Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie and Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens, from left.
With a pile of announcements in tow, Prince Albert’s MLAs were audibly upbeat when contact in Regina by phone on Wednesday afternoon.
“This government is looking at the growth of this province and supporting it,” Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie said, distilling the key point behind Premier Brad Wall’s latest throne speech.
With Wall’s speech fresh on the minds of the city’s two MLAs, they enthusiastically touted one announcement specific to Prince Albert and several others that will directly impact the city.
Prince Albert will see the administration of a new home care pilot project -- an initiative Saskatoon will also see roll out in the near future.
“Details will be coming out as time progresses, and health regions are the ones that are working on it to help reduce the pressure on the long-term care system,” Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens said.
“This new program will allow individuals who are at home, still, to seek care in their home … by having physician visits, so it gives them the dignity of staying in their home and the quality of life they’re used to,” Hickie said.
With the province’s rapid growth has come more skilled labour positions than the province has residents qualified to accept, resulting in a combination of unemployment, albeit lower than the balance of the country, and high job availability.
In an effort to spur further growth while lowering what at 4.3 per cent is tied with Alberta as the lowest unemployment rate among Canadian provinces, the throne speech cites a focus on post-secondary education.
One thousand new training seats will be created, of which 300 will be for apprenticeships, Jurgens said.
“That’s very important for Prince Albert because we have both the Saskatchewan Institute of Indian Technology and SIAST in Prince Albert,” she said, adding that both institutions are set to benefit from provincial investment.
“The details will be coming out specifically for each,” she added.
“An educated workforce will then be able to tap into all the available jobs that are being created by business in our province.”
With uranium exports to China expected to pick up, Hickie said that he expects to see a significant increase in northern development.
“There are a lot of people who work in the northern mining industry who live in Prince Albert and area,” he said, adding that it “only stands for reason” that added post-secondary opportunity in Prince Albert is the way to go.
“It’s just opportunity -- that’s what this government’s all about,” he said. “Providing opportunity -- a canvas so to speak, that allows business to run, allows people to get job, allows people to stay in Saskatchewan and get a good living.”
The Prince Albert area houses a higher level of unemployment than the balance of the province.
Getting more local people into skilled positions is important, Jurgens said, adding, “Education is the first step.”
The province’s population recently surpassed more than 1.1 million, meaning more schools are required to meet the demands of a growing student body.
Earlier this week, Wall announced nine new joint-use schools that will be built using private-public partnerships, referred to as the P3 approach.
The Saskatchewan NDP claims that the P3 funding model is more expensive in the long run -- one of many concerns they have with a model they’re concerned can lessen provincial control.
Although none of these schools are scheduled to be built in the Prince Albert area, the P3 model is gaining momentum, with Wall stating elsewhere in his speech that other infrastructure projects might be funded through P3s.
This government is looking at the growth of this province and supporting it. Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie
“I would have to argue and question why opposition would want a government to not consider an opportunity whereby we would save your taxpayer dollars in a very efficient model, whereby we can bundle opportunities together,” Hickie said of NDP opposition to P3s.
There are savings to be seen by building nine schools at once, he said, noting that volume tends to result in reduced prices.
“If we can save money in all aspects of building multiple buildings, why would a government not want to consider that?” he said.
Growth front and centre
Growth is front and centre in the latest throne speech for a good reason, Jurgens said, adding that growth will ensure “all people of our province have a higher quality of life.”
“Growth is what we’re looking at in this province like no other time,” Hickie said.
“That’s our agenda -- to support growth. It’s much easier to accept that challenge than to look at a declining population … and I’m very proud to be on this side of government that’s actually looking at these challenges of growth.”
Not too long ago, Saskatchewan’s population was stagnant, Hickie said, adding that he’s currently looking at a future where his two university-student daughters are likely to find meaningful employment in the province.
“Growth allows our young generation to stay in this province, to stay and raise a family,” he said.
Hickie offers NDP a challenge
Hickie genuinely wants to see the Saskatchewan NDP and its leader Cam Broten come up with an economic action plan -- something he said he’s yet to see.
“The challenges should be there for (Broten) to put forth an action plan,” Hickie said.
“Put forth his party’s economic development plan. Let’s see what he has to offer to the citizens of this province … It’s easy to criticize, but it seems like it’s really hard to come up with an idea on their side.”
At seven months into Wall’s leadership of the Saskatchewan Party, he had an economic plan as well as policies in tow, Jurgens said.
Taken aback by the NDP’s accusation that Saskatchewan’s economy isn’t as diversified as they’d like to see, Hickie noted that agriculture remains central, while potash and uranium also gain prominence.
“We led the nation in … agricultural manufacturing – that was a big part last year,” he said. “We have a very diversified economy at this time. Broten is looking back. He’s looking backwards in what’s happening in the past, and he’s not looking at what’s in front of him, right here.”
Click HERE for a story on the Saskatchewan NDP’s low expectations for the third session of the 27th legislature -- sentiments they in large part reiterated in a press release issued shortly after the throne speech’s 2 p.m. delivery on Wednesday.
A full transcript of Wall’s speech from the throne can be found online by clicking HERE.