Opposition forces a second bridge debate

Tyler Clarke
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Dissatisfied with Sask. Party MLAs’ response to Prince Albert’s professed need for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing, opposition forced a debate last week.

Scaffolding is seen being installed on the Diefenbaker bridge. The scaffolding is currently being removed, as bridge repairs come to a close -- a precess to be finalized by mid-January. 

Dissatisfied with Sask. Party MLAs’ response to Prince Albert’s professed need for a second North Saskatchewan River crossing, opposition forced a debate last week.

Although conversation devolved to finger-pointing at times, Saskatchewan NDP MLAs managed to keep the bulk of last week’s 75-minute debate in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan pointed to the future, last week.  

The motion sparking the conversation was made by Regina Elphinstone Centre NDP MLA Warren McCall, who motioned; “That this assembly calls on the government to build a second bridge in Prince Albert.”

“We don’t hear a clear plan coming forward,” he said, as transcribed by the provincial government Hansard.

“What we do see instead is continued trouble on the Diefenbaker bridge.”

Citing affected trucking companies and the mining industry as a whole of being impacted by bridge troubles, McCall called to mind the Sask. Party’s slogan for the province, “Saskatchewan advantage.”

“If you’re not putting the pieces in place to make that happen, then you’re not going to be realizing that potential, and economy suffers and communities suffer.”

There has been silence on the need for a second bridge not only from MLAs, but the province’s 13 Conservative MPs, as well, he said, adding that the federal government is an important partner in the project.

Responding to McCall’s assertion that there’s been a lack of action, Prince Albert Carlton Sask. Party MLA Darryl Hickie said that the bridge debate is linked to a “bigger, encompassing infrastructure package, a picture that we inherited a massive deficit.”

With needs coming from across the province, Hickie raised the Sask. Party’s balanced budget approach, whereas the Saskatchewan NDP had proposed what he said would have been, “for sure a $5 billion deficit.”

Moosomin Sask. Party MLA Don Toth later suggested that the $4.2 million the province has spent on this year’s Diefenbaker bridge repairs should quell the public’s requests.

“I think … once the bridge’s maintenance is back and the bridge is back up to speed, the traffic will flow, and this issue of a second bridge will disappear,” he said.

Near the close of the debate, Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens spoke up, pointing blame at the Saskatchewan NDP for not funding the bridge in the past.

We don’t hear a clear plan coming forward. What we do see instead is continued trouble on the Diefenbaker bridge. Regina Elphinstone Centre NDP MLA Warren McCall

“How do you expect the people of Prince Albert to trust any commitment you make regarding the Prince Albert bridge because when you were in government you wouldn’t even honour a commitment to fund 50 per cent of the repairs?” she asked McCall.

“I find it interesting that the member participates in this debate in this way,” McCall responded.

“When the people that sent her to this legislature are looking for her to answer the question, does she support a second bridge for Prince Albert, yes or no, she has the opportunity to make that very clear … and she’s not doing that.”

Clarifying the Sask. Party’s stance, Hickie again called to mind the province’s balanced budget approach.

“We will always talk about, within the context of a balanced budget, funding the infrastructure deficit left by the previous government,” Hickie said.

“That’s what we’re going to do as MLAs and as a government.”

Back in Prince Albert, city council has prepared a motion for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.

“We’re asking them to support a second bridge being built in Prince Albert,” Mayor Greg Dionne said. “It’ll be coming forward at the convention in February.”

“It will be on the floor with the government there, the cabinet ministers there, to let them know that we’re not going to let the issue go away.”

This summer, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities unanimously passed a motion backing the construction of a second bridge.

Current bridge repairs are currently winding down, with the scaffolding expected to be taken off by mid-January, after which time all four lanes will remain open. Until then, the bridge will go back down to two lanes for approximately one week, and will sporadically be limited to three lanes, as scaffolding is removed. 

Within the next five years, the city hopes to get the $7-million worth of remaining repairs, as outlined in a report written about three years ago.

As Hickie pointed out last week, the city will have to apply for funding under the province’s Urban Highway Connector Program for such funding. 

Organizations: Prince Albert, Sask. Party, Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan NDP Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities

Geographic location: North Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan

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