Transcript : Premier Brad Wall on Prince Albert

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

Capping off another year of provincial politics, Daily Herald reporter Tyler Clarke caught up with Premier Brad Wall on Thursday for his comments on locally relevant items that made the news in 2013.   

 

The following is a full transcript of Clarke’s almost 20-minute interview, during which Wall responded to all of the topics Clarke had prepared.

Click HERE for a full transcript of the Daiy Herald's year-end interview with Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten.

 

RE: Recent comments of “Belt tightening” in 2014.

“It is mostly potash. A couple things -- one, in Saskatchewan there’s the odd year where even though the economy continues to be strong, the budget gets tight. Actually, we went through that in 2009 when potash revenue almost collapsed, but we still added 17,000 new people to the province in population growth, had the lowest unemployment rate, big external investment into the province, jobs being created. But, because of what was happening in potash at the time, revenues were tight and we made some decisions to stay within a balanced budget, and we’re looking at the potential for that this year. The forecasts are for between two and three per cent growth for most of the charter banks, strong growth continuing, but, it might be a bit tighter because of what we all well know has been documented in the potash industry worldwide.

“By the way, one of the reasons for continued strength in the economy is that we’re diversified. We have many more cylinders in our economic engine right now. We had, over the last six months or so, we’ve seen a decline in natural resource jobs, but an overall increase in jobs created in Saskatchewan -- and, significant jobs created. The lowest unemployment in the country, because of increases in new jobs in manufacturing, new jobs in science and technology, new jobs in agriculture. And so, we see an increasingly diversified economy, but still the potential for some tightening revenue this year, and we’ll make the decisions that we need to, to balance the budget.”

 

RE: For potash to have such an impact is there a need for even greater diversification?

“No, we can never stop diversifying, but it’s really important to note how we have diversified. In fact, the potash royalties, even at what we’ve budgeted now – adjusted them down – account for 3.5 per cent of all the revenues to government. Probably three or four million dollars when the year is over -- $1.2 billion in oil -- significantly more than potash in general taxation, because we have many other cylinders in this economic engine. Because we’ve diversified this economy. I’ve noted that there were almost 2,000 new jobs created year over year just in the innovation sector -- science and technology research, for example, and though we lost 1,500 in the resource sector year over year, they were obviously compensated completely by that one other sector.

“In addition to that, manufacturing is up, agriculture is up -- I’m talking about new jobs, so… We can’t ever get complacent, but we’re in a much better spot in a diversified economy than we were just a short time ago.

 

RE: Still on track for increasing the population by 100,000 new people by 2020

“I think we might be a bit ahead of that. You know, we had originally hoped to get to 1.1 million people by 10 years, and the people of the province, not the government, took care of that within six. But, now we’re up to 1.14 million, and we can’t get complacent, but I do think goal-setting is important and I think we’re on track.”

 

RE: How is Saskatchewan sustaining and accommodating its growth

“We have had  a growth plan in place since we got elected. We updated it a year ago in fall, and it has the same six principles we have always included, and that is stable taxation – competitive royalties, for example. We have reduced taxes for middle income, low income people where we’ve been able to do it. Part of our growth plan has been competitive labour legislative, environment for the province -- one that’s fair to both sides but competitive with other jurisdictions.

“Massive infrastructure investments, and certainly we’ve seen that in the Prince Albert area as well, but right across the province. And, telling out story around the world.

“That’s a few elements of our growth plan. It’s interesting, you know, we … I’m looking forward to the debate with the NDP, because their plan for growth is to massively increase royalties. In the last election they had about $5 billion worth of promises that they were going to pay for them by jacking up potash royalties, for example, and maybe uranium was not off the table. Where would those industries to be today, given the uncertainty. How many more layoffs would we have had?

“I’m looking forward to that debate in the future with the New Democrats on their economic plan.”

 

RE: Minimum care standards the NDP wants to see reinstated.

“We’ve moved away from a 1950s or ’60s era minimum standard that was in place. We thought, well, I think the standards can actually improve and they can be more personalized. So, what we used to have, and other provinces have moved away from this as well. They used to have this approach where there was this standard -- this minimum, base standard for an entire institution. We think it needs to be personalized. We do have standards, by the way, and it’s not something that our friends in the NDP accurately reflect, but they are based on personal care.

“They’re under something ‘program guidelines for personal care homes,’ and it talks about every resident getting a personal care plan within 14 days of getting into a long-term care facility, and that’s exactly what happens.

“Another thing that we’ve heard from our friends (in the NDP), is there’s not enough staff. There are 700 more staff in long-term care in the province of Saskatchewan today than there were when Mr. Broten’s party was in power -- in the NDP. In fact, in your P.A. Parkland area there are 10.5 per cent more full-time long-term care staff than there were under the NDP. These are just the facts, they’re there.

“Now, could we be doing better? Should we be focused more in terms what we can do with the personalized care plans, but also staffing complement -- absolutely. That’s why there is an emergent fund. Some will say it’s not enough -- fair enough. It’s a start. It’s $10 million to address some of these.

 

“There’s also a long term plan we’ve expanded into Prince Albert for home care ... We think that in the long term, home care is part of the solution to long-term care.”

 

RE: More long-term care positions in Prince Albert

“Darryl and Victoria have been working hard on a number of projects for Prince Albert. One of them for a while was the Pineview Terrace Lodge -- about $22.7 million, 60 beds will be complete for 2014, so that’s for long-term care.

“But, then there’s the integrated health centre at Shellbrook, not far away, I think can relieve pressure in P.A. … That’s 34 new beds in a long-term care facility and 20 new hospital beds to help provide some release for Victoria (Hospital), which has got a lot of pressure, and we’re going to have to look at the hospital needs for Prince Albert. It’s serving really a provincial role there, in all the areas of the north, but anyway, those are a couple of bed increases because of the work of our MLAs, and also, by the way, 10 more units for youth mental health, as well. 

 

RE: Victoria Jurgens advocating for a new Victoria Hospital

“She has been, and so has Darryl, and actually Nadine as well. And, you know, I just had a chat about the Victoria Hospital … with the minister two days ago. We had a private chat, and I just wanted to get from him an understanding of the capital needs coming forward -- sort of all the list of needs that we need to get to. These things cost a lot of money, obviously, so it’s all part of the financial planning, but one of the first of the things that he mentioned, and I think it’s in part because of the work of Victoria and Darryl, but also he’s been around the province -- one of the first things that he mentioned was the P.A. situation. So, I’m not announcing anything in a year-end interview, but I’m saying that it is certainly a priority, and we’re hearing about it from the MLAs, but I’m hearing about it from other directions -- through my wife’s family, there, and we obviously have the minister very aware of what’s going on and what’s needed.

“You can provide some temporary relief with things like Shellbrook, which maybe will keep folks in that community and not having to go to Prince Albert, but the P.A. hospital is serving all of the north. We have to recognize it for what it is -- as a provincial centre, and so. But, to do that hospital will be a huge investment, so we have to plan for it properly.”

Prince Albert is a key city of the province’s economic plan. It’s important to this government, it’s obviously important to the region, and I hope people look at the entire record of what we’ve done for Prince Albert now and what we will continue to do in the future. Brad Wall

 

RE: P3 Accountability and Transparency Act that the NDP put forth as a private member’s bill, and which the Sask. Party shot down

“There was really no objection to it, we just thought it was unnecessary. We adopted a P3 process that by the way reports out in a very public way at each stage on a value for money proposition, and what I mean by that is, we’re going to continue building infrastructure as government always has, but we want to explore the P3 option. When we get outside, independent sources, by the way, who can evaluate a P3 and confirm to the government, but also in a public way, that yes, this might be a more efficient and maybe even a lower cost way to do it in a more timely way, then we will go ahead.

“I don’t think the act was particularly bad, we just think it wasn’t necessary because we have a process in place.

“Now, if the government was saying ‘just trust us, we have a process in place,’ well, you know, maybe the act should be passed. But ours is a very public and transparent process with third parties outside of government verifying that these things will have value for money. Or, of they don’t, we won’t go a head with them.”

 

RE: Profits made by companies involved in P3s, such as K-Bro Linens

“They money that we spend on it is very public and will continue to be public. I don’t know about the internal workings of any company. We have private deliverers in health care -- doctors, for example. So, I’m not sure if the NDP want for each doctor to report to them on their finances.

“I think the important question is, are we being completely transparent from the government side of the expenditure -- and we are and will be, in fact. This is not an easy decision to make. These are people’s lives who will be affected, and certainly in Prince Albert we’re aware of that, but this can save around $100 million. We’ve had K-Bro, now, doing this work in Saskatoon and we’re comfortable with their responsiveness and the work that they’re doing, and is something that we’ll monitor very carefully, but at the end of the day in health care we need to make sure that the system is sustainable -- that the public system is sustainable. And so, from time to time we’re going to evaluate whether or not we can deliver certain services in a way that’s more cost effective.

“By the way, for those employees who are affected, we’re going to have a two-year transition process for all impacted employees working in the affected regions and try to ensure that there are opportunities for them within the system.”

