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.
For many months now, I have been questioning the provincial government's decision to spend $1.2 billion on the south Regina bypass. In this spring's budget, the Sask Party government added $750 million to the provincial debt because of this project. All around this province, we have seen some of the worst highway and road conditions in living memory. Many of our secondary highways have practically become impassable partially because of increased truck traffic caused by policy decisions of railroads, grain companies and the federal government.
So when you see $1.2 billion being spent on 46 kilometres of roadway and bridges in one community in the province, I think it is reasonable to ask where the benefit is to all of the taxpayers in this province who will shoulder the burden over the next 30 years.
I think all of us have an acute awareness of safety issues in Saskatchewan because so many of us do have to drive long distances for work, for our children to get to school and for many of us that live in rural areas to get the basics of life like groceries, repairs and to access medical care. We have all noticed the ongoing loss of life on the Highway 6/Highway 39 transportation corridor between the TransCanada highway and the US border. The interaction between passenger vehicles and heavy trucks has been a deadly one. I think we all understand that public monies need to be spent to make corridors like this a safer place for ourselves and our families and for businesses to operate.
No one is disputing that an overpass at the White City TransCanada highway junction east of Regina has been long overdue in its building. I think we all understand that the hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars spent on the Global Transportation Hub west of Regina will be for not if the Pinkie road connection to Highway 11 and the north industrial area of Regina is not completed.
As a provincial taxpayer, I get all of the above. What I don't get is the idea that Saskatchewan is obligated to spend vast amounts of money to move semi-truck traffic around the south end of Regina on behalf of the federal government and land developers close to the Sask Party government. One of the first interviews I saw on television after the announcement of this project was from a trucker from some place outside of Saskatchewan complaining about the congested traffic in the east end of Regina.
My understanding of this P3 proposal is that the federal government is only contributing about a quarter of the money for the south Regina bypass. If the objective of this project is to move traffic between the port of Montreal and the port of Vancouver then the federal taxpayer should bear more of the burden. No where have I seen a study that shows this bypass will move more Saskatchewan product in Saskatchewan-based trucks, employing Saskatchewan-based taxpayers and therefore, building the Saskatchewan economy. If there is such a study, I think it is high time that the provincial government released it because they have chosen a company that is not even Canadian to be the lead agency building this project. They have in fact chosen a company from France which is under some kind of investigation in the Persian Gulf region for using forced labour on one of their large projects there. This investigation into the operations of the VINCI company could take years.
I didn't know that Saskatchewan or indeed western Canada was that short of good and credible engineering and construction companies that would necessitate the hiring of a company from Europe to build some bridges and highways on good old flat Saskatchewan dirt. If there was a mountain or a river gorge to deal with, I could then maybe understand looking for expertise somewhere else but the only thing we have to deal with here are a few sloughs, the mighty Wascana Creek and of course winter.
I wonder how the folks who have been dodging potholes on nearly every highway in Saskatchewan or the good people of Saskatoon and Prince Albert who do deal with major river systems and have been asking for new perimeter roads for years feel about this politically-driven project in Regina?
I wonder how many people that showed up at the Premier's dinner the other night in Regina have a vested interest in this little project? I guess it doesn't really matter because we are all going to be paying for it in the end.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.
There is nothing like a Saskatchewan morning in the latter part of May with the sun shining and no wind. We still have 2 cows that haven't calved yet and so we usually take a walk in the morning before breakfast to check on them and just take a few minutes to enjoy life before the day gets too crazy.
I believe you received a note yesterday morning explaining that MMC would be a day late as the Swenson household was in the midst of upgrading our home computer system. Now we just have to learn all the new technology - and boy has it changed in 8 years! If you don't upgrade, then it comes to a point where you can't open a lot of the material that others send you and it seems like it takes forever for your machine to digest all the new technology that is available. Hopefully this new system gets us back into the swing of things and we are able to actually get this commentary out in the right format for you to read.
Last week the PC Party put out a couple of news releases on the Sask Party government's approach to consultation on the land ownership issue. As I have been predicting for months, the government chose the online format with no public meetings and as I predicted for months, this online format is set up in such "loosie goosie" way that I am sure they can interpret whatever they want out of the responses. This consultation is also set up so that non-Saskatchewan residents can fill in the survey and also unbelievably non-Canadians can also fill in the survey. In fact it seems that any individual can probably fill in the survey multiple times without revealing their identity.
I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend. Although I’m writing this commentary on Monday morning, you won’t be seeing it until Tuesday because of the holiday. It’s not exactly the kind of camping weather everyone was hoping for on the long weekend. When Joanne and I went to check the cows this morning, it was -5 at 6:30 AM which unfortunately might be enough frost to affect early-seeded crops. Seeding in my area has been going non-stop since the 1st of May which is probably the best start that we have had in 5 years. I know a lot of other areas in the province are still fighting flooded roads and soft ground conditions and will be a long ways down the road before the crop is in the ground.
Last Wednesday, the PC Party held a news conference at the Legislature where we presented 5 policies to rectify the problems around the land ownership issues in Saskatchewan. The PC Party, for the last 15 months, has been fighting the purchase of over 750 quarters of prime Saskatchewan farmland by the Canada Pension Plan. Last month, the Sask Party government indicated there would be a consultation process regarding agricultural land ownership in Saskatchewan because of the pressure brought on by the PC Party of Saskatchewan.
The five items the PC Party asked for in order to solve this issue are:
That old saying about a week being a long time in politics is certainly true for Rachel Notley. Then again, the same is true for Jim Prentice. A week ago, Ms Notley was hoping to take her four person caucus up to the status of official opposition and Mr. Prentice was probably trying to figure out how to run a minority government.
Today, Rachel Notley is Premier Designate and Jim Prentice is a private citizen and the province of Alberta is going to experience the first new political party in power in 44 years. This is all old news to all of the readers of this column but I think there are some significant things that need to be thought about by all politicians and political parties.
I remember clearly saying to Joanne the day that the announcement was made of Danielle Smith and most of her caucus leaving the Wild Rose Party and going over to Mr. Prentice’s government that this would not be good for the PC Party of Alberta. One or two members crossing the floor for reasons of personal or constituency issues or disagreements with their leadership has always been a factor in Canadian politics. I have a great deal of respect for individuals who stand up for their constituents on matters of policy or lack of promises being fulfilled by that person’s party or government. The famous British Prime Minister and war-time leader Winston Churchill did it three times in his illustrious political career and Great Britain was the better for it.