Chamber luncheon leaves more questions to be asked than answered

When I first heard of the Premier and the Minister of Finance coming to Prince Albert last Friday, I started to think about a column to write explaining what this speech would entail, what issues it would fail to confront, and speculate on how the audience would respond. Hoping that this event may actually produce an election-inspiring dialogue that would finally get voters thinking instead of hating, I chose to hold off on the piece…

Big mistake

Anyone who regularly reads my column knows I’m no fan of the Saskatchewan Party nor their policies. The SP hierarchy is too “in love” with Alberta’s Jason Kenney’s unerringly stupid way of managing that province with his 18th Century interpretation of “conservative” values as they affect the province’s economy. Every province except Saskatchewan is seeing their unemployment numbers declining. More to the point, with the province FINALLY receiving royalties from skyrocketing crude oil prices, of what benefit is that to the average Joe now paying $1.70/liter for gas and our grocery bills inflating faster than Donald Trump’s ego. Is this REALLY the time for the government to start singing, “Good times are just ahead”?

I hate being a “wet blanket”, but then this government has always had a serious problem with reacting positively to market trends. For the last two years we’ve been buffeted by a Covid-19 pandemic that seems to have no end, as it offers up still another mutated version that further pushes rates of contagion to hypersonic levels. To say that these factors have put EVERYONE “on edge” is the “Understatement of the Year”.

So, what does the SP government do? It adopts the laissez-faire “herd immunization” policies of South Dakota, even though Sweden has shown us that this approach doesn’t work, and we’re left with the province now having the highest “per 100,000” death rate from this virus in Canada.

The question I have to ask, though, is why did the Chamber of Commerce choose to treat this address by the premier and Minister of Finance as a “feel good” moment for the city? CEO Patty Hughes said that the sell-out of tickets for the luncheon briefing was “showing that people are ready to be engaged and back out doing things again.”

Even I wish that were true…

Shouldn’t Chamber of Commerce members be asking what this over-hyped budget will do for the city, other than continue to leave us with a 3-P funded health care system with the expansion of the hospital? What is really driving me nuts, however, is the city’s SP MLA’s Joe Hargrave and Alana Ross gushing over the “twinning” of Highway 3 East in the PREMIER’s riding. Who is speaking out for our drastic need for a second bridge to unplug the movement of goods and services to the north?

Certainly not Batoche MLA Delbert Kirsch nor Saskatchewan Rivers independent representative Nadine Wilson. Theirs is the sound of one hand clapping…

For her part, Ms. Hughes may believe that the private investment in forestry may be “significant to the business community and our economy”, but we heard the same platitudes when Weyerhaeuser came to town. Not only did this corporate parasite renege on its intended contractual goals, but created a living Hell in the city’s affordable rental housing market, and manpower hiring controversies mostly affecting Indigenous members travelling hundreds of kilometers in their own attempt to alleviate their own community’s economic sufferings.

More to the point, I don’t see our MLA’s moving to deal with the expansive issues that will continue to present themselves once Paper Excellence opens up the mill. The downtown core is on life support, realtors are already lamenting a lack of product to move even as they expect to see workers moving here from the north, and environmental groups are becoming increasingly worried about the potential of our forests not being able to meet the resource necessities of the industry.

The point is, the Saskatchewan Party has never developed a “friendly” attitude towards the forestry industry. During the 2015 fire season, the attitude of the Wall government was too passive. The scorched north-eastern portion of the province stretching well past Sandy Bay has never been replanted, while the north-west sector from Big River to Buffalo Narrows, whole segments of land remain barren of life due to the government being unwilling to address industry’s proclivities to clear cut product, while still valuable wood entangled by the district’s “plough winds” along the shores of Chitek Lake remain unharvested and unclaimed.

Whether or not we wish to accept the expansiveness of these problems affecting our north’s forest industry, they are also the problems which our businesses, and particularly our Chamber of Commerce, must address. The average city voter may read this statement and legitimately ask the question, “Why should the north’s concerns be ours to bear?” My answer is simple: If we wish to remain as “The Gateway to the North”, we have no other option but to pursue such a policy.

The question that remains unanswered, however, is “Does the Chamber of Commerce membership agree?”

And so, WHEN Is the Chamber going to start asking hard questions of this government, which it failed to do at this luncheon meeting with the Minister of Finance and the premier? Will it again become the voice of concern of this province in forcing the next provincial campaign to focus upon the government’s inability to come up with policies that will diversify our economy?

Personally, I believe that I’m, in the majority when I contend that it’s about time that our political parties returned to “the good old days” of actually debating issues; listening to the hate-filled tirade of problems being left unsolved because of our exalted PM and the lame “carbon tax” being the creation of Lucifer himself is getting pretty boring.

On this point alone, I seriously doubt that I am “wrong”…