‘Everybody’s looking for help’


It’s Wednesday night, and 17-year-old student Uliks Ibishi is listening to a lecture.

However, it’s not about English or History or any of the other courses a high school student might study. Instead, Ibishi is one of roughly a dozen North Saskatchewan Regiment reservists getting classroom instruction at the Prince Albert Armoury.

“I like the challenging aspects,” says Ibishi, who will graduate from St. Mary High School in the spring. “The physically challenging aspect is probably my favourite part as well as the things we get to do, which is pretty cool, like some helicopter stuff. I know at the end of this month we’re about to do a patrol competition and there are helicopters involved. The training aspect of it is pretty cool.”

Ibishi was born in Kosovo, but moved to Prince Albert at age three. He’s lived here ever since, but his family has a history of military service. At age 15, he started thinking about a career in the military.

Joining the reserves in Prince Albert was his first step, but he hopes to join the regular force full-time after graduating this spring. He says the military has plenty to offer young people.

“It’s a very inclusive force,” he says. “We accept everybody.”

Recruits like Pvt. Ibishi are a welcomed addition to the Canadian Armed Forces, but they’re also in short supply. In February, the Department of Defence (DND) estimated that Canada’s Armed Forces would be short 15,225 regular and reserve force personnel by the end of 2024. Defence Minister Bill Blair called the shortage “a death spiral” for the military, and the Armed Forces began modernizing and increasing recruiting efforts.

That includes a series of Open House initiatives hosted by armouries across the country. The Prince Albert Armoury hosted one on Wednesday night, with more activities planned for Saturday.

“We’re trying to focus on recruiting and bump up our numbers a little bit,” says Sgt. Linwood Williams, a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the only full-time reservist based in Prince Albert. “The whole army is in dire straits and we’re trying to make it more feasible and more appealing to everybody.”

Linwood was born and raised in the Prince Albert area. He made frequent trips to the Prince Albert Armoury in his youth for cadets, graduated from high school in Shellbrook, and joined the army in 2012.

He spent nine years with the Princess Patricia’s second battalion in CFB Shilo, and another two at the Third Canadian Division Training Centre as an instructor before returning to Prince Albert. He’s worked at a variety of tasks during his career, with one of the biggest coming in 2015 when he returned to Prince Albert as part of the reserve unit that helped battle wildfires in northern Saskatchewan.

Linwood says it’s difficult to say why the Armed Forces are struggling to recruit new members, but notes it’s not just a Canadian problem.

“I don’t think it’s just the army,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of struggling happening in western society—not just our country. It’s the (United) States, the U.K., everybody.”

Linwood says the job isn’t for everyone, and that limits the pool of potential recruits. The Prince Albert Armoury has about 20 part-time reservists, and Linwood wants to see that number increase to a full platoon of 35.

He’s proud of his service, and grateful for the variety of experiences the army gave him.

“I’ve absolutely loved my career,” he says. “I’ve got to do so many cool things that I never would have got to do. I got to see all kinds of parts of the world. I feel like I got to make a difference.”

The staffing shortage extends to every area of the military—and that includes the recruiters themselves.

Sgt. Mark Calow is a part-time reservist based out of Saskatoon who previously worked in recruitment from 2017 to 2022. On April 1, he signed a short-term contract to work full-time in a depleted recruiting office.

Calow says recruitment struggles are not unique to the military.

“It seems like everybody’s looking for help, but there’s a lot of people looking for work as well,” he says. “I don’t know where the disconnect is, but absolutely the Armed Forces is in a staffing shortage right now across the board—reg force and reserve, the full-time and the part-time. Why that is, I’m not sure.”

Calow joined the Army Reserves in high school and originally intended to go full-time after graduation. However, he wasn’t interested in moving his family around every three to four years, something that’s common with the regular force, so he went part-time instead while pursuing a civilian career.

In 2009, he deployed overseas in Afghanistan where he served on a provincial reconstruction team that provided armed escorts for government and non-government agencies helping rebuild the country. On Wednesday, he was in Prince Albert to speak with prospective recruits who attended the open house.

“As a recruiter, we’re trying to put someone into a position they’ll excel at (and) they’ll enjoy,” he says. “I don’t want to (say), ‘oh, I have a need here and I need to fill this person into this need.’ It’s always asking them questions. What are you looking to get into? What do you want to learn?”

Despite the recruiting challenges, Calow is optimistic the military can bump up its numbers with the right message. He joined the army to be part of something bigger than himself, and he’s confident young Canadians still find that idea compelling.

“I think that resonates with the new generation,” he says. “It kind of went away and I think it’s back. (It’s) ‘how can I be of service to my country, (and) my fellow citizens,’ that kind of thing. I think those are the kind of people who are attracted to the Armed Forces. That’s what attracted me.”

