The provincial NDP is looking to land some blows against the Sask Party in the lead-up to next week’s budget unveiling, delivering a series of questions on northern healthcare and forestry in the Prince Albert area.
In Thursday’s Question Period, longtime Athabasca MLA Buckley Belanger questioned how northern Saskatchewan will fair in a review process underway in the healthcare field.
“Will the health minister guarantee today that his ‘transformational change’ won’t mean less northern investment and less input over northern care?” he asked.
Minister Dustin Duncan responded with assurances that northerners, and people across the province will be consulted during the review.
“We will make ensure that we have northern involvement in that, northern input,” he said, “as we look to see not only what is the best way that we govern the health-care system in this province but how do we best-deliver services as close to home as possible, which this government has made a priority over the last eight years,” he said.
But that’s not good enough for Belanger, who said he knows first-hand what’s at stake if the province centralizes healthcare operations.
“I’ve been to the healthcare centre in Stony Rapids and the people out there are doing a fantastic job. They offer culturally appropriate care, they hire local people, and they have Dene speakers on site.”
But Duncan stands behind his government’s record on investment in northern health regions. Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Region’s budget is currently $26.9 million, up 55 per cent from when the NDP was in power. He added that Athabasca is up 46 per cent and Mamawetan Regional Health went from $16 million under the NDP to $28.8 million now.
Moving ahead, recently elected Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt made a thinly veiled reference to former Sask Party MLA Victoria Jurgens when asking about forestry jobs that have been publicly tendered to BC and Alberta.
“I know the Sask. Party has a history of ignoring Prince Albert, but I’m here now. Why is the Minister of Environment shipping jobs out of the province when so many people in Prince Albert are looking for work?” she asked.
Rancourt points out that Prince Albert’s unemployment is among the highest in the province.
But the minister says they’ve been nothing but transparent about those jobs, and it’s a simple case of an out-of-province company making the best bid.