REGINA - MLA for The Battlefords Jeremy Cockrill is enthusiastic about being back for the fall sitting of the Legislature.
Cockrill spent a busy summer as the new Minister of Highways, appearing across the province at a number of highway announcements. He also spent plenty of time in his home constituency, but looks forward to being back in Regina as the Legislature resumes.
“It’s great to be back in session,” said Cockrill, who spoke to SASKTODAY.ca on Thursday at the legislature prior to returning to the Battlefords for the weekend.
“We’ve been working hard throughout the summer to get out, engage with people in the province in all areas, and really understand how they’re doing and what they’re hoping to see from their Government. I think this Throne Speech that we presented yesterday really speaks to that. I think people in the province realize we have incredible economic potential in this province. Our constituents, the residents of this province, want to see us as a provincial government try to follow through — carry that out to the greatest possible extent. But they want to make sure that as our province grows and as we have that economic opportunity, that that ends up back in our community supporting things like healthcare and education and mental health and addiction services in our community.”
Cockrill said the Throne Speech was a “really direct link between the economic potential of the province, and then how that translates to services for people every day in their communities.”
One of the highlights for Cockrill from the last few weeks was the appearance in his riding of Premier Scott Moe to announce his government’s White Paper, titled “Drawing the Line: Defending Saskatchewan’s Economic Autonomy.”
“It’s always great to have the Premier come to your constituency,” said Cockrill, who thanked the local Battlefords Chamber of Commerce for putting it on.
As for what the Drawing the Line document is about, Cockrill said this:
“People in this province want to ensure that them and their children and their grandchildren can be successful in this province for years to come. And people in this province, whether you are in a urban setting or an rural setting, it doesn’t matter where you live in this province, people in this province understand there are things going on at the federal level right now in our country that are significantly impacting our province’s ability to reach its full potential. And that’s really what the white paper was all about, is saying: we have great opportunity, some of that caused by geopolitical issues on the other side of the world, but we have this opportunity. Let’s let’s take full advantage of it.”
Among the highlights for Cockrill of the Throne Speech was the Saskatchewan First Act and the other initiatives stemming from the White Paper, but he also made it known he found the public safety focus of the Speech important as well.
“The Sask First Act and really the whole ‘Drawing the Line’ perspective that we’re taking as a government, I think is really key because that is going to support our economic potential, and from that flows what we can do at home in each of our communities. I think a big topic when we think of the Battlefords and the northwest of the province has been public safety, and it has been for a number of years.
“And we’re continuing to see challenges in that area. I know what’s concerning for many people in the Battlefords and surrounding communities is the severity of crimes that are occurring, whether that be in town or in a rural setting.”
Cockrill welcomed the announcement of creation of another Crime Reduction Team that will be based out of the Battlefords. He also welcomes creation of the Saskatchewan Marshals Service.
“That will be a group that works with the RCMP to address some of the challenges that we’re seeing in rural parts of the province, where the RCMP aren’t necessarily able to service quite as quickly as residents are looking for.“
The MLA acknowledged that gang violence was an issue in the Northwest that was driving the public safety challenges there.
“That is the topic of conversation, and in recent years we’re seeing more and more influence of gangs in our communities and that’s something we need to address.”
Cockrill also noted the government took a heavy focus on that issue last year with introduction of the Trafficking Response Team and the Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team.
With the Marshals service and Crime Reduction Team, these “are additional resources to help deal with the drugs in the game today trying to get a foothold in our community and we’re trying to make the Battlefords a safe place to live and work and raise a family.”
Cockrill is also excited about what is happening with his own portfolios of Highways and the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency.
He noted the Throne Speech spoke particularly on highways and in particular their Growth Plan goal of improving 10,000 km of highways by 2030.
Cockrill said crews are still on the roads working, but by the end of the year “we’re going to be somewhere around 3,500 km over three years that have been upgraded or improved.”
“So we’re ahead of our goal. That’s exciting, we’re going to keep focusing on that, because as we talked about the recent success of the province in the export markets, whether that’s food, fuel or fertilizer, we need those transportation corridors is to be working well. And I think that’s why our government has invested so much into the highway network. I think it’s about $11.5 billion dollars in the last 15 years to support the export opportunities that we have, and then also to make travel safer for Saskatchewan residents.”
As for upcoming construction projects to make those roads safer, Cockrill pointed to twinning work at the intersection of Highways 6 and 39 which will make that interchange safer between Weyburn and Regina, and continued passing lane work on highway 5 between Saskatoon and Humboldt.
Those will happen next year, but the focus right now is on getting this year’s projects done including on highway 3 between Prince Albert and Shellbrook.
Cockrill also pointed to projects in the Battlefords and area, including new asphalt on highway 4 to the north, improvements to roadways in Battlefords Provincial Park, as well as improvements to what Cockrill calls the “pesky Sobeys-Co-op intersection on Territorial Drive,” a major project the provincial government is partnering on with the City of North Battleford under the Urban Highways Connector Program.
On other items of interest in the Battlefords, efforts continue towards resolving the situation at the primary care clinic at Frontier Centre to fill vacancies left by the departure of three family doctors earlier this year.
Cockrill has been aware of the situation and says the Ministry of Health has been "working very closely" with SHA and the local medical clinic to figure out what can be done from a recruitment side. He noted there were staffing challenges in Saskatchewan and across Canada as well.
“I understand that we may be close. I don’t want to spill the beans or get ahead of any of those discussions, but I know there’s been significant work. I’ve been in regular contact with local SHA and administration, trying to figure out how we can get some more physicians, family physicians, in our community.”
As well, construction continues with the major renovation at John Paul II Collegiate expected to be completed in August next year, with the province investing $11.5 million into that project in 2020. Cockrill said he had a chance to tour the high school earlier this summer, along with Minister Dustin Duncan and Light of Christ School Division officials, to get a sense of what’s happening there.
“As I understand the project is on time and on budget at this point,” said Cockrill. “We’re looking forward to seeing that all done.”