USask PA campus exhibit puts lens on ‘The Mosaic of Black Joy’


What brings black Saskatchewan residents joy? That question forms the basis of a travelling Photovoice exhibit that stopped in Prince Albert this week for a two-day viewing.

‘The Mosaic of Black Joy and Wellness’ officially opened at the University of Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert campus on Tuesday. The exhibit features personal reflections from 16 black Saskatchewan residents illustrated by photographs from around the province.

“We wanted to highlight the diversity of the black community,” project lead Florence Mudzongo said during an interview following the official opening. “Saskatchewan continues to be a welcoming place for members of the black community, and as a social worker, I feel that it was so important to help us build community in letting the community know who we are.”

Mudzongo is a social worker and councillor with the University, and founder of the Saskatchewan Association of Black Social Workers. She said the exhibit is a way to push back against anti-black racism by focusing on things that bring black people joy and meaning.

“It’s actually a form of resistance that helps people,” she explained.

“Not only does it help people to be well, but this is also how people continue to reclaim aspects of their humanity and say, ‘this is who I am, and this is what helps me to be well.’ In this project, people are also owning their own cultures, owning their ways of life and ways of being.”

Half of the 16 residents who contributed are university students, while the rest are regular residents. Mudzongo said it was important to include non-students because they bring a different perspective.

The reflections focus on issues like similarities between holiday celebrations in Canada and Nigeria, the importance of communal worship and spirituality, and the joy of overcoming both large and small challenges.

USask practicum social work student Tina Bolwe was part of the research team that helped created the exhibit. Seeing it travel to different Saskatchewan communities has filled her with hope and excitement.

“It is extremely exciting to see how this exhibit has been going,” she said. “This is our third exhibit in Saskatchewan … so we’re very excited and very grateful to see how this exhibit is expanding and continuing to grow.

“It is very important to spread diversity in the community,” she added. “Saskatchewan is continuing to grow and it is important to have forms of representation in every community, so that is why I wanted to be involved.”

Mudzongo and Bolwe came to the project with different experiences. Mudzongo was an immigrant, having moved to Saskatchewan from Zimbabwe, while Bolwe was born and raised in Saskatoon. Both said they’ve had positive experiences living in Saskatchewan, but also said there are still times when they feel unwelcome.

They’re hoping this Photovoice exhibit will help viewers see the humanity in black Saskatchewan residents, and realize residents of all races have a lot in common.

“I hope they find themselves in this exhibit,” Bolwe said. “Whether you’re a person of colour, whether you’re or a visible minority or a white person, I hope that you’re able to relate and just see a different form of representation in the community.”

‘The Mosaic of Black Joy and Wellness’ is open for viewing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the USask Prince Albert Campus student lounge. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.

The project is funded by the Multicultural Counci of Saskatchewan.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca

‘I’m very blessed with the opportunities I have’: North Sask. man humbled after social media post about journey from alcoholism to graduation attracts worldwide attention


At one point, Sturgeon Lake’s Mike Scott’s number one goal was to get healthy enough to keep drinking, but things have changed.

This spring he’ll celebrate 11 years sober, and graduate form the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Indigenous Studies. It’s a big story for the Sturgeon Lake First Nation product, and one that’s getting told across the world after a short Facebook post about his journey went viral.

“My goal isn’t to reach people in amounts of likes and shares and stuff like that. It’s more or less just to inspire people, and if it happens to reach that amount, that’s just the more eyes that get to view it,” said Scott during a phone interview from his home in Saskatoon. “For me it’s awesome.”

Scott’s post in early March began generating interest around Northern Saskatchewan, then took off as residents around the world began to take notice. It amassed more than 6,000 shares, generated more than 21,000 reactions, and spread as far as Peru, New Zealand and Australia.

Scott has travelled to reserves across Canada to speak with Indigenous youth, so he’s no stranger to an audience. Still, he never dreamed a post about overcoming his own struggles would get so much attention.

“Inspiring people is what I’m here to do now,” he said. “Prior to living this way, it was the total opposite, so I’m very blessed with the opportunities that I have to be able to share my message.”

Scott was in and out of foster care as a youth. He was assaulted, abused, lived on the streets, and eventually went to jail. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol, but realized he needed to change following the birth of his daughter.

“I was continuing the cycles that my parents put me through, bringing alcohol into the home and bringing drugs into the home,” Scott remembered. “My daughter was the one who opened my eyes back then and I realized what I was doing to her was going to put her into foster care. It was a really tough moment where I had to realize the reality of what was going to happen.

“It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long time after that one specific moment where I was like, ‘I don’t want to drink anymore. I don’t want to live this way anymore.’ Ultimately I would say my daughter opened my eyes, but I was the one who made the choice to stay sober.”

