Weyburn-Big Muddy MLA Dustin Duncan is anticipating a new, balanced budget and progress on the Mental Health Act when he returns to the Legislature on Monday, March 3,when the current session re-opens.
“I think that fiscal responsibility has always been front and centre for the people of Weyburn and Big Muddy,” said Duncan. He is hoping that property taxes remain low in the next budget.
Duncan said they will be looking at a number of things, including the budget. The final touches are being discussed for the budget, but he said it is too early to say what it will be included.
“I think, from my perspective as health minister, we’re looking for continuing increases to health funding,” said Duncan. In the past six years, the province has spent $930 million on health care capital.
“We are getting to the point where a large portion of health facilities are quickly reaching the end of their life span,” said Duncan. Two-thirds of the province’s facilities were built prior to the 1970s. The minister noted the province is nearing the end of many major projects, including the new hospital in Moose Jaw which cost $100 million. He did say funding will be announced in the budget for 11 of the previous 13 projects.
Duncan said after the projects currently underway are finished, the province will be able to begin new projects and he knows the people of Weyburn and area are anxious to get a new hospital.
“People have been fundraising and thinking a lot about that,” said Duncan and said he hoped it was “something we can move forward on.”
The province will continue to use the traditional funding structure for the majority of new health facilities, wherein the communities fund raise 20 per cent of the funds and the government supplies the other 80 per cent. P3s have not been ruled out as a potential method for funding some projects though. P3s partner private and public funds to build infrastructure projects, with the government and private businesses or investors each contributing.
“I expect long-term care will continue to be a focus,” said Duncan. The province has already allocated $10 million for an urgent action fund to be used by the province’s health regions to address issues they are havingregarding long-term care. The regions are reporting back on their spending from this fund and successful ideas will be shared with all health regions.
He also said many parts of the province require upgraded or new infrastructure, such as schools and highways, and that the SaskParty is trying to take that into consideration while balancing the budget.
Infrastructure in the Weyburn-Big Muddy area up for consideration is the twinning of Highways 6 and 39. Some of the planning money has been allocated for an eight-kilometre stretch between Estevan and Bienfait. Duncan said residents should not expect to see immediate progress on the project because twinning highways takes years and is very costly. The last major twinning project was about 100 kilometres long between Prince Albert and Saskatoon and it took the province 10 years to complete.
“It’s going to take a significant amount of time,” said Duncan.
Other things on the docket when Duncan returns to the legislature include the Mental Health Act. Amendments have been proposed which Duncan said “should modernize the mental health services in this province”, and are expected to pass in the Legislature this spring.
Recommendations from the Mental Health Commissioner are expected to be submitted to the minister later this year, and may or may not result in amendments to the act. The
recommendations may include replacing the facility in North Battleford. The province is considering a P3 approach to fund that facility.
While the Legislature has been out of session, Duncan has also met with Education Minister Don Morgan to discuss the ongoing school renovation projects in Weyburn, and with Don McMorris, the Minister of Highways and Transportation, to discuss the backlog of grain to be shipped and how it affecting families locally.
“We are certainly doing our part as a provincial player,” said Duncan. Premier Brad Wall and Agriculture minister Lyle Stewart have lobbied the federal government to put pressure on the rail companies.
Duncan said this is not the first time the province has suffered from a backlog and it has always been resolved before. There are no talks yet about provincial support for farmers experiencing hardship as a result of the backlog.
Duncan also said he is closely watching the situation at the Weyburn Inland Terminal.
“It is a groundbreaking type of venture,” said Duncan. “I know there are lots of strong feelings on both sides.”