COLUMN: Barb Gustafson — June 11, 2014

Barb Gustafson
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Prince Albert likes to label itself as the home of three prime ministers, suggesting we have political pull. The sad truth is, we don’t.

While this riding may have been an attractive landing place for parachuted politicians in the days of Wilfred Laurier and Mackenzie King, and served as a solid and real base for John Diefenbaker, in more recent years we have been rather poorly served by our elected officials, both federal and provincial, in terms of exerting influence on our behalf.

For one thing, we have a habit of electing opposition members. We’ve sent many a New Democrat to Ottawa over the years, and the NDP -- while stronger in recent years -- has served more as the conscience of Parliament than as a powerhouse. This is not to say that an opposition MP can’t be effective. I remember, in particular, Ray Funk as an NDP MP who served our constituency well.

We’ve had plenty of opposition MLAs, as well, including Eldon Lautermilch and Myron Kowalsky in their early days.

Provincially, we enjoyed some level of influence when these two city MLAs were part of the Romanow and then Calvert NDP governments. With one representative in cabinet and one as the speaker, Prince Albert had profile in the Legislature and also had two experienced and capable political players.

Federally, one has to look back to the days of John Diefenbaker as prime minister to see a time when we had any real clout on a national level, despite contributing MPs to the government side in recent years.

Fast forward to today: We have an MP who is on the government side, but seems securely tucked into the back benches with no room for movement. One could argue, with Stephen Harper at the helm, that there is little influence any MP might have, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much. Nevertheless, this MP is the latest in a string of Conservative/quasi-conservative representatives who seem to do little more for our region than send out mailers and talk the party line.

On the provincial side, the recent cabinet shuffle should have opened up opportunities for representation at a higher level. With numerous Saskatchewan Party veterans announcing their imminent departures, Premier Brad Wall had plenty of spots in cabinet that could have been filled with new representatives to show diversity of people and place. Yet, he chose to keep some soon-to-retire veterans at their posts and shut out Prince Albert once again.

The message could be taken as: a) Prince Albert’s MLAs aren’t cabinet material; b) Prince Albert as a region isn’t deserving of a cabinet seat; or, c) Prince Albert is a cheap date, politically.

A local politico once described Prince Albert as “a cheap date” and the phrase has stuck with me. All too often, we settle, allowing our votes to be courted with the equivalent of a fast-food meal. We accept back-bench representation from government members. We take the crumbs when it comes to allocation of government dollars. A recent example is how Saskatoon is busy lobbying for yet another bridge, while Prince Albert patches up our lone path to the North. Where is our influence?

Elections are coming and candidates are beginning to line up. For the federal riding, former MLA Lon Borgerson is looking to be the NDP candidate. Would electing him give us a cabinet member federally? Unlikely, since the NDP record shows it to be firmly in Opposition territory, but having known Lon for a long time, I know he would work hard within that role in a similar manner to Ray Funk in his day.

Provincially, with Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie opting out of the political life, there is an opening available. Former city councillor Cheryl Ring has declared her intention to run for the SaskParty nomination. Current city councillor Ted Zurakowski was an NDP candidate in the last provincial election: would he take another run at it? It could prove to be a very interesting race.

And, in the northern half of the city, it appears Victoria Jurgens will run as the incumbent SaskParty representative. No public announcements have come from the NDP about candidates, but the local riding associations have had some strong young voices added, and could generate an interesting alternative.

Whoever ends up carrying the party colours in the federal and provincial elections, and whatever party voters choose, there is one thing I would suggest Prince Albert people do. Demand more.

We deserve better than we have been getting from our elected officials at both senior government levels. We deserve to have representatives who will speak out, strongly, on the issues of our region rather than just mailing out self-serving propaganda. We deserve to have people who will fight for our share of government funding and projects. Provincially, we deserve to be represented in cabinet, not just in adjunct positions as secretaries.

When the candidates are chosen and they come knocking on your door asking for your vote, ask what they are going to do for our city and region. And don’t settle for a burger and fries.

 

Barb Gustafson is a lifelong resident of Prince Albert and a former managing editor and publisher of the Prince Albert Daily Herald. Email: gustafsonba@gmail.com

Organizations: Prince Albert, NDP MP, Saskatchewan Party

Geographic location: Mackenzie King, Ottawa, Saskatoon

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  • Terri
    June 17, 2014 - 21:35

    Demand more? If you claim we must speak up in order to be heard on our cries for things like bridges, first we must take off the blinders and be go getters. The federal government has programs in place designed for infrastructure, but you can't expect them to just spoon feed it to us. That's the problem with today in this city, We sit here wishing and hoping someone else will fix our problems. Our elected city council has the responsibility to actually apply for what is available instead of sit in city hall and expect someone to just give it to them. It is their responsibility to be looking for every possible route to fulfill its duty to the people. There's nothing to demand. Rather cooperation between all levels of government are much more likely to result in real solutions and action. Stamping our feet doesn't produce much but hardened dirt.