“No show Joe, you’ve got to go!”
“Hey you clowns, get off our crowns!”
Those were just a few of the slogans chanted by a few dozen protestors outside the office of MLA and Minister Responsible for STC Joe Hargrave on Monday.
The protest was jointly organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1374 (which represents STC workers set to be laid off), Save the STC and Stop the Cuts to demand a reversal of the decision to eliminate STC service.
The groups were joined by a few local activists, including Conrad Burns and Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp.
“I use STC frequently to attend meetings across the province as a city councillor,” Lennox-Zepp said. “Municipalities across the province subsidize public transit, and this public transit is needed for people to pursue economic opportunities, so they can get where they need to go.”
Several of the protestors were holding signs with the slogans chanted outside the office written on them.
A few took turns on the megaphone to share their message. Some were seniors who rely on the service to attend medical appointments. Others live or work in remote areas and use the bus to commute, or were curious about how farmers or other crowns that rely on the parcel service would cope with the loss of STC. Still others were concerned about the effects of the closure on the poor and isolated of society.
One particularly emotional plea was delivered by Marlene Bear.
She lived in B.C. when bodies were being discovered along the stretch of highway now known as the ‘Highway of Tears.’
“As an Indigenous woman, it’s very scary for me that more of our women are going to be hitchhiking,” she said.
“I work in the far north. We need STC for people’s physical health, their mental health and because we want our people to live. Our Indigenous people are going to be even more vulnerable than they were before. At least before, they could catch a bus.”
When reached by phone, Hargrave agreed people shouldn’t have to resort to hitchhiking. In fact, he said, since the decision was made to close STC, 17 companies have applied to take on some of those routes, and they may even be more affordable than before. One company, he said, is proposing rates cheaper than those STC charged.
“That’s a pretty substantial number,” he said. “I would hope that all of a sudden people wouldn’t be hitchhiking. How many people are travelling from Prince Albert to Saskatoon each day? It’s a substantial number.”
In addition to those 17 applicants, a Yorkton company has launched a free ride-sharing website to help people who relied on STC. The website, www.SaskRideShare.ca, is free to use. The business owner who launched the site believes it will help those in smaller communities find rides for some of the smaller bus routes that private businesses may not be willing to pick up.
As for safety concerns, Hargrave argued that because the interested companies have to apply through the Highway Traffic Board, they will have the same standards the STC operated under.
He also reiterated the promise Finance Minister Kevin Doherty made during his March visit to P.A., that if an urgent need arises that can’t be sorted out through the private sector, the government would be willing to explore possible solutions.
“We’re always looking to see what we can do to assist,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to see people hitchhiking out there, for sure,” he reiterated. “But we have to wait and see what operators (pick up routes) and what rates they’re going to charge.”
For Bear, though, government assurances aren’t enough.
“I lived in B.C. when the Highway of Tears was – when the women went missing,” she said.
‘This is what I see for our women who live in poverty. They’re going to end up dying because of these people who don’t think STC is worth it.”
Hargrave defends absence
Hargrave also responded to critics who were upset the minister was away from his office at the time of the process.
“As you know, we’re in session right now,” he said, from his office in Regina.
He indicated he had spoken to some of the protestors from previous demonstrations on the phone.
“I received two requests to talk to people and I’ve talked to both of those people,” he said.
Hargrave said it’s unlikely he’ll go out into the middle of a large crowd, as it’s of low value. But if people want to talk, he’ll talk.
“If people want to set up an appointment with me on a day that I’m there, of course I’ll sit down and talk to them,” he said. “Definitely.”
This is a corrected story. The original version of this story implied that Hargrave spoke to protestors from the May 15 demonstration, as opposed to an earlier demonstration. The Daily Herald regrets the error.