Touting the Saskatchewan advantage, Premier Brad Wall provided insight on Monday on how he said the government is aligning itself to maintain this advantage.
Media caught up with Wall at Saskatchewan Rivers MLA Nadine Wilson’s constituency office, en route to Elk Ridge, where he’s holding a caucus retreat with MLAs this week.
The key goal is catching up to the added strain a population increase has had on the province’s aging infrastructure, Wall said. Since the Saskatchewan Party took power, the province’s population has grown by more than 76,000 people.
“We are working hard to keep up with the growth, but we know we could be doing a better job,” Wall said. “We’ve asked the MLAs to listen to their constituents and to report back on how to do that.”
After months of collecting feedback from her constituents, Wilson concurred that the main concern is with infrastructure needs.
“A lot of (the Saskatchewan Rivers constituency) has an aging infrastructure … as well as the transportation corridors,” she said. “My voice will be about infrastructure needs in Saskatchewan Rivers.”
Build a second bridge
The keystone infrastructure issue in the Prince Albert area in recent months has been the Diefenbaker bridge, and the desire for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing at or near Prince Albert.
“The work continues with the highways ministry to examine the feasibility of the (second) bridge,” Wall said, noting that typical variables that make a case for a bridge, such as the number of crossings and population base, may not apply.
“This community’s serving a much larger area of the province than most other centres do … So, we’re looking very carefully at it.
“I hope the people of Prince Albert see that as a government we understand the importance of that bridge.”
Citing demands elsewhere in the province for infrastructure work — including additional bridge capacity in Saskatoon, major bypass construction in Regina — Wall said that a second North Saskatchewan River crossing is among other worthy projects throughout the province to choose from.
“We’re looking at innovative ways to maybe be able to fund those — perhaps, through private-public partnerships, but first we’re going to check on feasibility,” he said.
On the second bridge front, there has been some grumbling in the Prince Albert area regarding the government providing $80 million toward a new stadium in Regina for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“If governments waited to invest in those projects until every road was built, every bridge was done, we’d just never do them,” Wall said, noting that the 30 per cent funding formula for the new stadium is consistent with similar such recreational facility projects.
Victoria Hospital funding
When it comes to space limitations at the Victoria Hospital in recent months, Wall said that he’s well informed.
“The amount of work that Victoria Hospital is doing — the amount of intake they have, is much greater than what was originally intended, and again, it’s part of the growth of the province,” Wall said.
“Prince Albert is serving the entire north, and not just P.A. and the immediate area.”
In 2009, the Ministry of Health provided the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region with $450,000 toward Victoria Hospital capital planning and $300,000 for renovations to accommodate increased patient volumes.
By November of 2010, a 3-D model was completed, outlining various steps toward a 2025 completion goal.
Though Wall didn’t have any announcements to make on the Victoria Hospital front on Monday, he noted that the government has the hospital on their mind, with work being done to investigate “lean” management and design techniques, “to see if we can’t come up some innovation that come provide some immediate relief and improvements to the facility.”
But, he said that the government will “readily admit” that more work needs to be done at the Victoria Hospital, which is a focus of government attention.
We are working hard to keep up with the growth, but we know we could be doing a better job. - Premier Brad Wall
“There’s significant health care capital happening across the province and we’re trying to, again, strike the right balance.”
Changes to flood area
There’s nothing new to share regarding the City of Prince Albert’s adherence to a one in 500-year flood event elevation.
The government is currently pushing for the city to implement the flood regulations, which would see the cessation of most future development in about a quarter of the city — mainly the west flat area.
Currently, the city employs the one in 100-year flood event elevation, which mainly hugs the riverbank.
“I think we’re still in negotiations right now. I think there’s been discussions between the ministry and the city,” Wall said.
“There’s a huge implication to that in terms of where things are built currently — existing properties that are there today and what will happen in the future, so I think we need to be careful. There needs to be circumspection.”
That said, Wall noted that there are safety concerns, as well.
“I think everybody is attuned to those concerns, and we also need to make sure that we’re planning in a way that’s practical.”
Highway twinning project
The twinning of Highway 11 between Saskatoon and Prince Albert still appears primed for a 2012 completion date, Wall said.
“The first kick off ribbon cutting — that was pretty neat, but the next one is the most important one, that’s the completion. They’re saying it’s going to be very, very soon — by the end of the year.”
This project has seen the federal and provincial governments team up, contributing $62 million apiece toward the twinning.
Chief Dale McFee
The province has set itself up to promote a greater focus on crime prevention, as signalled by the appointment of Prince Albert Police Chief Dale McFee to the position of provincial deputy minister of Corrections and Policing.
“We apologize to the people of Prince Albert that we’re going to be taking Chief McFee as a senior level official in the government,” Wall said, citing McFee’s retirement from the police force, effective at the end of August.
McFee’s implementation of Community Mobilization Prince Albert — a group that links various community agencies together to combat crime in a preventative manner — is a key reason behind his provincial appointment, Wall said.
“It’s a pretty wholesome approach in terms of proactive intervention where it’s needed, and we like that. And that’s why we put it on the platform,” Wall said.
“We want to export what’s working in this city, that was pioneered by Chief McFee, to other parts of the province. It might not work in every centre, but there are other centres you can think of, like Prince Albert, where it probably will work.”
Some time in October, Wall said that he plans on giving a speech outlining the results of this week’s caucus meeting — specifically, about how to maintain the Saskatchewan advantage.
The speech will accompany the release of a paper.
“This paper won’t simply be about the economy,” Wall said. “It’ll be about health care, it’ll be about education and about demands that we have in the municipalities for infrastructure, and infrastructure for schools and all the services the government wants to provide.”
The Daily Herald will provide an NDP response to Wall’s statements in Wednesday’s edition.