Premier Wall looks ahead to new challenges after busy summer

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Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he’s looking forward to the new challenges the fall sitting of the legislature will bring.

Improving provincial infrastructure, investigating the Smart Meter problems and rebuilding the provinces rainy day fund are all on the government’s fall to-do list.

“There’s both opportunities and challenges,” said Wall, who took time to speak with reporters and local residents at the Saskatchewan Party barbeque on Thursday.  “Our economy continues to be very, very strong, so there’s a lot of opportunity.”

With Saskatchewan’s population set to grow again this year, after jumping by more than 20,000 since April of 2013, highways, schools and healthcare facilities are again on everyone’s mind, and Wall is no exception.

The premier notes the serious nature of those challenges, but says they’re the kind he wants to face.

“I prefer those challenges to the challenges of decline, when typically people are moving away.”

However, this summer was full of challenges Wall likely would have preferred he didn’t have to deal with.

Locally, getting local RMs onboard to fund the new long-term care facility in Swift Current proved difficult, although Wall says he’s feeling good about the state of the project right now.

Right now the City of Swift Current, as well as the RMs of Swift Current, Excelsior, Sask Landing, Webb, Coulee and Riverside have agreed to contribute 100 per cent of their municipal share.  The villages of Rush Lake, Waldeck, Webb and Vanguard, along with the RMs of Whiska Creek and Lawtonia are contributing a portion.

Wall says the RMs worked hard to find the necessary funds, and he’s happy with the contribution so far.

“We reduced (local funding requirements) to 20 per cent, but still, it’s a lot of money.”

Despite the difficulties, Wall says he always felt like they were going to get something done.  The province has been flexible elsewhere, and could do the same in Swift Current as well.

“We see that in other areas of the province, where there’s similar issues,” he says.  “The RMs are saying ‘we could probably do this if we had a longer term.’  That was a good take-back for me, because I met with and talked to a number of the RMs that had concerns.”

Provincially, the government had to deal with the devastating flooding that hit the province in late June.  More than 30 communities declared a state of emergency, with Southeast Saskatchewan being hit the hardest.

In order to help affected residents, the government dipped heavily into its rainy day fund.  They now face the prospect of building it back up, which is something Wall is quite confident they can do.  He calls the provinces financial prospects “solid,” and says the government is acting from a strong financial position.

“We’re very fortunate the budget is balanced.  That is not happening in a lot of places in North America.  We’ll rebuild the rainy day fund.  We’ll have resources to fix what needs to be fixed.”

Smart meters also became an issue after eight of them caught fire during the summer.  The government later ordered SaskPower to remove more than 100,000 of them from homes and businesses around the province.

“Obviously we’re very disappointed that this has happened, and more than disappointed, concerned on a public safety front.”

The government has ordered a third party investigation into the matter, with the results expected back sometime in the fall.

“We’re going to be expecting the suppliers to be providing compensation for what’s happened,” Wall said.  “In the meantime, we’re going to get these particular meters out and move forward with a smart meter plan that will work for the province.”

Then, of course, there are the Swift Current centennial celebrations, which have brightened up an unusually rainy summer in the area.  Wall said it’s been a great year of festivities throughout the Southwest, but for Swift Current in particular, it’s been a great way to spend the summer.

“It’s just been a great year in Swift Current, right from January when we all started here.  The committee’s done a great job of celebrating our 100th anniversary.”

Organizations: Saskatchewan Party

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current

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