Premier Brad Wall reflects on Prince Albert’s 2013

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Tyler Clarke
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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

To hear it from the Saskatchewan NDP’s point of view, the Saskatchewan Party has neglected the Prince Albert area in recent years.

 

“P.A. issues are our priority issues.” Premier Brad Wall said on Thursday -- a statement he backed up with a list of action items.

These items include 270 new child care positions, 330 new rental accommodations, the twinning of Highway 11, a new Pineview Terrace Lodge, a gymnasium expansion at Carlton Comprehensive High School and St. Anne Elementary School renovations.

“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.”

The Daily Herald caught up with Wall for an almost 20-minute long phone interview on Thursday, during which he provided insights on items that have made the news this past year that have affected Prince Albert.

Wall also responded to a handful of concerns that Saskatchewan NDP Leader Cam Broten had to share, such as his assertion that the Prince Albert area’s needs are not being adequately represented in Regina.

Click HERE for a full transcript of the Daily Herald's interview with Wall, and HERE for a full transcript of the Daily Herald's interview with Broten.

The go-to example of this sentiment in recent months has been the Saskatchewan Party’s reluctance to fund a second North Saskatchewan River crossing near Prince Albert.

“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?” Wall asked.

“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?”

Wall said that a second bridge at Prince Albert ”has not been ruled out, it’s just at this point there doesn’t seem to be the traffic that’s warranted.”

When it comes to questions of whether the Sask. Party is listening to the city’s bridge concerns, Wall said that “the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour, and our government, as you know, when it came to repairing … the Diefenbaker bridge, we fit the bill.”

Although city council and the Saskatchewan NDP’s urgings for a second bridge have dominated local headlines, a handful of other tidbits of provincial politics have also garnered attention, including but not limited to the following.

 

P3s and K-Bro Linens

Broten has criticized the Saskatchewan Party for not supporting Saskatchewan NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon’s private member’s bill,, the P3 Accountability and Transparency Act.

“There was really no objection to it, we just thought it was unnecessary,” Wall said of the act, which would serve to look over public-private partnerships.

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

“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 ahead with them.”

One such P3 agreement is that with K-Bro Linens, an Alberta-based company set to take on all of Saskatchewan’s health-care system laundry-cleaning needs within two years.

One of a handful of casualties will be Prince Albert-based North Sask Laundry, where about 100 jobs will be lost.

“This is not an easy decision to make,” Wall said. “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.”

 

Seniors care

Sporadically over this past year, the Saskatchewan NDP has pushed for the reinstatement of minimum care standards in long-term seniors care homes.

Dating back to either the ’50s or ’60s, Wall said that the Saskatchewan Party did away with minimum care standards because they were antiquated.

“We thought, well, I think the standards can actually improve and they can be more personalized,” Wall said.

“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.”

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? Premier Brad Wall

Broten has also asserted that long-term care facilities are under-staffed -- a point Wall said could always improve, but that it has been improving under his government.

“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,” Wall said

“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.

The Saskatchewan Party recently announced $10 toward an Urgent Issues Action Fund to address issues – a fund that saw an additional $3.8 million tacked on a couple weeks ago.

“Some will say it’s not enough,” Wall said. “Fair enough. It’s a start.”

 

A new Victoria Hospital

Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens recently told the Daily Herald that she’s advocating for a new Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert to meet the current facility’s heavy demand.

Wall confirmed that Jurgens has been advocating for a new hospital alongside Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie and Saskatchewan Rivers MLA Nadine Wilson.

“I’m not announcing anything in a year-end interview, but I’m saying that it is certainly a priority,” Wall said.

“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.”

Wall said that the provincial government recognizes the Victoria Hospital’s importance not only for the city, but the surrounding area as well as the entire north.

“We have to recognize it for what it is -- as a provincial centre,” he said. “But, to do that hospital will be a huge investment, so we have to plan for it properly.”

Although it’s still too early to say what funding a new hospital might consist of, Wall said that the province won’t rule out using a P3 funding model, versus a traditional build.

 

Looking at the future

The potash industry’s downturn will result in a tight budget in 2014, Wall cautioned, comparing next year’s budget to that of 2009, when the potash industry almost collapsed.

In 2009, “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,” Wall concluded.

Although potash is resulting in a tight 2014 budget, Wall dismisses Broten’s commonly-quoted metaphor that all of its eggs are in one basket.

“We have many more cylinders in our economic engine right now,” he said. “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.”

Saskatchewan maintains the “lowest unemployment in the country, because of increases in new jobs in manufacturing, new jobs in science and technology, new jobs in agriculture.”

“I’m looking forward to the debate with the NDP, because their plan for growth is to massively increase royalties,” Wall said.

“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?”

In Prince Albert, Wall points to the Prince Albert Pulp Mill’s contributions to the province’s power grid as an economic boost the province was able to provide.

“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(eration power plant).”

Although disheartened to see Chinese duties derail plans for producing dissolved pulp products a the Prince Albert Pulp Mill, Wall said that he looks forward to seeing how their new fluff pulp effort pans out over the next year.

 

Organizations: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan NDP, Daily Herald Saskatchewan Party Carlton Comprehensive High School Anne Elementary School Sask. Party Victoria Hospital Urgent Issues Action Fund

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Regina, North Saskatchewan River

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