Pandering support for Sask Party policies ‘a clear and present danger’ for the north

On Jan. 22, 2016, La Loche high school student Randan Fontaine came to school armed. Before the end of the day, four people would die at his hands, and another seven would be seriously wounded. Several days after that, Brad Wall flew into the community for a brief photo “op”, took a few minutes of his time to meet with select members of the community, offered up his “prayers and thoughts” draped in its standard political hypocrisy, then uttered the words, “There are seeds of hope that have been planted even in this week…there need be and can be more support from governments… that will represent seeds of hope.” Less than two hours later, he was gone.

Six years later, what Wall promised back then – the “more support from governments” – can roughly be translated to mean only one “government”, that being the federal one, and even there, the response was slow in coming.

A year after the shooting acting Principal Greg Hatch summarized the community’s feelings towards Wall’s promise to walk with the community with these words: “We feel alone…we feel abandoned.” 

There is little wonder in understanding why his words were laden with profound regret. Three social workers, none of whom are trained in addressing mental health concerns were added to the health region’s work force, while a psychiatric nurse was also recruited to deal with health concerns of all the 3,000 or more residents of the immediate and surrounding communities – this within a health region where the number of children regularly attempting to commit suicide is at extreme levels, the local women’s shelter is almost always full, and gang violence being fueled by resentment, alcohol and drugs dominate community highlights on any given day. 

Given that the Sask Party has done nothing to relieve the economic isolation of the community, one has to wonder why it is that La Loche appears to now be flying the flag of convenience of this political disease. There still is no bank in the village, not even a credit union. The economic centre of oil exploration, Fort McMurray, is less than 80 km away from town, but only accessible by winter road because the government has refused to spend the $17 million necessary to build a bridge spanning a wannabe river to allow access to job opportunities in the oil fields. Most of the businesses in town are either owned by non-resident carpetbaggers or merchants trying to eke out an existence where even to get a bucket of chicken on a Friday night for a kids’ treat starts somewhere just shy of $75 a barrel. 

Given these circumstances, one has to ask the question: WHY in HELL would Athabasca riding elect Sask Party candidate Jim Lemaigre to replace long-serving former MLA Buckley Belanger as their representative?

I have no idea as to what truly drives Mr. Lemaigre to claim any right to represent that riding. Although he is a member of the Clearwater River Dene Nation located on the outskirts of La Loche, he and his family have mostly lived in Prince Albert, and his riding office is in Buffalo Narrows, 100 km to the south of La Loche. During the last election on the CRDN, he ran for Chief, only to be defeated by current incumbent Ted Clarke. More to the point, having retired as an RCMP officer and not even having lived in the region for other large chunks of his life, one wonders how it is that he can even understand the major social concerns of the region?

Throughout his provincial campaign, Mr. Lemaigre constantly described himself as “pro-business”, while maintaining that economic opportunities exist within the north, if people would only take advantage of their occurrence. What he fails to understand, however, is that such “opportunities” have come at the expense of his own people.

For instance, up to and including the Devine years, it was not uncommon for local bars to be up-sold on the basis of the number of units of liquor, mostly beer, consumed on a nightly basis in that establishment. The “problem” there was two-fold; first, many of outlets refused to cut individuals off despite their obvious succumbing to a state of drunkenness, while RCMP officers doing regular tours near these establishments were finding repeat offenders, the majority of abusers behind the wheel of a half-ton, regularly blowing rates of 0.45 or higher, while those leaving the bars without transportation and transported back to either RCMP cells or a hospital bed could blow rates even higher than that. 

Under currently existing legislation such establishments were more carefully policed by the SLGA. Now, however, the SLGA is being downgraded to nothing more than a name on a warehouse where the government stores all liquor and beer prior to outlet sales.

The plan to privatize all liquor outlets is now re-introducing the prospect of going “gung ho” in maximizing sales as merchants put profit before the law by increasing sales to minors and having no restrictions as to “how much” should be sold to whomever, whether they be bootleggers or gang members transporting product into so-called “dry reserves”. These factors can only have adverse effects upon the province’s already overstretched police forces, not to mention creating more social strife on reserves. 

If this is the Sask. Party’s vision in creating “business opportunities” for the north, several of Lemaigre’s fellow Indigenous peoples who have lived through past experiences with alcoholic beverages and dealt with increased violence levels, particularly those inflicted upon women and children, should be seriously disagreeing with the honourable MLA for Athabasca. 

What is truly mind-bending, however, is the almost deadly silence coming from the Indigenous corridors of power. In particular, the FSIN, who waited almost three weeks before releasing a statement condemning the S.F.A..

The sickening aspect of all of this manipulation of public sentiment is that the Moe government, knowing full well that northern municipalities have been among the hardest hit during this pandemic, is waving its new oil wealth derived from the Russia-Ukraine war, all while failing to provide any hope as to creating infrastructural changes in the north that could lead them out of the economic wilderness. And just what is Jim Lemaigre’s stance on these issues? Your guess is as good as mine…