Rural Sask In Decline

The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan)
August 14, 2001 Tuesday Final Edition

Village mayor wonders if Calvert’s sincere

SOURCE: The Leader-Post
BYLINE: Murray Mandryk

SECTION: News; Pg. A1 / FRONT

The mayor of Wood Mountain says he’ll find out Thursday morning whether Premier Lorne Calvert’s “listening tour” is truly interested in listening to the problems of southwest communities.

Michael Klein, mayor of the village of 30 people 240 kilometres southwest of Regina, was initially told by the premier’s office that he would have to travel to a public meeting in Weyburn if he hoped to present a six-page brief on the communities’ problems.

“I don’t think I want to drive two hours on a ‘maybe’,” Klein said Monday morning.

However, after The Leader-Post inquired about the request from the Wood Mountain mayor, Klein said he received a surprise call back from the premier’s office Monday afternoon and arrangements were made for him to meet with at least one cabinet minister in Moose Jaw on Thursday.

“I guess the proof will be in the pudding,” Klein said. “But it (his meeting in Moose Jaw) is better than nothing.”

This week marks the only visit to the southern half of the province’s grainbelt during the four-week, 70-community tour, officially called “Dialogue with Saskatchewan.”

The farthest southwest the tour will travel is Bengough — part of the cabinet ministers’ itinerary Thursday along with Belle Plaine, Moose Jaw, Claybank, Avonlea, Ogema and Radville.

On Wednesday, Calvert and his cabinet are in Southey, Lipton, Raymore, Punnichy, Lestock, Kelliher, Cupar, Dysart, Govan and Strasbourg and the Kawacatoose and Gordon’s and Muskowekwan reserves.

On Friday, Calvert and other ministers will travel to Weyburn, Odessa, Qu’Appelle, Indian Head, Sintaluta and the Ochapowace First Nation.

After his cabinet travelled some 1,560 kilometres and visited 20 northeastern communities last week, Calvert called it a “valuable experience to hear from people in their own communities and businesses.”

“We’ve heard concerns about agriculture, health care and transportation, but we’ve also heard suggestions and ideas for making rural Saskatchewan a better place for people to live and work,” Calvert said in a prepared statement on what the government is now calling its “listening tour.”

But Klein, who once sought a Liberal nomination, questioned whether Calvert and his cabinet were really all that interested in listening to problems in southwest communities like his.

In his six-page brief, Klein noted that while all his children were born in Lafleche, 52 kilometres away, pregnant women now have to travel 156 kilometres to Moose Jaw to deliver their babies.

Since the school closure a decade ago, 40 per cent of the families have moved away, he stated in his brief. Meanwhile, the school division’s fuel costs for busing Wood Mountain students has increased to about $300,000 a year from $80,000 a year — despite the reduction in students.

And Klein also asked why the government wouldn’t have loaned the area about $1 million in its fight to keep the local branchlines open, when it now will likely have to spend $50 million to repair area highways because of the increased grain truck traffic.

The Saskatchewan Party says Calvert is deliberately avoiding south and southwestern Saskatchewan — the area hardest hit by this year’s drought that also happens to be traditionally tough political ground for the NDP.

“While they are going into rural Saskatchewan, they are going into areas as safe as possible,” said Cypress Hills MLA Wayne Elhard. “To have the premier ignore this area is a snub that is not going to be overlooked …

“If you want to find out what’s going on, you’ve got to take the good with the bad and go to the whole of rural Saskatchewan. They’re not being forthright.”

Calling it “more of a political tour than an attempt to reconnect with rural people,” Elhard said the tour is searching out pockets of NDP support in rural ridings where the party was somewhat closer in the 1999 election.

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