The provincial government was willing to take some flak for eliminating support for the film and video industry in Saskatchewan and the demise of Enterprise Saskatchewan in exchange for a balanced budget and renewed funding and added interest in other sectors.
That was the stance assumed by Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles who spoke with The Mercury last Friday morning, two days after the provincial budget was brought down by Finance Minister Ken Krawetz.
“Those funding cuts were the decisions that had to be made. We have a larger priority in health and infrastructure right now,” said Eagles.
Taxation barriers have been removed that should spur on the construction of affordable rental units and other long-term construction initiatives should help bring a tight housing situation into a better light a lot sooner than originally anticipated, the veteran MLA suggested.
Looking at the infrastructure file, Eagles said that she was pleased to report that a long awaited truck bypass project is now taking some form with $10 million being set aside in the Highways and Infrastructure budget for the project that will take large semi-trailer units off the streets of Estevan.
“I understand some construction might begin this year. First there has to be the final land acquisition and some survey work completed, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some actual excavation taking place a little later on,” she said. The total project is estimated to cost about $25 million.
As far as the demise of the enterprise regions were concerned, Eagles said government had been receiving some mixed messages regarding their effectiveness, a sentiment that was echoed by Enterprise Saskatchewan Minister Jeremy Harrison in a follow-up interview later that day.
“We heard that there were some duplication of services, and we also heard that many cities, towns and regions wanted to bring the decision-making home to local levels and with an increase in funding for municipalities, it was felt this was the right time to do it. For instance, Estevan alone has seen its revenue sharing income rise by 137 per cent. Now it will get some autonomy to make decisions regarding economic development at a local level,” said Eagles.
With regards to funding for education, Eagles said she was pleased to see that local school divisions (South East Cornerstone Public School Division and Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division) will receive funding increases of 5.8 and 6.1 per cent respectively.
There had been fears that the local divisions would be unnecessarily punished but a last minute announcement of $10 million in bridge financing reduced that problem.
“There are some school divisions out there that aren't as fortunate as Cornerstone or Holy Family, so there will be some transition issues to iron out over the next two to four years under the new funding formula,” said Eagles. “But it's not like a pin is being pulled on anyone. It's a transition period and there will be some realigning for sure. I heard that some school divisions were expecting it to be a lot worse than it was.”
Eagles admitted there are still some individual or isolated items yet to be resolved regarding last year's floods in southeast Saskatchewan just as there are with a few issues left over from the floods of 2010 in other areas of the province.
“There are still a number of appeals being registered, not everything has evened out. It was a horrendous situation last spring and summer.”
The flood rehabilitation bill so far sits at around $400 million.
The Agriculture Stability program and expansion of the crop insurance plan to cover extreme moisture problems is welcomed, Eagles said, and added that she refused to speculate as to whom will take over the Agriculture Minister's role once the current long-serving minister Bob Bjornerud steps aside later this spring. All she knows is that she's not a candidate.
“I've been asked to consider a cabinet post a couple of times, but you know I'm happy to serve as caucus chairwoman and liaison officer. I believe I can do my best work in those positions,” she said.
Dealing with other local issues, Eagles said “No one would like to see Highway 39 twinned more than me, but if there is any way we can make it at least a little safer, I'll be in favour of doing it.”
A new long term care facility in Radville, which rests in her riding, is also something Eagles looks to with eager anticipation as the construction of the new facility nears completion. An overall 3.5 per cent increase in funding for health regions, she views as a positive step as do the steps being made toward the introduction of the STARS medical evacuation plans and recent surgical initiatives and an innovative program that should bring more temporary (locum) doctors into the fold to help relieve the stress on physicians who are currently struggling in one or two-doctor communities.
“Doctor recruitment committees are getting it done and I'm still pushing for regional hospital status for St. Joseph's Hospital. They deserve to have that designation because the local hospital service area stretches as far as the Manitoba border. And as far as getting a CT scanner ... again, I continue to push for that. It just makes common sense.”
Eagles concluded by saying that so far, the overall reception of the provincial budget has been fairly positive and the government was sticking to its self-imposed mandate to “follow through on what we said we'd do during the campaign.”