Analysis: Learning how to breathe again in Saskatchewan

When I woke up on Aug. 11, the first thing I noticed was that I was actually breathing fresh, smoke-free air. I hadn’t had that sense of life-sustaining hope enter my lungs since May 1, when Alberta Premier Danielle Smith called a provincial election, a date which heavily coincided with the outbreak of hundreds of wildfires all over the province, then quickly spreading into Saskatchewan. 

Fast forward some 110 days, and suddenly Premier Scott Moe and his Cabinet are nervously watching drought conditions in over 70 per cent of the province ignite an almost desperate militancy in the agricultural sector for the immediate need of a support program.

I don’t believe in a “coincidence” of Nature providing mankind with an almost Biblical warning of an impending threat to our existence, agriculturally speaking, but then I’ve also never been impressed with governments that “plan” their election strategies based upon the resolution of currently existing problems that would have never occurred had governments been more “forward thinking” in the past. 

Politicians in western economies laugh at the notion that mainland China brings forward economic objectives for the next 100 or more years, based upon an evolution of the economy in segments that they have analyzed as occurring over the last 1,000 years or longer; we, on the other hand, can’t even fathom something as simple as balancing the population growth that came with the post-Second World War “baby boom”. We should have been encouraging immigration, or sometime around 1980 and continuing until at least 2035 we’d have to increase health-related services to Elders to accommodate their increasingly fragile life existence. 

What solutions did Canadian politicians come up with instead? In 1989, following a nation-wide study making note of an “alarming” increase in health care costs associated with the delivery of national MediCare programs, a core of provincial premiers coming mostly from “progressive conservative” ranks determined that the provision of health care “was becoming too ‘convenient’ for potential patients”, and as a result the patients were “abusing” the system. The result – Bill C-69, the Established Programs Financing (EPF) FROZE such programs for the next three years (later, extended another two years by Bill C-20). 

We can only moan as to the result, while reflecting upon what happened next. We were immediately put in peril of individuals being able to have their own family doctor (the Mulroney cuts emphasized training more specialists as opposed to General Practitioners, further compounding today’s doctor shortage issues). Doctor funding to universities meant 180 FEWER doctors per year in Canada could attend (a 10% cut-back). Nursing and support staff were cut. Infrastructure funding took a serious hit. We (Saskatchewan) started recruiting medical practitioners from Third World nations. Doctors’ fees were capped, and hundreds more simply moved to the United States. 

Not to be outdone in our stupidity, Alberta’s Getty government recommended that health care resources be directed away from institutional care (i.e.: patients get treated at home in their declining years), while recommending private financing to increase “choice” and to introduce market mechanisms into the health care system, conditions that every study in Canada taken with regard to implementation of this system has concluded that it would only further shrink the number of physicians available to practice in public MediCare funded operations.

All of these changes, it must be noted, were initially resisted by governments because of their “perceived “negative” effect upon individuals paying more in taxes for these services, when in actuality had governments paid far more attention to the future prospects of a program encountering difficulties, re-examined ways to offset their usage, or simply phased out programs no longer of any use to the public, it would have resulted in considerable savings, relative to the monies we are currently allocating for our “immediate priorities”. 

Defining our future problems in an absence of governmental leadership

And so, IF we’re going to seriously examine just what issues were brought to the fore in the August 10th election, Question One should be to list what issues were brought forward throughout the campaign that not only could be fixed immediately and have long term positive benefits in the successful completion of that mission, while Question Two might be, “What are the ‘future’ issues we should be planning for now?

It should be noted that I originally started to write this column as an extended “feature”, by providing a breakdown of events over the 29 days preceding the recent byelections to anticipate what the future is bringing in terms of issues to address. What I saw instead was a population of special interest groups attempting to outshout their opponents in having their “concerns” become the priority in terms of dealing with their allocation of legislative time, then falling back into the pattern of encouraging hatred towards those who’d “dare” to oppose their righteous concerns. 

Confrontation no longer works; it took almost 17 days of this campaign to put their One Trick Pony resolutions back in the stable and actually started talking about even the most obvious of problems, including housing costs and affordability. What finally kicked this discussion into at least first gear was the fact that we were waking up every morning either breathing Alberta toxins or having cloud overheads deprive us of the normal sunshine that allows us to enjoy the sun’s rays irrespective of the high count of mosquitos in the air. 

