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Monday Morning Commentary

Rick Swenson

This morning I will be commenting on two areas affecting Saskatchewan where I think there is a total lack of common sense.

I am sure many of you have seen the news items over the last week about the concerns of the people in Balgonie, Saskatchewan and their issues with the south Regina bypass.  I know from following some of the social media comments on this issue that many people outside of Balgonie and area believe the people there are simply whiners and complainers and should just keep quiet about their access situation with the TransCanada Highway.

The Balgonie intersection with No 1 Highway was one of those places that had become dangerous with increased traffic flows in recent years.  The requirements for an overpass because of issues like public safety were certainly warranted.  What the people of Balgonie have done is once again expose the Sask Party government's reliance on P3s as a way to move forward on public infrastructure.

I don't know about you but as I age, the thought of cold and winter becomes less appealing to me.  When I woke up early this morning, my local radio station said Moose Jaw had got to -1.  I couldn't see any evidence of frost on the Swenson farm yet but we will see after a couple of hours of sunlight if anything was touched.  We didn't cover the garden last night and I was hoping that some of my newer grape plants in the vineyard would get the opportunity to grow for another couple of weeks.  My grazing corn is definitely not ready for a hard frost.  Hopefully winter is several months away!

I'm sure our Sask Party government must be hoping for a change of political weather when it comes to the GTH land scandal.  This past week, more revelations have come to light about the validity of the appraisals that were used to justify the huge purchase price for land around the GTH.  It also came to light that the GTH can't pay its bills, is not selling enough land to meet its budget projections and in fact, has not been able to make payments on its loan with a major Canadian bank for 2 years and the interest payment is the only thing being paid.

For anyone who cares to look, the PC Party put out a release last Thursday comparing the GTH to a past NDP government's venture into the potato business called "Spudco".  The really sad thing for Saskatchewan taxpayers is that much of the $2 billion expenditure on the south Regina bypass is being spent to build infrastructure to deliver truck traffic to the GTH.  No wonder Brad Wall wants to get out of Saskatchewan politics before all of the bills for this come home to roost with Saskatchewan taxpayers.   As you heard me say on tv and radio ads during the 2016 election campaign, we are building a highway to nowhere.

My final comment for the day is hats off to the plant breeders at the University of Saskatchewan, the Crop Development Centre and our federal research stations for their continued development of crops suitable to western Canada.  A lot of the evidence that is coming in after harvest shows that their diligence over many years has resulted in wheat cultivars which are far more tolerant to drought stress than earlier varieties. 

This last hot dry summer was a great test for the resilience of the new kinds of spring wheat available to farmers.  I have heard of some excellent yields in fields where there was virtually no rainfall for the summer.  These crops lived on what moisture there was in the soil and were able to utilize the nutrients available to them even in the face of extreme heat and windy conditions.  It will be interesting to see how these same varieties will fair if we are facing similar conditions 2 years in a row.

I'm sure Sask Crop Insurance will be breathing a sigh of relief because they will not have to expend as much money on claims as everyone was expecting.  In fact, everyone in agriculture from grain companies on down should be giving the folks in the plant breeding community a high-five and taking them out to dinner at the very least because Saskatchewan's prosperity is still tied in many ways to what comes out of our fields on an annual basis.  Well done to the folks that find us the new plants to keep agriculture going year after year.

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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.

Today marks another anniversary of an extremely sad and tragic event in world history.  This anniversary marks the day when a group of fanatics tried to use religious fervour as an excuse to murder thousands of innocent people.  They flew airplanes full of innocent passengers into the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a farmer's field in Pennsylvania.  None of us will forget the images of the Twin Towers collapsing.  The age of international terrorism has been with us ever since and the spectre of radical Islam is now a daily part of lives around the world.   This anniversary and the fallout from it will be with us for a very long time. 

We Canadians are not immune and will have to be very vigilant as we build a society which welcomes immigrants on a daily basis.  We should not fear new Canadians but we must teach them what it means to have a democratic, loving and tolerant democracy which can be a safe haven in a rough world. 

All of us have watched events unfold in the Caribbean and now in the state of Florida as the most powerful hurricane recorded in history has moved its way north.  Our thoughts and prayers should go out to the people who have had their lives devastated by this storm and be thankful we live in Saskatchewan where these kinds of climatic events don't occur on a regular basis. 

It appears the people of Florida have taken the right precautions and thankfully the storm has begun to dissipate as it moved over land.  I'm sure the cleanup will take weeks and months and years and be very costly.  But the loss of life that occurred earlier on in Irma's path has been spared in Florida.  You can always replace things - it's impossible to replace lost loved ones.  Hats off to the people that are facing Irma.

