There were lots of familiar faces from the provincial government at Jackfish Lake Wednesday and Thursday.
It was time for the annual caucus retreat for Saskatchewan Party MLAs, an opportunity for the caucus to get together and prepare for the upcoming fall session of the legislature.
It was an opportunity for the new premier, Scott Moe, and the caucus to meet in a relaxed setting.
The premier said MLAs had been out in their constituencies listening and working with their constituents.
“We’re back here having just those discussions about what is important to Saskatchewan people and how we can continue to represent them and set our agenda for the fall session.”
There are a number of issues the party plans to focus on this fall. Moe indicated one focus will be preparations for next year’s budget.
“That will be year three of our three-year plan to balance, and we remain on track to balance that budget so that we can preserve that opportunity to invest in our communities across the province.”
Moe called it a “good opportunity for us to regroup and bring in the consultations that each of the MLAs have brought from urban centres, from rural centres and from corner to corner in the province of Saskatchewan.”
This is the second caucus meeting this summer, said Moe. The caucus also met at Nipawin earlier in the year. Moe noted the party does try to travel to different venues for these meetings.
The Jackfish Lodge location, at the Battlefords Provincial Park north of Cochin, was selected with the encouragement of both Cut Knife-Turtleford MLA Larry Doke and Battlefords MLA Herb Cox. Both had been advocating for the caucus to come to the area so they could highlight the area to their colleagues.
“We’re excited to have our colleagues here and discussing issues not only important to this area, but important to all of our colleagues right across the province,” Cox said.
“We may have our issues in this area, but they mainly pertain to this area. It’s great to hear from other areas what they’re up against, and come up with good ideas,” Doke said.
“Good debate usually makes for good decisions, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The meetings were scheduled for two days, Aug. 8 and 9. While they promised to be busy days for the caucus, Premier Moe made clear the retreat was unlikely to produce the sort of bombshell announcement that accompanied the one held a year earlier.
It was at that caucus retreat outside Regina last August where Brad Wall surprised the province with the announcement that he was leaving as premier.
When Moe was asked if he had imagined that at the same time next year he would be premier, he responded “no.”
“That wasn’t a thought I had,” said Moe. “I think after the caucus retreat there was a lot of digesting going on with the announcement of our premier of the time, Brad Wall, resigning from politics.”
Moe once more paid tribute to his predecessor Wall for his time in office, but he also noted Wall also had a great team around him.
“Many of the people who helped him with those decisions are still in the room and still providing that very same input, ” said Moe. “It’s on us to continue in that legacy and that leadership, but we’ll continue to do that together.”
The meetings did produce some sad news on the second day about a departure from cabinet. Agriculture minister Lyle Stewart announced he was stepping down due to cancer. A new agriculture minister is expected to be appointed next week.
The retreat comes at a time of many news items impacting the province, mainly from the federal level.
Carbon Tax and Trade
Premier Moe was interested in the changes in policy by the federal government recently on the carbon tax. The feds announced a week ago they would be dialing back on the carbon pricing thresholds impacting industry.
“We see the federal government, most recently, watering down their policy,” said Moe.
“They also are identifying that this policy will have an impact on our economy in this nation. They should go the rest of the way and turn this initiative and this effort of sustainability over to the provinces where it has always been and where it should continue to be and where it can be effective in making a difference.”
Trade was another concern Moe identified, including NAFTA negotiations.
“We are facing some headwinds in this nation,” said Moe. “We need to, in this province, represent the industries and the jobs that we have and we remain committed to that.”
One of those trade concerns is Saudi Arabia, in the wake of a diplomatic spat that has erupted between that country and the Canadian government in recent days.
Moe noted the impact on exports of food products, as well as on investments by Saudi Arabian companies in Canada.
But the premier also indicated a desire to see Canada be more energy independent, and find ways for Western Canadian energy products to get to the rest of Canada.
“We need to look at our energy independence with infrastructure projects such as Energy East,” said Moe.
The other recent news was that the RCMP would not be filing criminal charges in the Global Transportation Hub investigation.
“I think we should realize that this topic of the Global Transportation Hub and the questions around land procurement with that facility has been one of the most looked-at pieces of government action over the last while,” said Moe.
Moe also noted the provincial auditor had done an audit on the financial dealings. Moe said the public can “rest assured” based on those that there was no criminal wrongdoing.
“Could government have done better? Yes, and we have taken the recommendations from the provincial auditor and we continue to work in the best interests of the peoples’ investment ... in that facility.”
Moe also said the government would be looking at opportunities to either divest its management or its assets in the GTH, and “make the very best decisions with the investment that they have.”
One thing that was not lost on any of the Saskatchewan Party MLAs driving to Jackfish Lodge for the caucus retreat was the road construction going on along Highway 4.
Work has begun to build new passing lanes on the route between North Battleford and Cochin. Two new passing lanes are to be constructed.
The lanes are to address safety concerns about that stretch of road, as well as to accommodate the heavy traffic between North Battleford and the resort communities around Jackfish Lake and Murray Lake.
“We’re excited about it,” said Highways Minister Dave Marit.
He said it was something they had looked at a year ago. Marit said he had come to the area last year and “saw the impact of traffic that’s coming in from Number 4 north, obviously with the resort communities up here and the parks, but … industry too.”
He noted the location of the grain terminals along that stretch of highway, the transportation of lumber coming from Meadow Lake, as well as the growing oil industry.
“We really felt it was obviously a safety issue, safety first and foremost for us, to get this done as quickly as possible,” said Marit.
The tender was put out last fall, and construction is underway now.
The roadwork has slowed down traffic considerably along the highway from North Battleford to Cochin, with speeds reduced to 60 km/h in the construction zone.
“I ask all the public to really be patient in that,” said Marit of the delays.
He indicated that if “everything keeps on track” the passing lanes should be complete and in use by the fall.
MLAs Doke and Cox say they are delighted to see construction begin on the passing lane project. Both had been advocating for years to get passing lanes for that highway.
“I guess I’ve aggravated the minister enough on this file,” said Doke, with a smile on his face.
Doke also noted there was 16 kilometres of resurfacing happening from Vawn to Crawford Creek, which is another road project he welcomed because of the oil activity in that area.
“There’s oil coming out of there, and lots of activity, so it’s good to see.”
Cox also noted the importance of the Highway 4 project to North Battleford.
“North Battleford is a hub for the Northwest,” said Cox. “This is another project that indicates the importance of North Battleford in this province, and it’s great news.”