Dundurn – Liberal Party Leader Robert Rudachyk feels the Saskatchewan Party government only pays lip service to rural Saskatchewan issues, and he wonders why people keep voting for them.
That was part of his response to a series of questions on rural issues in this election.
Between Oct. 16 and Oct 19, all six party leaders were asked the same set of five questions focusing on issues facing rural Saskatchewan. Rudachyk responded by phone from his acreage near Dundurn on Oct. 16.
Asked about the infrastructure deficit facing rural municipalities and towns, given depopulation is a continuing trend, Rudachyk said, “Well, to be very honest, there's vast amounts of federal money that have already been offered for these sort of programs that our current government has not tapped into.
“But, as you know, if we were the ones who were in government hypothetically, we would be doing what we can to match that spending and to open up those areas because I live in a rural area, I know the quality of the roads are garbage. I know the internet connectivity is garbage. And this is something that we, as a province, have to start focusing on. I know that our power grid is very outdated and, in many places, obsolete so that we're suffering multiple blackouts. I get one regularly out of my place all the time.”
Keeping agriculture a priority
With the continuing trend toward fewer rural residents, what will the Liberals do, if elected, to ensure agriculture remains a priority for the government?
Rudachyk said that seeing all the abandoned farmsteads is heartbreaking. “I would like to see as a reversal of that trend and bringing back the smaller unit family farms, by being more diverse in the agricultural products that we can develop, that we can produce, and also to try to bring this bring back those rural communities. I mean, I hear what you're saying and I know that it's a big problem and the problem is that the corporatization of firms makes it virtually impossible. But I see I see a lot of real estate listings for quarter sections, for half sections, for full sections and all of these are land spaces that could be developed into residential small family farms once again.”
He said the Saskatchewan Party’s $4 billion irrigation plan is only going to increase the number of larger corporate farms, “because irrigation benefits those that can afford to set it up.”
“The government focuses on those members of the agricultural community that are there, for lack of a better term, their corporate donors. These large corporate firms are paying donations to the Sask. Party so that they can get the irrigation system set up that will benefit them. The rest of us the small people, they're not listening to.”
He added, “We want to set it up in a way that every farmer, every rancher, every First Nations reserve could be farming renewable energy as a cash crop on their land and selling it to the grid or storing some of it for their own use.”
Bolstering rural healthcare
With regards to keeping rural emergency rooms open and having sufficient doctors in rural facilities, like Preeceville, Rudachyk said that one of the biggest challenges is “very few of our doctors that we train at the university stay here, or stay in Saskatchewan.”
While the Liberals don’t have a policy on it, he suggested the province should offer student loan forgiveness for doctors who stay in Saskatchewan, as well as improved financial incentives.
He noted how a Rosthern doctor was one of the first in Saskatchewan to come down with COVID-19, having brought it back from a curling bonspiel in Edmonton. That resulted in closing a large portion of Rosthern Hospital and its ER. “And that shows just how precarious situation is in Saskatchewan. I mean, it was unbelievably lucky. It was just plain blind luck that we didn't have a major outbreak in Rosthern,” Rudachyk said.
He thinks the Saskatchewan Health Authority needs to mandate a minimum number of doctors to work in rural areas to help those working in the rural areas avoid burnout. He also said when doctors from other parts of the world come to Saskatchewan, greater efforts should be made to make them feel welcome and part of the community.
With internet access still painfully slow in for substantial portions of rural Saskatchewan, amplified by the need of children to do school work from home during the pandemic, how would they improve rural connectivity? Rudachyk said of SaskTel, “Instead of taking all the profits from Mobility and flipping them into general revenues to make the provincial finances look that much better, we need to be investing that money into improving our connectivity. We need to be investing in finding solutions to these problems.”
He noted upcoming satellite-based internet shows some promise, and should be investigated further.
Rudachyk lives just two kilometres from a cell tower, near Blackstrap. When summer comes and the campground fills, he noticed, “my connectivity went absolutely through the floor, like it was just awful. Because you can barely connect some days, and usually on the days where the weather was bad and you can tell everybody was inside their trailers, playing on the internet rather than being outside doing stuff that shows the provincial government has failed utterly in keeping up with the demand.”
“Internet is actually a critical infrastructure. Now, in this country, and in every modern technological society. It is a critical infrastructure, and it must be maintained by through better standards and if that means we have to make money and invest into the future.”
He said it would be better to put money into this than $1.6 billion into carbon capture and sequestration, because this is a higher priority.
“It’s an embarrassment, is what it is.”
Improving rural environment and water quality
Rudachyk said, “We have to set minimum standards for what we feel is sufficient for water quality and stuff like that. If we're not meeting those standards then, like the federal government is doing with the First Nations reserves that have water quality issues, we need to invest that money into it. I mean, there has been little to no investment on improving water quality in many rural communities for a long time.”
He said the Sask. Party relies on the fact that people are sued to having to suffer through things like low water quality.
He recalled how Regina used to have very low-quality water, and it took a near revolt to drive improvements in its quality. “We have the technology and ability, and the cost got much cheaper than they did then,” he said.
“What's disappointing is the fact that in the rural areas, they keep voting for the Sask. Party, but yet the Sask. Party pays them only lip service on this stuff. And they're not willing to offer any solutions. They're not willing to do anything to fix the problems. So why would you keep voting for a party that's doing nothing for you?” Rudachyk asked.