Looking back on the past year, Dustin Duncan, MLA for Weyburn-Big Muddy, talked about the excitement and the challenges of growth for both the province and the constituency.
“For the first time in our provincial history, we reached 1.1 million people,” said Duncan, calling it a significant milestone.
“I think it reinforced the important of goal setting. Initially we said that we wanted to see the province’s population grow by 100,000 people to 1.1 million within 10 years, and it happened in six years.”
“This also reinforces that we are on the right track for our growth agenda for the province, and wanting to be at 1.2 million people by 2020,” said Duncan.
Looking forward to the new year, Duncan said there were positive signs for continued momentum for continued growth. There are some ‘growing pains’ that still must be faced by the province as they move forward.
“There are some pretty significant challenges when it comes to handling this growth, especially when we look at our infrastructure needs.”
He noted that when the provincial government plans for the 2014 budget that they will have to be mindful of their finances.
Significant growth has also occurred in the constituency in terms of new houses and new businesses. “We are there to facilitate that growth — we don’t take credit for it, but we want to have the right policies in place to see that growth continued.”
It was also busy year for Duncan in his role as health minister. “This role is getting more and more exciting. It does mean more sacrifices, but I am pretty pleased with the initiatives that was introduced through the health ministry.”
One of the major goals for the Ministry of Health was to reduce surgical wait times. The Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative strived to improve surgical patients’ care experience and ensure that by 2014, all patients have the option of receiving their surgery within three months.
“We are seeing health regions like Regina and Qu’Appelle who had struggled earlier just recently reach 12 consecutive months of reduction. This is showing that we are on the right track.”
The Ministry of Health also launched public consultations for mental and addictions strategies for the province. “When I became health minister this was something that I wanted to introduce,” said Duncan.
He noted a great response from the people of Saskatchewan, and hoped to have recommendations for the mental health field by next summer.
Duncan is looking forward to seeing the grand opening of a new primary health care centre for Weyburn, scheduled for January. “In terms of health care for Weyburn, assess to physician services for residents was a challenge in 2013.”
“People were very patient knowing that we would see stabilization in our physician numbers for 2014,” said Duncan. Four new physicians will start their practices in Weyburn in the new year at the new primary health care centre. “People will see a tremendous improvement to the access to services, especially compared to the last year.”
As health minister, Duncan is very aware that one of the biggest desires for residents in Weyburn and the surrounding area is for a new facility to replace the Weyburn General Hospital.
He has a good working relationship with the Sun Country Health Region, their board of trustees and the Weyburn and District Hospital Foundation and was involved with a lot of communication and discussion with all invested parties.
“Certainly, a new hospital for Weyburn is on my radar, knowing that we need a new facility here in Weyburn,” said Duncan. “It is also not too far from the sights I have in mind for bringing on new projects.”
The important factors is to make sure that a funding announcement is affordable and in context of the 2014 budget. There are other capital priorities in health across the province that still need addressing.
He did note that the Moose Jaw hospital should be completed by the end of 2014, and most of the other long-term care centres should also be completed.
From a constituency perspective, the biggest highlight was the 100th anniversary for the City of Weyburn. “Our centennial celebrations really allowed the city to showcase itself, and to celebrate a significant milestone in the life of a city,” said Duncan.
Education capital projects is also on the mind of the MLA, especially with the redevelopment and renewal of the Weyburn Comp. Duncan has spoken with trustees with the Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division on their concerns, especially with the Weyburn Junior High facility being one of their next priorities to continue the Weyburn schools renewal.
“We are seeing significant growth in our schools across the province,” said Duncan, noting that education infrastructure demands is another factor from the growing population.
“We are seeing more younger families move into Saskatchewan. We have had a trend reverse, where before school enrollments were declining around the province, but now we are seeing more students in pre-K and Kindergarten classes. This tells us that there will be serious pressures to classroom sizes.”
Growing population has also created infrastructure needs for water and waste water in many communities across the province. “They are having difficultly expanding because they are not able to service the lots,” said Duncan. He noted that the federal government has expressed interest in another Building Canada fund, and if this was introduced the province would meet funding by one-third.
There continues to be interest from the area to start the proposed twinning project on Highways 39 and 6. Duncan said that since Premier Brad Wall made his announcement that the twinning project would be a priority that the calls have reduced. Pre-construction work has started on the stretch between Bienfait and Estevan.
“But considering today’s numbers of traffic on those highways, and future projections for traffic, those highways do merit as a twinning project for our provincial government.”
The legislative session will resume on March 3, 2014 with the new provincial budget to be delivered later that month.