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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

Unless you have been down in a coal mine for the last three days, most Canadians are aware of the fact that we are now in the midst of a federal election campaign. The silly attack ads have not begun yet and no one has been knocking on your door yet but our federal political parties - rest assured - have already committed to spending tens of millions of dollars either donated by Canadians or received from the taxpayer in general on this campaign.

One of our great freedoms is the right to free speech and the right to associate together as political parties and discuss our democratic future. I think most Canadians agreed with the concept of fixed election dates because they saw it as a way to strengthen our democracy and take away the ability of Prime Ministers to play jiggery-pokery with election timing. Canadians were sick and tired of being bought with their own tax dollars and having Prime Ministers call elections three years into a four year mandate or going the full five years when the political winds were blowing the wrong way.

As I mentioned in my last commentary two weeks ago, I had a number of events across Saskatchewan lined up to attend. Some of these events were by invitation to the Leader of the PC Party of Saskatchewan and others were of community interest and certainly everything had an element of politics. Many of the events that I attended talked about significant ramifications for the people of this province.

The transportation symposium in Saskatoon last Monday was a real eye opener for a lot of people who previously had not been paying a great deal of attention outside of agriculture. It was great to see the CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce presenting their opinion and recognizing the significant loss of economic wealth to the province of Saskatchewan caused by the transportation mess. It was very clear after the day was done that the three western provinces have lost over $6 billion in GDP over the last two years and that Saskatchewan has lost at least half of that. This money has disappeared primarily into the pockets of grain companies and railroads at the expense of farm families and the businesses and communities that support agriculture.

Last week I noticed an article announcing the appearance of country superstar Garth Brooks at a couple of fundraisers in Regina and Saskatoon. These events are sponsored by the fundraising organization for the Children's Hospital in Saskatoon. There are only 200 guests at each appearance and they will be paying $5,000.00 apiece for the privilege of getting up close and personal with Mr. Brooks.

I have absolutely no problem with the idea as long as no Crown Corporation employees are spending my utility bill money on the event or any of Mr. Wall's Sask Party political appointees attending on the taxpayers' ticket. I don't suppose the Hospital Foundation will publish the list of attendees or who purchases the tickets on behalf of the attendees but it would be totally inappropriate if any of the above attend unless the money comes out of their own personal back pocket.

The dry conditions across Saskatchewan have continued for another week. On top of this, we have seen dense smoke cover much of the province from the hundreds of forest fires burning across northern Saskatchewan. As of this morning, over 12,000 of our citizens have had to evacuate their homes and communities. It is a situation that this province has not experienced for many years and points to the necessity of a re-think of public policy around our vast wood resource.

In the southern part of the province, agriculture has evolved to the point where wide-spread fire is a rarity. There is good co-ordination of public resources between various levels of government and local communities. Things such as fire guards, fire extinguishers and rapid response by area residents means that our communities are seldom threatened. There are also good insurance programs put in place. It would be unthinkable to allow a prairie fire to burn unchecked for weeks at a time.

I would like to touch on two topics this morning which most of you would think are miles apart but also point out the lack of vision for the future by our provincial government.  These two items also point out the fact that when Brad Wall's government decides to do something, costs don't mean a thing in their election planning cycle.

On the east side of Regina, there is a baseball park with five or six diamonds run by Pacers Baseball Inc.  This organization and these diamonds provide thousands of young people with the opportunity to play ball at many different skill levels.  These diamonds are in the road of the Sask Party's south Regina bypass project.  The government says they have to go.

The problem is neither the provincial government or the city of Regina have made any provisions to replace these diamonds and the opportunity for the players and their families to continue on with their recreation and sport.  There is not enough diamond space in the city of Regina to pick up the slack.  The provincial government claims this route was decided upon back in 2004.  Why would they leave this organization - Pacers Baseball - hanging out to dry?

This morning you would definitely need a jacket on in southern Saskatchewan.  Normally, I would think that was a bad thing because this is the time of year when Saskatchewan people want to enjoy all of the outdoor activities and sunshine that they possibly can.  But when you are a farmer and have had only two or three tenths of an inch of rain all year, the cool weather helps the crop stay viable until a real rain comes along.  The forecast is for cool weather all week and hopefully the mixing of hot and cold air will bring about much-needed rain across the province. 

This cool weather also alleviates some of the suffering of residents, patients and staff of Providence Place in Moose Jaw.  Providence Place is one of the most modern and comprehensive care facilities in Saskatchewan.  It was commissioned by the PC government that I served in and was the dream of the Sisters of Providence when they decided to phase out of their hospital in Moose Jaw.  This facility has the ability to address the needs of a wide-spectrum of health care issues one of which is the needs of MS patients.  Individuals with MS do not handle temperature extremes well. 

The air conditioning system in Providence Place is broken.  Management has known about this since March 2015.  Temperatures inside Providence Place were in the mid-to-upper 30's last week with much suffering and discomfort to the people that live there.

Last week, I was able to do something that I haven't had the opportunity to be a part of for many, many years.  I was in Weyburn, Saskatchewan last Thursday to take in a few hours of the Weyburn Oil Show.  As Minister of Energy and Mines, I attended this show at the very beginning of its existence and I can certainly tell you that it has grown in its size, its perspective and most noticeable of all was the vast array of new technology available to look at.

As we all know, the oil and gas sector is hugely important to Saskatchewan so it was great to have the opportunity to wander through the exhibits and visit with people from inside and outside the province.  The PC Party's candidate for the Estevan constituency - Paul Carroll - knew just a pile of folks around this show so it was great to have Paul introduce me to people when he wasn't working at his company booth.

I know there has been a lot of doom and gloom talk by people in the media about this industry and the sudden downturn in prices which occurred late last year.  Even our government has pleaded poverty and used this downturn as an excuse to borrow more money and pile up our public debt.  But the reality is with the Canadian dollar dropping significantly against the US dollar, the return on investment for oil is still manageable.  The oil sector in Saskatchewan and western Canada has always been very innovative and will continue to be that way through the ups and downs of commodity cycles.  I am sure they will come out of this latest round stronger than ever and that was clearly the message I got wandering around the Weyburn Oil Show. 

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