Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River MP Gary Vidal said his record speaks for itself and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls an election tomorrow, he’s ready for it.
Vidal is in Meadow Lake after completing his first tour of the riding since the pandemic started. He said his first priority will be getting the riding back on track economically.
“We have communities in northern Saskatchewan still dealing with COVID outbreaks. As we expect we’re coming out of the pandemic, and we’re starting to move back to normal, we need a plan for economic recovery and job creation,” Vidal said.
“Many small businesses in communities throughout northern Saskatchewan (are hurting). They can’t get people to work… So, we need a plan that creates jobs and gets people back working.”
He said the Liberal government in Ottawa has turned a blind eye to many issues that are important to the riding and promised to continue to fight for northern Saskatchewan.
“It seems imminent that we are going to have an election but we’ve been hearing rumours about an election since spring. If the Prime Minister calls an election, our party is ready, I’m ready and I think the residents of my riding are ready for a change in government. There’s an old adage that says, “I’m not asking for a fight, but if it comes, I’m ready for it,” Vidal said.
“First of all, let’s elect a Conservative government that actually is interested in getting stuff done rather than just platitudes and photo ops and news conferences… I’m expecting we’re going to have a Conservative government in Canada.”
He said the pandemic has limited what he could do in terms of outreach and engagement, but he’s worked within those limitations.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting to be in election mode in the next few weeks, which it looks like we’re going to be. My job is to represent all the people in northern Saskatchewan and take all of their concerns forward. That’s what I’ve done. And that’s what I would continue to do,” Vidal said.
“Canadians have been asked to sacrifice an awful lot over the last year and a half. Quite frankly, it’s a little bit selfish of Prime Minister Trudeau to put us into an election right now with all of the uncertainty. It reeks of entitlement. He doesn’t want to work with the mandate that Canadians gave him less than two years ago to work together in a minority parliament to get things accomplished for Canadians.”
He said the pandemic has exacerbated the issues faced by northern residents, such as crime, gaps in social services and a lack of support for mental health and wellness needs.
“We’ve talked a lot about mental health supports as we come out of a pandemic. We’ve heard a fair amount about rural crime and some of the challenges that that’s creating for people,” Vidal said.
There are challenges in many of our communities around gangs and drugs. We’ve heard about a lack of infrastructure and housing. Some of that’s been magnified by the pandemic.”
He said problems getting a homeless shelter funded in the Town La Ronge is one example of people losing out when it comes to funding for services.
In La Ronge, changes to the Indian Act saw shelter clients who were Métis qualifying for First Nations treaty status. As a result they could no longer be funded for shelter during the winter.
When people don’t “fit in a box” he said it leads to “jurisdictional quagmires” over who will fund services. He said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is aware of the problem.
“One of the challenges we’ve faced throughout the whole pandemic on some of the funding announcements and the money that the government put out there and introduced for many communities is that there were often some people that fell through the cracks,” Vidal said.
“One of the things that we’ve advocated for is that we need to make sure that these jurisdictional issues don’t leave people literally left out in the cold. We did a lot of that through the National Association of Friendship Centres.
“So, we need to continue to find solutions to those challenges created by gaps between the federal government, provincial government, municipal, First Nations and Métis locals.”
He said the drought is hurting ranchers from the Meadow Lake area to Paddockwood, Nipawin and north of Prince Albert. Fires, he said, are also impacting residents further north because of the same dry conditions.
“Ranchers are having to sell off their houses and their breeding stock, which becomes a huge issue when you look at the industry going forward for a long time,” Vidal said.
“It’s a very diverse riding…. with different needs and different economic impacts and challenges. But the conditions affect everyone. They just affect them in different ways sometimes.”
Vidal said the softwood lumber industry is another area that needs fixing.
“I’ve been working behind the scenes on a number of things that create jobs and opportunity in northern Saskatchewan in the forestry sector. I’ve gone to bat for NorthSask Forest Products on the softwood lumber agreement, or lack thereof, and the challenges that puts on a company like NorSask Forest Products, that is owned by nine First Nations,” Vidal said.
“Those dividends go back to those First Nations and allow them the ability to tackle things like their social issues, like their housing issues, like recreation and education… Those dividends from the industry impact those communities and their ability to serve residents very directly.
He said that through the pandemic he has I advocated for Indigenous businesses in northern Saskatchewan “that weren’t getting treated fairly.”
“I also advocated for urban Indigenous people across the country that weren’t getting treated fairly. So I think my record speaks for itself,” Vidal said.
But Vidal said there are some areas where the federal government still isn’t listening, and that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has better solutions.
“I asked the Prime Minister a question on rural crime, and I got an answer that was a nothing answer. I challenged (Minister of Public Safety) Bill Blair on rural crime… I’ve sent letters recently to the Minister of Agriculture on the drought conditions and the challenges to the ranchers,” Vidal said.
“O’Toole talked about building a digital infrastructure to connect all of Canada’s high-speed internet by 2025. That’s a huge issue that has been brought to the forefront through COVID.
“He’s committed to appointing a minister of Rural Affairs to cabinet — somebody that will sit at the cabinet table and will speak behalf on behalf of rural Canadians. So, this is a way to get that voice to the table. He’s committed to tackling rural crime… Infrastructure funds would be set aside specifically for rural projects, rather than just urban projects.”
Vidal hopes northerners will judge him by his record over the past two years in office amid an unprecedented pandemic.
“Look at the record and look at how I advocated on behalf of all people in northern Saskatchewan. With a number of restrictions and limitations put on us and our ability to be out and see people and talk to people I have done my utmost,” Vidal said.
“My team has worked very hard to represent all of the people in the north, south, east and west in this riding. We’ve been representing all of those people to the best of our ability, and we will continue to do that whether we’re on the side of the government or not.”