Wednesday, 11 January 2017 15:41

Rural versus urban battle may be on the horizon

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In sports, when a team is winning, it masks a lot of issues which are not going well.


Perhaps with lucky breaks, playing weaker opposition, etc., it masks some things a team may not be doing properly. When tough opposition is faced and maybe when those lucky breaks aren’t there anymore, those flaws will be exposed and critics will be quick to jump all over you.
Hello, Brad Wall. Last year was a bad one for Saskatchewan’s premier. He had his minister in charge of car insurance and the anti-drunk driving campaign get charged with impaired driving; one of the founders and long-time members of the Sask Party get embroiled in a controversy regarding a major highway project near Regina (aka. Global Transportation Hub land deal); the effects of the petroleum industry finally hit home as the budgets started to suffer and now after years of having Stephen Harper and a myriad of small ‘c’ conservative and energy-kin neighbours to the west, he all of a sudden had to deal with carbon-tax-loving; coal-industry-killing non-Conservative-oriented party/leaders in Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley.
Uh oh.
Wall is still the most popular leader within his own province within Canada as judged by a December 2016 Angus Reid survey with the nearest premier being Manitoba’s Brian Pallister at 50 per cent and B.C.’s Christy Clark’s 35. Notley is at 31 per cent and the lowest-rated was Ontario’s Kathleen Wynn at 16 per cent. However, politics is a fickle beast and Wall is running into some issues.
The toughest battle is now with a deficit which is sitting at more than a billion dollars, a significant increase from a forecasted $434 million which isn’t rosy either. Petroleum revenue is blamed ... as it is in a lot of such provinces. Wall instituted a hiring freeze in November, but now trying to streamline operations means eliminating bureaucracy.
First on the list is the combining of the 12 health regions into one centralized one. Oooo ... there’s that word — centralized — a profane word to anyone who lives in the rural area.
Moving jobs into the urban area or eliminating them altogether will trim costs, but it does start to erode the goodwill of the rural area towards government. Wall has basically all of the rural spots in the Sask. Party’s 51-10 seat dominance.
It’s more than a little bit likely the school divisions will be combined into one centralized division which leaves wall with the one that’s been staring him in the face, the sacred cow of Saskatchewan — the rural municipalities — all 296 of them. A story in the Regina Leader Post shared interviews with a few people in the RMs including the province’s smallest one — Glen McPherson which has 73 people but four councillors and a reeve.
In a letter to the Regina Leader Post, Harry Van Mulligan chastised the daily’s failure to explain the RMs’  “primary responsibility is to maintain rural grid road and almost all of their budgets are expanded for that purpose.”
He then suggests a centralized system for that too (i.e. no more RMs). Whether you agree with that statement, it’s a typical urban/NDP attitude.
Wall has a real problem on his hands. With the attitude of amalgamating the health regions into one, the seemingly inevitable amalgamation of the school divisions, there will be obvious pressure to amalgamate the rural municipalities. The pressure comes from what’s left of the non-fake news daily media, some urban-based politicians and lobbyists and of course the desire to ensure he maintains his tenuous grip on urban voters. He has all of the rural ones right?
Well, here’s the thing: it’s easier to manage a province when oil revenues are coming in, the national economy and agricultural commodity prices are good, there is little unemployment, and the province is flush with money.
Wall’s leadership and decision making will come down to what is right for the province, what is right for the rural area, and what is right for the book.
It’s a difficult job, especially when you are used to being loved. Wall has been identified as being approachable, smart and a man of the people.
The prevailing thought is that he wouldn’t take for granted the support of the rural area.
Sure, cutting looks good on the books and is a heck of a lot easier to do than coming up with creative ideas to help maintain rural Saskatchewan, but out in the real world in places such as Mankota, Aneroid, Eatonia, Frontier, Kyle and Consul, there won’t much left. It will look a lot like southeast Alberta — a lot of nothingness in regards to communities. Which type of landscape is better?
Is it up to government to help maintain communities? Sure it is, as long as there are people there. Is it necessary to have five councillors for 73 people?That’s a tough sell, and perhaps the government needs to look at some measures to best look after the rural areas with very small populations.
However, eliminating a bulk of the 296 RMs?
That would be a tough sell, even for the most popular premier in Canada.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor