Offended By A Luncheon?

Too often today we’re quick to shutdown different viewpoints in society. I stay clear of Twitter and most of my Facebook time is focused on family, as social media can easily devolve into nasty echo chambers, especially when you dive into the political parts of them. I do however enjoy regularly reading national, provincial, and local opinions in our media, even the ones with very different from my own opinions.

I was however really concerned last week when Ken MacDougall’s column took such a negative turn.The column was focused on the Chamber of Commerce hosting Saskatchewan’s Finance Minister so local leaders could connect with her and learn more about the 2022-23 Provincial Budget. Ken admits that even before the event happened, he was planning on writing about its failings. So, perhaps he didn’t go into the event with an exactly open mind (I never did notice him actually attend the event), but I’d like to address a couple of things mentioned.Mr. MacDougall seemed offended at something I must have said about the importance of Highway 3 being twinned and that it shouldn’t have been a focus of mine. Firstly, on behalf of those involved in the 414 collisions and the families of the five fatalities lost on that stretch of highway over the past decade, I disagree. But I’ll go back to something that he and I do agree on: Prince Albert is the gateway to the north and we want it to remain that way. So yes, I am glad to see Highway 3 being twinned. The people west of the city are part of the area that Prince Albert is a hub for. It’s that same recognition of being a hub that made our government assume 100 per cent of the costs for the redevelopment of Victoria Hospital, unlike his NDP when they were in government.

I know Ken would protest these points, and say his comments were building to the question of a second bridge in the city. I would just remind him that the NDP, the party he ran as a candidate for, refused to spend “one thin dime” to support the bridge we already have. This government continues to work with the city on maintenance costs and inspection of that bridge through our Urban Highway Connector Program.

I was more surprised though by his assertions that this government isn’t “friendly” to forestry. Forestry has always been a large focus for this government, including being front-and-centre of the provincial Growth Plan to double the growth of our forestry sector. Whether it has been in supporting softwood lumber challenges with the U.S., biomass power projects, or the more recent initiatives to better catalogue forestry inventory to increase harvesting, forestry has always been a priority for this government.

As a direct result of our government’s unequivocal support for Saskatchewan’s forestry industry, incoming investment of over $1 billion will be realized in the next three years, the largest single investment ever in our forestry sector. In 2021, the forestry sector sold a record $1.8 billion worth of products (up 60% from previous year), supporting over 8,000 jobs. Indigenous people comprise over 27 per cent of Saskatchewan’s total forestry sector workforce, the highest of any province in Canada, and 30 per cent of the provincial timber supply is allocated to Indigenous businesses. By contrast, the NDP Mr. MacDougall holds membership to saw the loss of 1,300 forestry jobs when in government and, as recently as last year, debated party resolutions to decrease forest harvesting and production.

Lastly, to Mr. MacDougall’s concerns that the Chamber of Commerce isn’t asking the hard questions he wants regarding economic diversification, I would point to rare earth elements, helium, biotechnology, ag-processing, tech development, and our creative industries. These are all growing sectors this government is supporting with strong programs in this year’s budget. I’m surprised Mr. MacDougall is taking such as dim view of the bright future for Saskatchewan, but it just may be his orange-coloured glasses.