What I’ve done in the following paragraphs is list a string of legislative objectives that I would like to see addressed in the next generation of government rule, irrespective of parties – although I will freely admit I have my preferences. So, here goes:

  • Based upon the decisions made by the federal government in the Mulroney era and the make-up of premiers that constituted the Provincial Council during that era, isn’t it about time that the Saskatchewan Party simply stop pretending that the Romanow era resulted in mass closure of many rural hospitals, when in reality the replacement clinics formed now provide better service to the more centralized need of health care carried on in this province?
  • Should we now be putting pressure on our railroads, CN and CP in particular, to increase track safety standards so that freight can move faster through the province, increase switch lane lengths to handle typical 200 car freight lengths while allowing for less disruption and increased travel speed on passenger rail?
  • Shouldn’t we be asking the federal government for funds to develop our own high speed rail corridors (Winnipeg – Regina – Calgary), (Minot – Regina – Saskatoon- North Battleford – Fort McMurray) and (Winnipeg – Yorkton – Saskatoon – North Battleford – Lloydminster – Edmonton) to not only enable speedier transportation corridors throughout the province, but encourage increasing numbers of immigrant populations to consider our province for settlement?
  • Can we invite the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to set up shop in Prince Albert, so as to allow for the training of up to 300 doctors, nurses and health support staff to establish practices in the northern half of the province?
  • Should we start restricting urban sprawl now, so as to prevent the destruction of potential farm lands as has been the pattern in Ontario?
  • Should we be now funding programs that encourage smaller farms to change over to sustained food growth practice and market gardening?
  • Should we be providing more voice to Indigenous communities so as to increase federal funding in reserve infrastructural building, 24/7/365 day paved roads to their gates, education and housing needs, as well as economic development?
  • Shouldn’t we be strengthening our school systems to provide better quality education, particularly in areas in which parallel academic excellence must be recognized between “blue collar” as opposed to “white collar”, as in done in Germany and other heavily industrialized nations?
  • Can we “trimester” our universities and colleges so that potential graduating students may obtain some co-op training in industries willing to hire them for a four month period from Year One to graduation?
  • Can we start getting serious when helping our communities to come to grips with reconciliation issues pertaining to our Indigenous population?
  • Can we adjust part-time work hours to a minimum of 18 hours per week at least paying minimum wage, while providing standard work benefits (WCB, holiday pay, etc.) in order to create more permanent and full-time jobs in the service industries?
  • If we’re going to address the issues of criminal activity and judicial reform, can we also start by increasing pay and number of legal aid lawyers, establishing counselling and training programs that have shown positive results of decreasing recidivistic behaviours, direct addictive personalities directly into detoxification centres for a more reasonable 90 days of monitoring and control?
  • Can we finally establish full-time work programs with reasonable base funding defined, particularly for the north, for high school students to obtain summer employment in forestry, mining, recycling, recreation and sustainable food developmental farming?
  • Can we finally establish water quality research so that the damages to our fresh water supplies that have transpired over the last 50 or so years (Quill Lake, potential toxic chemical drainage into Lake Diefenbaker if irrigation , etc.) be addressed and remedied?
  • Can we finally allow our northern Indigenous communities to direct forestry management practice, while experimenting with lands taken out of food production so as to provide secondary utilization of these properties, especially in the drought-stricken townships in the southwestern portion of the province?

There are literally hundreds of these types of questions that could be asked in a different fashion, but the idea of this exercise is to give next year’s voters, especially the youth, an idea as to what problems there are in society that actually affect—negatively or otherwise—their own lives and well-being.

If anyone has a strong sentiment, particularly teenagers who might want to experiment in participating in the political process, positively or otherwise, as to the intent of, or how answers could be applied in the production of legislation, feel free to drop off your comments or analysis in mail to the Herald. If this process succeeds in getting people to stop shouting at one another, so much the better…

Columnist Ken MacDougall looks at what issues dominated the recent August by-elections in Saskatchewan, and what issues should dominate the next provincial election.