Initially, Scott focused on small changes. He checked himself into a treatment clinic hoping to heal his body, but didn’t plan on giving up drinking completely. However, the experience in treatment convinced him to give up drinking and drugs for good. He is now 11 years sober, although it wasn’t easy.

“I kept my circle very small,” Scott said. “I didn’t hang out with people who were drinking or getting high. It was very lonely at first until I created the right people I needed in my corner, the right environments, and once I started to motivate myself and I created more goals it was a lot easier to achieve and it just kind of became my life.”

Scott will convocation this fall, but doesn’t plan on staying away from school for long. He’s already been accepted into a master’s program for Indigenous studies, and plans to eventually get his doctorate.

“It’s a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot of reading, honestly, it’s an overload sometimes, but I think just learning in general now, I’m at a point now in my life where I … want to continue learning and growing,” he said. “I’d probably do it on my own, regardless, so why not gain some degrees along the way.”

Even with the busy academic schedule, Scott hopes to keep speaking to Indigenous youth. He wants youth to live clean, sober, and healthy lives, and believes the viral Facebook message will give them a good example of what they can accomplish.

“My story is so relatable to everybody,” said Scott. “There’s at least one part where people can relate in some form, and I think that’s what gives them hope because they see where I am right now today, and how far I’ve come along the way.”

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca

Council passes final reading of new Short Term Debt Bylaw for Indoor Arena and Aquatics Centre


Prince Albert City Council gave final approval to a Short Term Debt Bylaw that will allow the City to borrow an additional $18 million for the new Indoor Arena and Aquatics Centre.

Council voted 5-2 in favour of the bylaw during third reading at a Special Council Meeting on Wednesday afternoon. The loan will help cover cash flow fluctuations while the City waits to receive funding and revenue over the next five years.

Mayor Greg Dionne said fundraising and taxation generated by The Yard Entertainment District will cover the annual loan payments, which would be around $4.1 million for an interest rate of five per cent. Administration has recommended a fixed interest rate that does not exceed 5.35 per cent.

“It’s good because it’s at the final point now,” Dionne said in an interview following Wednesday’s vote. “We can move on with our fundraising and now all we have to wait for is the opening, which I hope will be late January or February of next year.”

The City already has already taken out loans of $30 million and $16 million to fund the new recreation centre. Those loans are expected to be repaid by 2058 and 2057 respectively.

According to a report included in the agenda package for Wednesday’s meeting, the City has an estimated $85.6 million in outstanding debt as of the end of 2023.

The City’s authorized debt limit is $120 million approved by the Saskatchewan Municipal Board.

The Municipal Financing Corporation of Saskatchewan financed both the $30 million and $16 million loans, and administration has recommended they finance the $18 million loan as well.

Dionne said he’s confident residents will support the $18 million loan because of how quickly the area around the arena has been developed. The City owns 25 acres at the 80 acre site, with the rest hosting an assortment of restaurants, hotels, and other businesses.

Couns. Charlene Miller and Tony Head both voted against the bylaw. Couns. Terra Lennox-Zepp and Darren Solomon were not present for the vote.

In an interview afterward, Miller said her constituents aren’t happy with how many loans the City has taken out on this project, and she’s voting in line with their concerns.

“I said no to the $30 million (and) I’ve said no, obviously, to another $18 million,” Miller said. “I just think it’s too much. People are telling me that it’s too much to be spending and I’m the one who is getting the phone calls, so I’m just doing as my people expect me to do.”

The City began discussions about borrowing an additional $18 million in February. In a statement released before the February meeting, City Manager Sherry Person said the city anticipated covering some construction costs with fundraising, but failed to consider many fundraising commitments would be paid over several years instead of up front in one lump sum.

The City expects fundraising dollars to come in over the next 5-10 years. Both Person and Dionne said the loan would help the ensure the project was completed on schedule and within budget.

Knotty Pine Bistro retains Poutine Week title


The Knotty Pine Bistro is back on top of the Prince Albert poutine world after holding off challenges from eight other restaurants to retain the 2024 Poutine Week and Gravy Bowl titles.

The bistro based out of Little Red River Park earned the 2024 Gravy Bowl for selling the most poutines during Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Poutine Week. They also took home the Poutine Choice Award in a close race that only saw them take the lead on the last day.

Knotty Pine owner Barb Lychak credited her hardworking staff for securing their third straight Poutine Week championship.

“We kind of had an idea of where we wanted to be, and like I said, we worked hard,” Lychak explained. “The staff were exceptional, and we couldn’t have done it without the community. It’s for a very worthwhile cause.”

Knotty Pine sold 347 poutines between March 15-24. Lulu’s Kitchen came in second with 274 poutines sold, while Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse Casual came in third with 221 poutines sold.

Lychak said it was great to see so many local restaurants competing for the title. She also said it was great to see the support for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The eight Prince Albert restaurants that competed combined to sell 1,440 poutines, with $4 from each one going to BBBS. That works out to around $5,760 in donations.

