Opposition leader reflects on Prince Albert impacts of 2013

Tyler Clarke
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Saskatchewan NDP leader Cam Broten. 

The Prince Albert area needs a voice in Regina -- something Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten said local MLAs are not providing.

“Prince Albert needs a voice in Regina, they don’t need Regina’s voice brought to P.A., and that’s the tendency of what the two local MLAs are most fond of doing,” he concluded.

The city’s bid for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing has been the go-to example of this, with the city’s two Saskatchewan Party MLAs stating that they are not advocating for a second bridge at this time, since a recent report has dictated that traffic volume is not heavy enough to necessitate one.

This, despite city council advocating that the province take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to the perceived need, with a second bridge fueling economic activity.

“It’s important to listen to local elected officials -- city councillors and the mayor, who know the reality in the city and can speak to that, about how this would spur and encourage even more growth, and that’s very important to note,” Broten said.

“That’s why we’ve been providing the voice of Prince Albert in the legislature in a way that the local MLAs have not been.”

It’s not just the specific bridge issue that has fall on deaf ears, Broten said, noting that the area is without a voice at the cabinet table -- an issue he calls “really concerning.”

“It’s for that reason, as an NDP opposition, that we’ve very strongly been championing the concerns of the city, and of the region and the north, because the priorities and the concerns of the north are not on this government’s radar at all, it seems,” Broten said.

The Daily Herald spoke with Broten on Wednesday to cap off his first year as the Saskatchewan NDP leader, following Dwain Lingenfelter’s 2011 resignation and John Nilson’s stint as interim leader.

“It’s been a busy year and a good year and a productive one,” he said. “The leadership race was a very important time for our party in terms of turning the corner and doing the work that we need to do as a party in order to regain the trust of Saskatchewan people and being a credible, viable option that’s relevant here in the province.”

Since his ascent into the party’s leadership role, Broten’s headed the redirection of focus into three key areas -- seniors care, education and the need to better diversify the economy.

“But our ears are always open to the things that we’re hearing, and it’s not like we’re only focusing on these three areas,” Broten clarified.

When it comes to seniors care, Broten said that a key piece to the puzzle is the reinstatement of minimum care standards, which the Saskatchewan Party removed.

“Under this government we’ve seen an erosion of the base level of care that patients and residents can expect, and that’s wrong,” Broten said. “That’s moving in the wrong direction and we’ve been calling for improvements.”

In reaction to such concerns, the Saskatchewan Party announced a $10-million Urgent Issues Action Fund earlier this year, tacking on an additional $3.8 million on Dec. 6 -- a measure that Broten said “isn’t addressing the real causes of why quality of care is going down.”

“To me that indicates a dismissive approach by this government where concerns are raised where they don’t take them seriously, they don’t take the right steps to address them,” Broten said.

Although these funds will resolve some things, such as call buttons not working, Broten said that it “won’t actually address the chronic short-staffing that is at the root of the big decline in care for so many people.”

Prince Albert needs a voice in Regina, they don’t need Regina’s voice brought to P.A., and that’s the tendency of what the two local MLAs are most fond of doing. Cam Broten

As for diversification, Broten said that to ensure the long-touted Saskatchewan advantage continues into the long term, the province needs to better diversify its economy.

“That means taking the right steps when it comes to education and ensuring everyone is fully engaged in the economy and receiving the education that they need and deserve, regardless of what part of the province they’re living in,” Broten said.

“It also means taking the right steps in the economic policy decisions this government is making, and I’ll use the example of the film industry. This government chased the film industry out of the province for no good reason other than a real ideological one, and through that decision, you know, it’s costing the Saskatchewan economy and economic benefit of $45 million each and every year.”

Perhaps the provincial government’s hardest-hitting Prince Albert impact since Broten’s instatement as leader was the May announcement that the Alberta-based K-Bro Linens will take on the province’s health care laundry cleaning needs within two years.

This move will mean the closure of North Sask Laundry in Prince Albert, where 100 jobs will be lost, including 38 permanent full-time jobs, 40 casuals, eight office staff and additional out of scope employees.

When it comes to public-private partnerships (P3s) such as this, the government has not been open in disclosing all of the details members of the public have asked for, Broten said.

“I’m really concerned about the 100 jobs that will be lost out of P.A. and what this means for the community -- what it means for these 100 families who are looking at unemployment or looking at real changes in their well-being because of this decision,” he said.

Earlier this year, deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon put forth a private member’s bill, the P3 Accountability and Transparency Act, which the Saskatchewan Party “sadly and surprisingly” voted down, Broten relayed.

“Let’s give Saskatchewan people all the facts,” Broten said. “Let’s put everything on the table, let’s fully disclose the full cost, including the cost of credit over all the years, let’s ensure a watchdog is in place to keep the process running smoothly and properly and above-board, and let’s ensure for any project to go ahead, that there are at least three bids so the healthy competition is there.”

Looking forward to the new year, Broten said that the Saskatchewan NDP will continue their focus on advocating for seniors care, providing better education and better economic diversification, and that they’ll continue bringing forward “all of the concerns that people have, and cover all of the bases that need to be covered.”

Click HERE for a full transcript of the Daily Herald’s interview with Broten.

Read the Daily Herald later this week for a year-end wrap up story with Premier Brad Wall, including reaction to some of the comments and concerns raised by Broten.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald, Saskatchewan NDP Saskatchewan Party

Geographic location: Regina, Saskatchewan, North Saskatchewan River

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