ground. I know some parts of this province are not as fortunate but it truly has been a long time since we have had this early of a spring. As I drive around the countryside, it’s amazing to see how much water is lying around considering that we didn’t really have a lot of snow this past winter. This should set up some ideal conditions for growing 2015’s crop.

I am sure the Sask Party government is hoping for ideal conditions also because there is a good chance that a lot of their predictions on the price of oil, potash, etc. seem very optimistic to me and to a lot of people that watch worldwide commodity sales and volumes. Good old agriculture and manufacturing may be what keeps this province growing over the next year. When you see layoffs like the two that occurred last week – one of over 300 employees in Saskatoon and one of over 200 employees in Regina – you know that there are pressures building in our economy that government must be constantly monitoring. Figuring out ways to encourage our strongest sectors to add employment opportunities is a must. Once again, my constant harping continues on value-adding our commodities and the lack of direction in this area in the latest Sask Party government’s budget. When will this government learn that we simply can’t pump it out of the ground and dig it out of the ground as fast as possible and sell it in bulk form to meet our monetary and social objectives?

As I mentioned in last week’s commentary, I headed down to the provincial budget along with PC candidates and friends. The Sask Party’s set up job with the people of Saskatchewan worked very well on budget day.

As we all know the Premier ran around the province for 2 1/12 months speculating about which programs might be cut and which taxes might be raised because of falling oil revenue. He had everyone wondering if their ox was going to be gored or if it would be someone else’s. Of course this was all part of the grand plan to do none of the above and instead, borrow a billion and a half dollars so that Mr. Wall and the Sask Party would have a $700 million infrastructure election fund to play with and no one would complain because taxes weren’t raised.

Congratulations to Ray Orb on his acclamation to the President’s position of SARM. I think Ray will bring a totally different perspective to the role of President than the previous President did. Repairing rural infrastructure and doing it in a cost-effective and cost-shared basis with senior levels of government is an absolute priority. I think that Ray Orb can bring the focus necessary to get this job underway.

I also congratulate Mr. Orb for saying that he was not satisfied with the Prime Minister’s response on the rail transportation question which he posed at the recent SARM annual meeting. Politicians, both federal and provincial, should not be let off of the hook on this issue particularly with federal and provincial elections happening in the next 12 months.

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