“It’s an easy way for us to give back to the community doing what we do,” Lychak said.

BBBS development coordinator Natasha Thomson drove out to Little Red River Park to present Lychak and her staff with the Gravy Bowl Trophy on Wednesday afternoon. Thomson said they’re always impressed with Knotty Pine’s creativity.

“They are amazing, and really surprise us,” she said. “Their mighty bistro can compete against some of the bigger restaurants in town. It’s a beautiful place to come out and enjoy a meal, and the staff here just work so hard.”

Boston Pizza, Between the Buns, Original Joe’s, Ricky’s All Day Grill, the Rock and Iron Sports Bar, and Shananigans Bistro Coffee and Dessert Bar also competed in this year’s competition. Lychak said they’re grateful for restaurants who took part.

“It does take a whole community to circle around and support our vulnerable youth, and this is a great way for businesses as well as everyday Prince Albertans to show some support to youth mentoring,” she said.

Funds raised from Poutine Week will go towards recruiting and training support volunteers who mentor youth facing adversities in the community. Thomson said they’re currently looking for 10 more volunteers to match with youth on their waiting list.

East Side of Second brings vintage rock and classic country to Jam Street


Aiden Edwards and his friends plan to give Prince Albert a taste of vintage rock and classic country when they step on stage for their first performance at Jam Street this Friday.

Edwards is no stranger to the Prince Albert music scene, having performed solo at the Prince Albert Winter Festival’s Country North Show and Gospel Show. On Friday, however, he’ll take the stage as Aiden Edwards and East Side of Second, a band consisting of his brother Logan and pals Evan Ace, Gavin Johns, and Kace Callaghan.

“We’re super pumped for this because this is our actual very first two shows here and we’re just so pumped,” Edwards said during an interview on Monday. “We have stuff scheduled coming up in Saskatoon and Rock the Ville and Candle Lake at the Water concert, so yeah, we have lots in the future and we’re just pumped to get it started.”

Edwards and his bandmates cherish the classics. Their inspirations include names like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

It’s not just the musicians of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s that they appreciate. They also love the vibe from that period.

“I just like that era in general,” Edwards said. “People always came out and danced. People jived. People two-stepped and it was just a very out-there era. People loved to have fun and the music kind of showcased it. People loved listening to music. People still do, but it’s not the same anymore.”

Edwards and the band formed a few months ago and are in the process of creating a debut EP. Until that comes out, they’ll be playing cover tunes, combined with a few of Edwards’ solo originals.

“We’re just definitely there to bring the energy and have a good time with the crowd and get people out dancing,” Edwards explained.

“Our whole goal for this show is just to showcase our talents and our sound and get people out dancing and having a good time.”

Edwards said he hopes the name East Side of Second will get people thinking positively about Prince Albert. It’s a tribute to the part of Prince Albert most band members were raised in.

“One of us is from out of town, but he joined late, so we don’t count him,” Edwards joked. “But yeah, we all grew up on the East Side of Second (Avenue). That’s where we practice. That’s where we do everything, so it’s just kind of like a home roots kind of name. If we ever make it anywhere, I hope people wonder, ‘oh, what is East Side of Second?’ Well, we all live on East Side of Second PA.”

Aiden Edwards and the East Side of Second will perform two shows at Jam Street on Friday. The first starts at 6:30 p.m., while the second is at 8:30 p.m. For ticket information, visit the group’s Facebook page, or Eventbrite.com.

Saturday night fever: Swinging with the Stars raises more than $200,000 for Hope’s Home

Prince Albert businessman Dustin Shier found Swinging with the Stars to be so nice, he might do it twice.

Shier and professional dance partner Nicole Kriel beat out six other teams to take home the Judge’s Choice award at the annual Hope’s Home Prince Albert fundraiser on Saturday. The event raised more than $200,000 for the Prince Albert non-profit, and Shier loved every minute of it.

“I might prove that it wasn’t a fluke and come back and defend (the title),” Shier joked afterward.

“I was thrilled to know all the hard work we put in over the past three months finally paid off—showing up to practice two or three times a week and nailing this…. I knew coming in it wasn’t going to be the easiest task, so like everything in my life, I wanted to do it 100 per cent and raise a bunch of donations and everything for such a great cause. I’m thrilled they asked me, first of all, and even happier to accept. It was a great night.”

Shier and Kriel raised more than $13,000 for Hope’s Home and walked away as the judge’s top pick with a routine inspired by the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.

Both dancers said they were happy to win, but even happier to support Hope’s Home.

“It’s definitely something every community needs,” Shier said. “I hope other communities strive to find something like Hope’s Home because it’s such an amazing organization. It provides so much care for kids who need it…. It’s just a great thing that they have, and if I can support that in any way, I’d love to.”

