State of the City: Mayor announces bid for third term, says justice system failing PA

Mayor Greg Dionne speaks during Thursday's State of the City address. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Mayor Greg Dionne formally announced his intention to seek another term in office during Thursday’s State of the City address at the Ches Leach Lounge.

Dionne, who was first elected in 2012, will seek his third term when Prince Albert residents head to the polls this Fall. He told attendees that Prince Albert needed a new hospital, and he wanted to stay on and make sure the city got one.

“I’ve worked on this hospital project for a while, and I really want to see it carried through and built,” he explained.

Dionne added that he’s getting a lot of questions from residents about why he’s advocating for a new hospital over a second bridge. He joked that it’s because he’ll need a hospital if the provincial government ever promises one.

Election campaigns were just one of many items Dionne discussed during his roughly 45-minute speech. Most of it focused on infrastructure, however, the mayor also touched on housing and lot prices, Husky Energy’s community donations, the new University of Saskatchewan campus opening downtown, and Prince Albert’s crime rate.

Dionne blasted the justice system for allowing too many repeat offenders back on the streets, and called on the provincial and federal governments to help address the issue.

“We have a system that is failing us,” the mayor said. “Once the prisoners have left custody, they go into the justice system. Isn’t that funny. They call it the justice system. We have no justice. Most of the criminals that we deal with are repeat offenders and they are released from our court system.”

Dionne said the community faces a number of mental health challenges, which require outside partners and resources to meet. He views it as a province-wide problem, and he plans on raising the issue at the next SUMA convention, which starts on Feb. 2.

“No matter what city you live in in the province, when you look at the newspaper and it’s showing the Most Wanted, read what it says,” Dionne said during a short interview afterwards. “Breach of undertaking, breach of court order, breach of failure to show up. That’s the problem. They keep (getting) chance after chance to get out. They make more crime. They don’t show up for court and then we’re chasing them again.”

Dionne praised Prince Albert police for their work in combatting crime, but said police could not address the issue alone.

“Crime, of course, is also driven by poverty,” he said. “We have housing issues. We have job issues. Lots of things drive crime and the police by themselves cannot solve (the problem). It has to be a community effort.”

According to Statistics Canada, roughly one in five police reported crimes in Saskatchewan are “administration of justice offences.” That’s a broad category, which includes everything from escaping custody to breaching probation to failing to appear in court.

Nationally, roughly one in 10 police reported offences are administration of justice offences, however Statistics Canada notes that police departments are not always involved when these crimes are reported, so the true numbers are hard to determine.

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of administration of justice offences fell across Canada by 34 per cent. However, in 2016-17, failure to comply with court orders and breach of probation were still two of the top five most common offences in both youth and adult courts. The other three were theft, impaired driving and common assault.

Busy construction season ahead, warns mayor

This construction season could be one of the busiest ever, and that’s going to bring positives and negatives for Prince Albert businesses.

Dionne apologized in advance during his speech on Thursday, telling business owners there would be significant traffic congestion on Prince Albert’s main routes as city workers continue with road and infrastructure repairs.

“This is probably going to be one of our worst ‘stoppage of traffic for construction’ years,” he said. “We have that big (water) main coming down the hill and that will be all summer long. We have big projects in all our communities. We have our paving program.”

Dionne emphasized that in the long run, the benefits of the 2020 construction season would far outweigh the inconveniences. However, he also said the city is willing to help out business owners who are hit hard by lengthy projects.

“We’re helping them out with directional signage, we’ll see if we can open a lane quicker to let (traffic) in, and instead of doing 10 blocks at a time, we’re doing two—closing them up, opening them up, moving to the next two—instead of having that big stretch open,” he said afterwards. “We are working it, we understand the stress on business and travellers.”

The biggest project will be the West Hill Trunk Main, which will cost the city around $4 million. The water main runs from the top of 10th Street West near the hospital and down the hill down to 18th Street before veering off into a new subdivision the City’s planning. The current water main is already at 96 per cent capacity.

Prince Albert Chamber of Commerce CEO Elise Hildebrandt said business owners understand the need for large infrastructure projects like the West Hill Trunk Main. However, she it still makes life difficult for businesses as traffic slows or is rerouted to other areas of the city. She’s hoping the chamber can sit down with city representatives and find ways to cushion the impact.

“We do need to sit down and create some awareness for all of our businesses because although we had a room here of 365 people, but that’s not everyone,” she said.

“Yes, construction is annoying, but let’s be honest, that’s part of living in Saskatchewan.”

Despite the problems, Hildebrandt said there is a silver lining. When main thoroughfares are closed, it directs traffic to other parts of the city that visitors might not normally see. She said it gives residents a chance to show off some hidden gems in Prince Albert.

“If we take a look and do this creatively we can have a little bit of fun with it, I hope,” she said.