Premier tours northern communities
by Phil Ambroziak
Premier Brad Wall believes open communication is the key to building a stronger Saskatchewan.
Wall was in Meadow Lake Sept. 12 as part of an ongoing summer tour that’s taken him to several communities throughout the province. While here, he attended a lunch meeting with city officials at the Bear’s Den restaurant to discuss the issues that matter most at the local level.
“We’ve been taking the opportunity throughout the summer to get out of the major centres,” Wall said. “We’ve been to the North Battleford area, the Estevan area and the Prince Albert area, and today we’re also scheduled to meet with community leaders in Dorintosh and Goodsoil. It’s nice to get out, meet with community leaders and to hear what their concerns are going forward.”
During Wall’s time in Meadow Lake, he said mayor Gary Vidal and others raised such issues as infrastructure and the future development of a new long-term care facility.
Vidal confirmed there was discussion about the new Northland Pioneer Lodge, primarily with regard to the funding commitment local governments will have to come up with.
“I expressed to him the funding concerns I’ve been hearing from people on the street,” Vidal said. “We also talked about models from other communities where some of these long-term care facilities were built for less money. “
The mayor said he asked the premier if the province could go back and investigate this matter more thoroughly in an effort to save local and provincial taxpayers some money.
“It’s always great to meet with Gary because when he brings a concern forward, he also brings suggestions on how to fix it – that sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time,” Wall said.
As for infrastructure, Vidal said he shared with the premier some of the projects and ideas the city has in the pipeline for the next two to 10 years, informing Wall – even though it may not seem like a lot of money from a provincial budget standpoint – it certainly is expensive from a municipal budget perspective.
“Infrastructure funding at the municipal level is something many communities have lacked in the last 15 years or so,” Vidal said. “It’s referred to as an infrastructure deficit.”
Also in attendance during Wall’s visit was Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison. Wall praised Harrison’s work, stating his efforts to improve local policing as well as highways has been of tremendous benefit to residents in this part of the province. However, highways in the North, he said, are still in need of a lot of work.
“We have seen some infrastructure expansion in the North, but there are some highways we just haven’t been able to get to yet,” he said. “They are, however, still priorities. There’s still more work to be done, but there has been some improvement.”
Wall also shared his opinion on other issues affecting residents in the North, particularly a concern raised by former Buffalo Narrows mayor Bobby Woods in a recent letter to Northern Pride about frequent power outages during the summer months.
“I’ve been hearing these concerns and I’ve been following that issue very carefully,” Wall noted. “We’ve asked SaskPower to look into frequency issues and to see if there is anything that can be done to make things better.”
Meanwhile, Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger recently commented on what he described as ongoing job losses in the North in spite of the province boasting the lowest unemployment rates in Canada.
“Unfortunately, some NDP MLAs like to spin the numbers the other way,” Wall remarked. “Not too long ago, our aboriginal unemployment rate was around 15 per cent, but now it’s down to around 11 per cent. That’s obviously still too high when you look at the overall provincial unemployment rate of around four per cent, but we are making progress. It’s my hope NDP MLAs will work with us when it comes to efforts that are bearing fruit.”
Following the luncheon, Vidal expressed his pleasure in having the premier take time to visit Meadow Lake and other nearby communities.
“I’d say it speaks volumes to the character of the man,” Vidal said. “He’s willing to get out there, to listen to the people and to take action on legitimate concerns.”