It was a busy day of activities for provincial NDP leader Cam Broten in the Battlefords on Monday.
He appeared at a noon-hour luncheon at Third Avenue United Church in North Battleford, and then later that evening took part in the Northwest Territorial Days parade where he waved to the crowd from a classic vehicle.
In between, Broten took part in meetings with various community stakeholders, including health care workers, as well as with firefighters at the North Battleford Fire Hall.
It was typical of the kind of summer it has been for the opposition leader as he has crisscrossed the province.
“It’s been a really busy summer,” said Broten.
He has taken part in various parades, barbeques and other events, as well as listening to people and getting their feedback.
“The general takehome that I’ve been hearing is that people want to make sure the prosperity in Saskatchewan translates to life being better for Saskatchewan people, the greatest number of people,” said Broten.
He particularly pointed to health care, education, and also the need to “strengthen and better diversify our economy.”
“It’s eight years of record revenues the government has had, where they’ve drained the rainy day fund, where they’ve spent a lot of money, but people haven’t seen or felt those benefits in a way that they should be when it comes to the things that families care about most. Like having classroom sizes that are reasonable and a good learning environment, and having health care that’s there when we need it most.”
Broten indicated that when the legislature gets back in session in the fall, his party’s focus will continue to be on those sorts of issues.
“We’re going to keep the focus and the discussion about how what happens in the province can’t just be about the province doing well, it can’t just be about stats. It has to be about families getting ahead, about extending opportunity to more and more people.”
Broten had been particularly busy during the height of the wildfire situation.
Broten visited northern communities to make sure he was “seeing and getting the right information and to lend support whenever possible.”
He praised the way “communities came together and all Saskatchewan people really pitched in to save lives and to save homes. It was really inspirational to see the best aspects of what it really means to be from Saskatchewan.”
But “now that we’re through the immediate threat to communities it’s important to ask the questions about what should be done differently and what could have been done differently to avoid the situation getting to such a crisis level.”
Broten reiterated his call for an inquiry “to ask those questions, to make sure that we’re learning what happened and to make sure the right resources are being put in place.”
He pointed to such things as the “overall strategy for fighting fires” as well as questions for “why this government has cut budgets when it comes to fighting forest fires.”
Broten also said he had gone to Cold Lake, Alta., which had housed some of the evacuees. While they were happy to be safe, Broten said, there were also questions about “more formalized arrangements between First Nations in order to help house evacuees when there are times of evacuation.”
North Battleford was one of the communities that housed evacuees during the height of the wildfire crisis. Afterwards, there was some criticism expressed at City Hall by councillor Ray Fox about a lack of communication between agencies during the crisis.
Broten said he has heard similar concerns.
“There was a problem with information flow and communication between different groups and many of those on the ground, whether in a Northern community, a town, or on a First Nation – (they) really didn’t have the information that they needed. So that too, formalizing those protocols around communication, that part of the areas that needs to be fixed as well.”
On some issues important locally, Broten also had plenty to say about the news that the tender had been awarded for Saskatchewan Hospital – and that it was going ahead as a P3.
“It’s an example once again of the government putting ideology ahead of common sense,” said Broten.
He pointed to other jurisdictions and said, “P3s cost more in the long run.”
But he also had big issues with the awarding of the tender to Access Prairies Partnership, which includes out-of-province companies from Quebec, Alberta and British Collumbia as well as from the United Kingdom.
“What’s really troubling is the handing of the contract to a consortium that doesn’t include one Saskatchewan company,” said Broten. “You’re sending the money overseas or out of province at a time when we need to make sure our local economies are as strong as they should be. It could be done cheaper, and done better, and done faster.”
The Regional Optimistalso asked Broten about the environment file, particularly after the appointment of Battlefords MLA Herb Cox as minister of environment.
“This government’s record, the Sask Party record, is not a strong one,” said Broten.
“We’ve seen cut after cut to programs when it comes to addressing the environment, when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases, to make sure we have a better approach.”
Broten said the government “misses out on the opportunities that are there to make sure that we have a strong environmental record and that we are seizing every chance that we have to develop green energy and green jobs.”
Broten was happy about at least one decision by the government – to keep the hyperbaric chamber and have it included at the new Moose Jaw Hospital.
But the opposition leader expressed disbelief about the amount of effort it took to change the government’s stance, with numerous delegations pleading their case at the legislature.
It was “absolutely ridiculous that it took all of that work,” said Broten.
“You know, it took firefighters, it took patients – some from this area, actually, who came to the legislature – but many from Moose Jaw and other parts of the province.”
“It was a no-brainer to everyone except the government,” he said, adding that the problem was the government’s use of the LEAN process from John Black and Associates consulting which shrunk the plans for the hospital.
As for the federal election now under way, Broten was unimpressed with Premier Brad Wall’s call during the campaign for cuts in equalization.
“It just doesn’t hold a lot of water now to be talking about these concerns when we should have been pushing hard all along to make sure Saskatchewan is treated fairly and all provinces get fair treatment for equalization.”