This makes my third comment this morning seem rather mundane as no one is going to lose life and limb because of the proposed tax changes by the Federal Liberal government.  As someone who comes from a farming background and I might add from a farming business background as Wheaton Bee Farms was incorporated in the late 1970's, I have very mixed feelings about what the federal government is proposing to do.

We Canadians have always prided ourselves on having an income tax system which provided the necessary funds to make our society what it is today.  We have lived with the concept that higher income individuals, companies and groups pay more tax than people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum in order to have a just society. 

We've also believed that it is good for people who are risk-takers to succeed and by succeeding, provide employment opportunities for other Canadians.  I don't know about some other areas of business where it has become increasingly popular - and I'm referring to different classes of professionals - to become incorporated entities.  I presume they are doing this because of advice from their accountants and lawyers. 

I do know that agriculture which tends to be a life-long occupation and in many cases inter-generational, needs the right environment to plan for long-term success because there are so many variables you can't control in a profession where things like weather and international commodity prices are totally out of your hands.  By being able to include family members on a company payroll and allow them to be eligible for things like CPP and pension plans and putting money aside to reinvest in the farming operation is a positive part of our current system.


I deliberately delayed this commentary by four days this week so that I could comment on the Fairview by-election with everything fresh in my mind.  First of all, congratulations to Vicki Mowat for obtaining a very large mandate from the people of the Fairview riding.  Any time you can get over 60% of the vote in our system of first-past-the-post, you have done very well.

It was very apparent to me after knocking doors in the riding on three separate occasions that there was a strong desire to punish the Sask Party government.  That played out last night.  The surprise for me is that only 36% of the voters turned out to exercise their democratic rights.  Perhaps because of the time of year and people just coming off of summer holidays and getting kids ready for school, electing another politician wasn't a big priority.


Last Wednesday and Thursday were my first opportunities to get out and knock doors in the Saskatoon Fairview by-election with PC candidate David Prokopchuk.  During that time, I completely knocked two polls in different parts of the riding and talked to hundreds of voters.  The last Sask Party budget, the cuts to services and the unfairness around who is going to pay for Saskatchewan's mounting deficits were certainly topics of conversation.  Many people told me that they don't mind paying their fair share but when they see the waste and mismanagement of their Sask Party government on things like the Regina south bypass, they get really angry.

After taking a little time to think about what I heard, it is obvious most people are extremely unhappy with the current Sask Party government.  The question now is.....will they go back to the same old tired NDP format which has resulted in one of the weakest official oppositions in Saskatchewan's history or will they send a different message to Regina by backing the PC Party?  I saw no evidence of Liberal or Green support but maybe I was in the wrong part of Fairview.

Several times in this commentary since the last provincial election, I unfortunately have said "I told you so" when referring to the performance of our Sask Party government.  This morning I'm having another one of those "I told you so" moments. 

In the 2016 general election, the PC candidate in Kindersley riding, Terry Smith, during an all-candidate debate challenged Bill Boyd to do the right thing.  He said, "Mr. Boyd, why don't you just resign now and save the taxpayers the cost of a by election because you are going to be gone in a short time anyway".   Mr. Boyd, of course, told the audience that the PC candidate was all wet and he would be around to serve the people of Kindersley for the next four years if elected.

After being in politics in Saskatchewan for nearly 40 years, I've often thought that it's very similar to weather in our province.  You think you've got it figured out so you can go ahead and plan things in your life and business and your family time and Mother Nature throws you a curve ball and brings up an unexpected weather event that changes everything.

Last week, we had such an event in our political world.  Most everyone involved in Saskatchewan politics felt that after winning his third general election, Brad Wall would find some other endeavour to keep life interesting.  No one expected though that this event would happen slightly over a year after the last election campaign.

We in Saskatchewan are now into a totally new political dynamic.  Everyone of our registered political parties here is either in a leadership renewal, just finished one or will just be starting one.  The dynamic in the next provincial election three years from now will be totally different as far as personalities go.  Many of the issues will be the same.  The challenges will be huge.  Pulling Saskatchewan out of its current economic conundrum will take vision, courage and a deep understanding of what makes Saskatchewan's population tick.

Brad Wall was a tremendous communicator.  He had spent most of his adult life in politics and had a good sense of issues management.  His inner circle of advisors, most of whom came from the same political background, stuck with him through thick and thin.  It was a recipe for political success.  A booming Saskatchewan economy probably made it fun at the beginning of his political life as Premier of our province. 

Anyone that makes the sacrifices to family, to your own personal agenda and enjoyment that you have to make when you enter into public life, I believe, should be commended for strengthening our democracy.  Brad Wall and his family gave up a lot of personal life to contribute to Saskatchewan's ongoing success as a province.  As I said in our news release the day that he resigned, the PC Party thanks him for his contribution and wishes him well in life after politics.

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