“It’s super important for all the children with their needs and the medical care that they need,” Kriel added. “They’re fundraising money so that (the children) can actually get the services they need, that’s the main reason. Doing the dance is fun … but it’s really just about the kids.”

Kriel is an instructor with Bold Dance Productions. Saturday’s performance was her first at Swinging with the Stars. She watched the event from the audience the year before, and was happy to get on stage as a dancer.

“We worked very hard and I had a wonderful partner in Dustin,” she said. “He was very dedicated. He went out in the community to do so much fundraising, so I’m glad he got a reward out of all the work he did.”

Shier and Kriel wowed the judges, but it was Kelly Disiewich and Makenna Litzenberger who impressed the people.

Disiewich, a Prince Albert accountant, and Litzenberger, a Bold Dance Productions instructor, raised nearly $37,000 for Hope’s Home en route to winning the People’s Choice Award.

“I never thought I would ever be the champion of a dance thing, so that’s interesting,” Disiewich said with a laugh. “It just, honestly, is always about the cause we’re doing this for. Hope’s Home is such a good cause that we truly, both of us, believe in.”

“The win is great, but everyone donating to such a great cause is really the biggest win tonight,” Litzenberger added. “It’s been great.”

The duo won with a little help from Disiewich’s 16-year-old daughter, Ella, who joined the pair on stage partway through their hip hop dance routine.

Disiewich said his daughter has danced with Litzenberger for years and was happy to help out. As for himself, practicing for Saturday’s contest took as much mental preparation as physical.

“It’s really uncomfortable to start—but you start with the first step and then just embrace it,” he said. “Embrace being uncomfortable. It’s so fun. When you get up on stage and feel that energy, it’s so much fun,

Disiewich also thanked the many Prince Albert residents who donated to Hope’s Home. He said seeing such strong community support wasn’t a surprise.

Prince Albert accountant Kelly Disiewich (left) and Bold Dance Productions instructor Makenna Litzenberger (right) perform during Swinging with the Stars on Saturday, March 23. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

“I just had some colleagues from Saskatoon come down and they were blown away,” he said. “They were like, ‘this is incredible what you guys can do in a city the size of Prince Albert.’ Whether it’s Hope’s Home, whether it’s the hospital foundation, we get behind those things that truly matter to our community so it’s always humbling.”

All Swinging with the Stars funds will help with the Hope’s Home operational budget. Event organizer and provincial fundraising manager Mickey MacGillivray said the funds will go a long way to ensuring Prince Albert children and families get the care they need.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s a big part of our budget, so nights like this when we can bring in $200,000 or $300,000, that’s a good portion of our fundraising dollars, so it’s really, again, it’s the people of this city who just keep showing up. It’s heart-warming.”

Even before the seven dance teams hit the floor, Swinging with the Stars was already a success. MacGillivray said the event racked up roughly $140,000 before it started.

After multiple successful years of competition, the event is now a mainstay on the Hope’s Home fundraising calendar.

“I went to this event in Regina five years ago, maybe six. It was a Hope’s Home event and I said, ‘I’m taking that event to PA,’” MacGillivray said. “I don’t think people thought that PA could handle an event like this, but every single year we prove them wrong and PA comes out and they support it. It’s unreal every time.”

MacGillivray’s had mixed feelings as Saturday’s event drew to a close. After 11 years with Hope’s Home, she’s moving on to a new job, meaning the 2024 Swinging with the Stars will be her last one with the organization.

She said it’s been an honour to work with the organization.

“They’re family,” she said. “I just knew I’d made my mark and it was time to further that and make my mark elsewhere now. Hope’s Home will be just fine. It’s been an amazing journey. All my kids have worked at Hope’s Home, and they’re all here tonight which is, again, such a great honour.”

Sophie’s Closet closing doors as federal program bringing Ukrainian newcomers to Prince Albert winds down


It started with a small plan to help a few Ukrainian families escape war with Russia and start a new life in Canada, and blossomed into helping 125 families arrive over the last two years.

On March 31st, those efforts to bring Ukrainian newcomers to Prince Albert will come to an end when volunteer organizer Sonja Jahn steps down, and Sophie’s Closet, the thrift store created to help newly arrived Ukrainian families, closes its doors.

“It’s with mixed emotion that I do this because I know the war is not concluding,” a tearful Jahn said during an interview on Thursday. “But, I’m hopeful that Ukraine will win this war and that the people in Ukraine who are staying back will resume a safe life and a life of democracy.”

Jahn has been the driving force in helping Ukrainian newcomers settle in Prince Albert after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Her original plan was to help Ukrainians who’d moved to Saskatchewan in the last 10 to 15 years provide a safe landing place for any of their families seeking a way out.

