SUMA bear pit draws questions on infrastructure, addictions and Diefenbaker project

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Premier Scott Moe and his ministers answer questions during the SUMA bear pit at the Viterra International Trade Centre in Regina on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Regina.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

The Q&A session held on Wednesday morning in Regina saw delegations from all over the province quiz the premier and cabinet.

This year’s bear pit at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) annual convention in Regina saw Premier Scott Moe and his cabinet questioned on matters of infrastructure, mental health, addictions and also safety.

A man from Prince Albert spoke midway through the session, saying he addressed the premier and cabinet last year at the SUMA bear pit to ask for some of the surplus posted in the 2023-24 budget to go toward addressing poverty, addictions and reconciliation.

“I see the suffering continue,” said the man. “My people continue to die in the streets of exposure, of addictions, of mental illness — without access to supports, without access to resources, and without access to care.”

Premier Scott Moe said in order to address and prosecute the presence of illicit drugs in communities throughout Saskatchewan “we’ll need to have a little bit of movement with respect to the Criminal Code of Canada.”

Moe spoke of coming investments like a $50-million update to the mental health and addiction action plan and $40 million to build new supports in Saskatchewan.

Coun. Cheryl Stadnichuk (Ward 1 – Regina) asked about the Diefenbaker irrigation project, saying she had concerns about how it could affect drinking water in Saskatchewan. Stadnichuk said she’s fielded some questions from concerned citizens around the irrigation project and wanted to know what kind of agreements would there be with downstream communities.

Also, she wanted to know what kind of environmental impact assessments would be done.

Minister of Agriculture and the Water Security Agency (WSA) David Marit responded saying the WSA “has done an awful lot of work on this project and the importance of water.”

He said right now Lake Diefenbaker could provide a city of 300,000 people with water for 18 years.

“We are obviously watching our reservoir levels and are very confident,” he said.

Randy Goulden, president of SUMA, said people in Saskatchewan expect the province and the federal government to support them when it comes to infrastructure builds.

“It does not matter where those urban communities are or the size,” she said. “They expect clean drinking water, they expect wastewater to be looked after and the drainage is looked after.”

Meanwhile, speaking after the bear pit, Minister of Government Relations Don McMorris said mental health and addictions issues came up frequently in talks over the course of the convention.

“This isn’t just a big-city issue, addictions and homelessness,” he said. “It’s happening in all communities and obviously that was voiced by the delegates here today.”

Goulden added that, while there is concern with respect to crime and there is some focus on the number of officers on the ground, mental health and addictions are front of mind for many.

“We need to work with our provincial government and with our federal government to provide the very best places that they can live,” she said.