NOKOMIS - David Mark is a big thinker. An 18-year resident of Nokomis with 10 years as Mayor of Nokomis, he and the Town’s council are determined not to let obstacles or old ways of thinking stand in the way of area growth.
The town has been full steam ahead over the last ten years. They have rebranded, brought in ultra-fast fibre optics, replaced a 10km water line to the wellhead, upgraded their water treatment plant, have funding for a scheduled lagoon upgrade, built a new fire hall, and a new 21-spot licensed daycare. Along the way, they have met obstacles head-on - decreased health services and, in late August, the sudden closure of the only retail gas station/agro centre. Tackling these obstacles has seen positive results and has him wanting to challenge people in how they think about their community’s potential.
“...Challenging this scarcity thinking. The question of - ‘does the community need or deserve this? Or - will it do well without it?’ Those are questions we have to stop asking ourselves. These are essential ingredients, and we need to focus on building instead of just being ok with having less.”
Mark points to the school reviews of 2005-2010, which determined school viability based on population. He said during the reviews goals were identified that the community worked toward and achieved over ten years, evidenced by a full daycare and a healthy school population.
Because of decreases in population, Mark said communities had to figure out how to run efficiently. “We are not allowed to run in the red. We can’t run a deficit budget.”
“It’s important for people to remember that towns are small because we don’t require as much labour anymore.” He said that investment in agricultural technology by local manufacturers is beneficial to the community. “Agriculture is doing fantastic and we are benefiting from it. These local manufactures are supporting us directly.”
To tackle perspective, Nokomis is planning a mid-winter forum. “I would like to have an event to encourage people to think about abundance and put away scarcity thinking, and it’s really to challenge the mindset of ‘well it’s gone, it’s dead.’”
When Mark came to Nokomis, he was told the community was dead. He was repeatedly asked why he had come there at all. “I’ve seen all of those things reversed, but still, the mindset and the perceptions are there. And from a town of our size, I feel like it still has a negative effect on people’s confidence of the future and their willingness to invest.”
Mark gave another example of the sudden closure of the local Co-op gas and Agro centre. “There are professionals in management who harbour these type of ideas and I want to call them out and remind them that we don't have to think like this. We don’t have to settle for less.”
He sees the opening of the world’s largest potash-producing mine, BHP Jansen, at their doorstep, as a time for people to set their eyes on the future. Mark believes, while it may not be in his lifetime, a new region will form with Humboldt as the centre and Nokomis, Watrous and Manitou all playing a significant role in that new region.
And to get there, he wants to see more communities work together, “We will never get there if we are always trying to knock our neighbour down.” Mark says the Town is currently looking at the feasibility of bringing on a shared municipal economic development officer to bring in new industries and investment opportunities.
He also believes that decisions should return to local municipalities to address some fundamental issues. Recently, while discussing the topic of homelessness and addictions with a Mayor of another town, Mark was informed that some government officials at the Provincial level believe small towns, some larger than Nokomis, don’t have those kinds of issues. “I am afraid that that scarcity thinking is right at the cabinet table…Provincial and Federal politics is all just abstraction. Every step you take away from, say the health centre, it gets easier and easier to make decisions. And usually, the decisions are less and less tailored to a particular place. Getting back to a bureaucracy wanting everything to be the same. I’m a believer that maybe we should consider municipal-level government readdress these nuts and bolts problems. Our province is facing political and social problems that are at a municipal level. They are not floating around at a regional level...”
He gave another example of SaskTel saying that Nokomis was too small for fibre, and it was only after they got it on their own that SaskTel came in offering service. “...and that’s why I want to stand up and celebrate what we’ve got, what we have, and where we can go with it. And the government needs to do the same thing and switch gears.”
“I’m just trying to encourage a conversation about, let’s get over this small way of thinking. Let’s go where BHP is going. They are investing huge amounts of money in this region. I think we can do the same, albeit on a smaller scale.”
Mark wants to see other communities turn towards their potential, “In rural Saskatchewan, all these communities between Regina and Saskatoon would do better by looking up instead of down.”