As the war progressed, however, the need grew, and Jahn became instrumental in helping new families, whether it was helping fill out forms, find a job, or settle into a new home.

With Sophie’s Closet set to close and settlement efforts winding down, Jahn wanted to thank the many Prince Albert residents who donated time and money to help Prince Albert’s 125 new Ukrainian families.

The list included businessman Herman Lewis, who offered the first three families free rent for a year while they found their footing. It also includes Wendy Hoffman and Calvary United, who helped coordinate donations, and Christina Fonstad and Karen Malec, who did a lot of the work organizing Sophie’s Closet.

“We live in a very amazing community,” Jahn said. “There are so many wonderful people in Prince Albert and the surrounding community, and I’m just so grateful for all of the kindness and the compassion and the donations of household items, furniture, monetary donations. It has just been phenomenal, and if it wasn’t for all of the people who have stepped forward and stepped up to the plate to do this, this would never have happened as successfully as it has.”

There are two primary reasons these efforts are coming to an end. First, the federal government’s CUAET program, which allowed Ukrainians emergency travel to Canada, will end on March 31 and the government has shown no signs they will extend it as they did a year ago.

Ukrainian newcomers had until July 15, 2023 to submit a CUAET application, and have until March 31 to obtain a work or study permit at a port of entry.

Even if the program gets extended, however, Jahn said it’s time to step down for personal reasons.

“It’s been more than full-time volunteering seven days a week, and now my family have actually given me an ultimatum,” she said. “They want me back in their lives.”

Despite the unexpected workload, Jahn said the experience has been amazing.

“There’s been tears shed. Laughter and tears. My heart is extremely full and I am so grateful that these people have come to a place where they’re welcomed in our community, and thanks to our beautiful community of Prince Albert and surrounding area,” she said.

Sophie’s Closet is named after Jahn’s mother, who immigrated to Canada as a three year old with her family. On Wednesday, volunteers were organizing the last batch of donations for a final sale on March 31, when newcomer Ukrainian families are welcome to visit the store one last time before it closes.

Sophie’s Closet is named after Sonja Jahn’s mother, who is pictured here at three-years-old with her sisters Suzie and Mary with Sonja’s grandmother shortly before leaving Ukraine for Canada. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Ulrike Graner has been the store’s team lead recently. She said Jahn’s efforts will be missed.

“She is just amazing. She does not rest and she has that ability to sort of not freak out,” Graner said with a laugh.

Graner became involved with Sophie’s Closet out of a desire to help immigrants like herself. She arrived in Canada from Germany in 1995, and eventually moved to Prince Albert in 1998. She said moving in Canada in a peaceful, orderly manner was stressful enough, and sympathized with the Ukrainian people who had to leave everything behind.

She’s sad the store will close down, but has appreciated the opportunity to be a part of it.

“It would be nice to have the … federal support program not stop, but since it is stopping on the 31st, we figured there probably are less people coming, so this doesn’t make sense anymore,” Graner said. “On a nicer note though, a lot of the Ukrainians are established nicely, so I hope that the community itself, they will help each other.”

Graner said Jahn deserves a long rest after her work helping Ukrainian families, but said it will be a loss not having her around to help out.

She said it’s been a pleasure to work at the store, and see the generosity of Prince Albert residents up close.

“It’s been interesting,” she said. “You could not calculate what you could get. I learned that fall is house-cleaning time for everyone in Prince Albert, so everyone went through what they could spare and we ended up with a lot of donations (and) then it dwindled down. Then Christmas was another highlight. This room in the back was filled with Christmas ornaments and trees and decorations.”

With fewer Ukrainian newcomers expected to arrive in Canada, Graner and others have turned their sights on making sure the new families continue to be successful.

When she moved to Canada, Graner had trouble getting her work credentials recognized. She never worked in her chosen field of physiotherapy, and although she has no regrets about becoming a stay-at-home mom, she said it’s frustrating to see Ukrainian newcomers with impressive academic credentials working low income jobs.

“A lot of highly trained professionals who are actually needed in our country, they drive cabs,” she said. “That’s what I would love to see being changed.”

As for Jahn, she’s looking forward to some much needed rest, but grateful for a chance to help so many families.

“I only wish them the very best and wish them good health and happiness and prosperity as they make their lives here, just as my grandfather and my grandmother and my family did,” she said.

The final day of operation for Sophie’s Closet is March 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Deficit spending necessary to meeting needs of growing Sask. population say Prince Albert MLAs


Prince Albert MLAs Joe Hargrave and Alana Ross said deficit spending is necessary to address challenges created by a growing population following the announcement of the 2024-25 provincial budget on Wednesday.

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s budget calls for $20.1 billion in spending, with $19.9 billion in forecasted revenue. If that forecast holds, the province will run a $273.2 million deficit this upcoming fiscal year.

“We still need to be able to invest in the people of Saskatchewan, and that’s what our capital budget does,” Ross said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “We’re growing. Our population is growing. We know we need to invest in schools. We know we need to invest in health, and we in Prince Albert are going to benefit immensely from that. It’s something that is necessary and has to be done.”

The province will spend $7.6 billion on healthcare in 2024-25, with $180 million tagged for the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital Redevelopment Project. The project will increase the number of beds at Victoria Hospital to 242, with construction on a new tower set to begin this spring and end in 2028.

Other infrastructure investments include funds for a new Francophone pre-K to Grade 12 school that will replace Ecole Valois. That funding is part of $165.9 million announced for 11 new or consolidated school projects and renovations.

The budget also includes $2 million in operating funding for the Rose Garden Hospice.

“We’re investing more money in our classrooms and we’re investing money in (health)care with hospitals, and the municipal revenue sharing is up,” said Hargrave, who also serves as Ministry of Procurement and SaskBuilds.

“This budget meets our needs in Prince Albert very well.”

The infrastructure spending list also included spending on two northern projects already under construction: a new school in La Loche to replace Ducharme Elementary School, and a new three-story Long-Term Care Home in La Ronge. The school in La Loche should be completed by Spring 2025, while the LTC in La Ronge should be finished by late 2026.

Hargrave and Ross both cited declining natural resource revenue as the biggest reason the province faced a deficit in 2024-25. The province expects to receive $1.1 billion in oil and natural gas revenue—an increase of $98.8 million from the year before—but potash revenue has plummeted. The province expects to receive $796.4 million this fiscal year, a $580.1 million drop from 2023-24.

“It wasn’t by choice,” Hargrave said when asked about the deficit. “It’s what happens when royalties from potash (drop). Potash prices tanked severely…. That was pretty major, and that’s nobody’s fault because the industry never predicted that, nobody predicted that.”

The province anticipates an increase in income tax revenue due to expected high employment levels in 2024-25. The government also expects an increase in population will lead to more economic activity, which means more PST revenue. The province expects to see a 17.5 per cent increase.

Wednesday’s budget included $741 million in infrastructure spending, roughly $417 million of which will go towards the Ministry of Highways.

The province has also agreed to freeze the small business tax rate at one per cent for an additional year, a move welcomed by small business advocates like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“Small businesses need this tax break, otherwise their corporate income tax bill would have doubled at a time when they can least afford it,” CFIB provincial affairs director Brianna Solberg said in a press release. “While the difference between one and two per cent might seem minor, for a small business earning $500,000 in income, that’s the difference between $5,000 and $10,000 in corporation taxes. This tax freeze will help give more businesses the chance to survive.”

The province also announced a $16.7 million funding increase to implement the Provincial Approach to Homelessness. Roughly $7.2 million of that funding will cover emergency shelter operations across the province, while $9.5 million will go towards capital investment housing projects in Regina and Saskatoon. That funding was part of $1.5 billion in total funding for the Ministry of Social Services.

NDP leader blasts government for deficit spending

NDP leader Carla Beck described Wednesday’s provincial budget as an “election budget” that did little to help families struggling to pay their bills.

Beck said families are still hurting from cost-of-living increases, and they won’t find help from the provincial government.

“It’s like they don’t understand how much people in this province are struggling right now, so that was disappointing,” Beck said during an interview Wednesday afternoon.

The NDP has called for the province to stop collecting the Gas Tax to help families. That’s something Alberta did in 2023, and Manitoba started doing on Jan. 1, 2024.

Saskatchewan’s Gas Tax currently sits at 15 cent per litre on gasoline and diesel, and nine cents per litre on propane. Beck said that’s an easy way to help struggling residents, and it’s disappointing the province didn’t follow Manitoba and Alberta’s lead.

“We’ve seen every other prairie province do it,” she said. “If they didn’t like our idea, at least we were expecting we might see something from this government, but we didn’t. We saw more of the same.”

Beck also criticized the province’s decision to table another budget with deficit spending. She compared the current government under Scott Moe to the old PC government led by Grant Devine, which accumulated $1.5 billion in debt during its first four years in office.

Beck said residents need to trust the government will spend money wisely, and that’s not happening.

“(They are) spending recklessly, spending on the wrong priorities, and spending in ways that actually don’t benefit the people of the province that don’t address their number one concern, the cost of living,” Beck said. “I think, adds evidence to our observation, that this is a tired and out-of-touch government.”

Beck said the province’s current labour dispute with the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is an example of their inability to spend wisely. The two parties are locked in a debate over classroom complexity, and Beck said the most prudent decision would be to send the issue to an arbitrator. That would allow provincial and STF negotiators to resume working on a new deal.