 

RE: The possibility of a new Victoria Hospital as a P3

“It’s probably not at the top of the list because of -- I don’t think the decision’s been made on the kind of build that it would be, but I don’t think we’d rule it out. It’s something that we’d want to work with the health region and community about, and we’re really at the early stages of this project.

“As you know, the Moose Jaw hospital is now nearing completion. The Saskatchewan Hospital promise we made -- we want to get that done in North Battleford, sort of the anchor to our mental health strategy. And, there are long-term care facilities we’re building, including the one that’ll open up in P.A. -- Pineview.

“But, that hospital is top of the list and we won’t rule anything out, sorry, is the direct answer on P3s versus a traditional build.”

 

RE: City council’s recent dangerous goods concern about things passing through the city

“Well, I think we want to work with communities on their concerns around dangerous goods routes, and highways does that. You know, every community in the province has the challenges to deal with in this regard, and so we want to be sensitive to that, but we’re hoping those decisions can be made together so that goods and services can move into the north and across the province.”

 

RE: City council’s sentiment that a second bridge would spur economic growth, as Highway 11’s recent twinning is anticipated to

“Its just unclear that they would do it in a way that warrant, based on what the study says, it would warrant the investment, just at this time.

“I’m not sure you can do the build it and they will come approach with infrastructure. I mean, I think you do that with anchor businesses -- that’s why we’ve worked so hard on the mill, and we’re hopeful about that … soon. With private businesses, when you attract them -- I think that’s a build it and they will come proposition. Or even with some services, like schools and hospitals -- that rationale might work.

“It’s tough to see that working in ways that pay off huge costs for infrastructure on roads or bridges, but again, this bridge has not been ruled out, it’s just a this point there doesn’t seem to be the traffic that’s warranted.

“And, I guess if the people of Prince Albert are concerned -- and they are, and I respect that completely -- about whether or not the government’s listening on the bridge and what might happen in the future, I guess I might say, the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour, and our government, as you know, when it came to repairing that bridge – the Diefenbaker bridge -- we fit the bill.

“I get a kick out of the NDP promising this bridge, by the way, because if they also agree that build it and they will come is the approach, why didn’t they build it over 16 years? That’d be question No. 1. Question No. 2 is, if they cared about Prince Albert and its bridges, why wouldn’t they repair the Diefenbaker bridge when they were in government? I remember raising the question in question period myself, to … the highways minister after meeting with the city council in Prince Albert, because the NDP wouldn’t even actually pay for repairs. They would only pay for part of them. We’ve taken a different approach.

“P.A. issues are our priority issues. WE see that in terms of 270 new child care positions that have opened there since we were elected, and the 330 new rental accommodations that are in the area. We did speed up the twinning of that Highways 11 as you’ve pointed out. Pineview Terrace, the Carlton Comp(rehensive) High School new gym, St. Anne Elementary school. These are projects worked on by MLAs.

“Prince Albert is a key city of the province’s economic plan. It’s important to this government, it’s obviously important to the region, and I hope people look at the entire record of what we’ve done for Prince Albert now and what we will continue to do in the future.”

 

RE: Government’s role in the Prince Albert Pulp Mill’s reopening

“What we’ve been able to do is move ahead with the co-gen project through SaskPower -- that’s why there’s any action at the mill, right now, at all. So they can generate their own electricity and deal with some of that environmental waste -- that hog fuel -- it actually makes a better case for that business.

“We’re very concerned about the duties from China, as well, and pleased that the company is trying to find a way to go through … to move forward with their original timeline – we’re hopeful that’s still the case.

“I can say this, though – that there is action there beuase of the government moving on a co-generation agreement with SaskPower and the new company, and we’re working on ways to make it as economic as possible.

 

“We’ve seen a real re-animation with the forestry sector. ‘Noticed that Big River is up again -- that’s a project we’ve been working on with the companies …

“It’s one of the sectors we’re pretty hopeful about, actually, and with respect to P.A. -- that has been a priority for us. It has been and we’re hopeful that it continues to make progress, but there is action now because of the government and the partnership we have with Paper Excellence on the co-gen.”

 

RE: Saskatchewan Party slogans – was “Sask Advantage,” then “Balanced Growth” -- any ideas for 2014?

“The budgets are always named something, but Sask Advantage is going to stick with us. Alberta had that for a while, and they just kind of dropped it, and I always thought it was pretty good, and if we can make the case that there’s an advantage to invest here and live here -- and I think we can, even if you’re not a football fan …

“If they don’t want to use it, we will.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, NDP, Victoria Hospital P.A. hospital Sask. Party SaskPower Moose Jaw hospital Saskatchewan Hospital Anne Elementary school Saskatchewan Party

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Shellbrook, Saskatoon North Battleford China Big River Alberta

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