“I talked to many teachers today (Wednesday) saying the very same thing: they don’t want to be here, but if they don’t stand up and say, ‘we cannot continue to underfund and disrespect and disregard the conditions our kids are trying to learn in, we are being foolish about our future in this province,’” Beck said.

When asked how this budget helps families facing a cost-of-living crisis, Hargrave said the province’s decision to stop collecting the Carbon Tax is one of many things that will help low income residents save money. He also said the province continues to ensure roughly 112,000 low income residents are not paying income tax, which also helps with affordability.

Ross said even with recent cost increases, Saskatchewan still is one of the most affordable places in Canada for a family to live.

“When you look at some of the measures other provinces have implemented, it doesn’t begin to compare with how affordable it is to live in Saskatchewan,” she said.

STF ‘really crossed the line’ with upcoming withdrawal of services says Prince Albert MLA


Prince Albert’s two MLAs blasted the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) for their decision to withdraw extracurricular services on Thursday and Friday, which led to the Saskatchewan High School Athletics Association (SHSAA) cancelling one of Saskatchewan’s biggest high school sports events.

The SHSAA will host a one-day version of the annual Hoopla high school basketball tournament due to the withdrawal of services. The two-day tournament was scheduled to start Friday, but SHSAA officials reduced it to a one-day event because of the withdrawal.

Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave and Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross were both unhappy with the news.

“We have some really wonderful teachers,” Ross said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “They do a fantastic job with our kids all the time. It is the STF who is making these calls, and personally I feel they really crossed the line with Hoopla. They talk about (how) they’re negotiating for the kids. From my perspective, that is punishing the children and involving them in a situation they shouldn’t be involved in.”

The SHSAA originally gave both parties a 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline before making a decision on whether to cancel the tournament. When that passed, the organization announced that each qualifying team would end the season by playing one exhibition game on Saturday, instead of the regular knockout tournament.

The STF and provincial government have not been at the bargaining table since Feb. 13. That meeting ended with barely any negotiations, and both parties released statements accusing the other of walking away from the bargaining table.

On Wednesday, Hargrave pointed to the $28.5 million provided for portable classrooms in the provincial budget and a recently signed multi-year funding agreement with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association as examples of the province’s commitment to addressing classroom complexity—a key STF concern. He said that should be enough to get the STF back negotiating.

“We’ve made lots of efforts, but they haven’t made any effort at all, and now they shut down Hoopla,” Hargrave said. “That’s not the government, and that’s not our bargaining team. That is strictly the teachers’ union that has shut down Hoopla for all these kids, all their extracurricular activities, (and) that’s just not acceptable as far as I’m concerned.”

“The table is the place to make agreements, and until the STF is willing to come back unconditionally to the table to sit down and talk, it’s going to be difficult to move forward,” Ross added. “I know a lot of teachers who really want to come back to the classroom, the kids want to come back to the classroom, and they’re the ones who are being impacted.”

STF President Samantha Becotte said the government bargaining committee has had plenty of opportunities to address the issue, but refuses to meet teachers halfway. Becotte released a statement calling on the province to either agree to binding arbitration on the issue of classroom complexity, or give the bargaining committee a new mandate to negotiate.

“Throughout this process we have provided government with multiple off-ramps to end sanctions and ensure that activities and events such as Hoopla, the Regina Optimist Band Festival, the Skills Canada Saskatchewan Provincial Competition, and many, many more could take place as originally planned,” reads the statement. “We are deeply disappointed that government simply refuses to meet teachers halfway.”

The Friday withdrawal of extracurricular services is the last day of three straight days of job action. Things began on Wednesday with a province-wide strike that had thousands of teachers picketing outside the provincial legislature during the budget presentation.

In Prince Albert, teachers protested in the Cornerstone area, which includes Alana Ross’ constituency office, a location they’ve picketed before.

Prince Albert and Area Teachers’ Association (PAATA) president Jean-Marc Belliveau said teachers want to have classroom complexity dealt with in this agreement, but the province isn’t negotiating seriously.

“We’ve given the government quite a few opportunities to come back to the table, and they have not accepted the offer,” Belliveau said in an interview following Wednesday’s protest.

“There are plenty of options to make all job actions go away.”

Belliveau said there is some frustration, but teachers would not be dissuaded from addressing classroom complexity. When asked when the string of job actions would progress into a full-blown strike, Belliveau said it would depend on how the government bargaining committee acts.

“Usually in bargaining, it’s to get better working conditions, but in this case, better working conditions equal better learning conditions,” he said. “We’re doing this for the students. We are fighting to have support so that all the students in the classroom have all that they need to be able to learn properly.”

Finance Minister Donna Harpauer announced $3.3 billion in education funding during Wednesday’s budget presentation, an 8.1 per cent increase over the year before. That includes $2.2 billion in school operating funding, along with $356.6 million in classroom supports, and another $216 million in school infrastructure funding.