Sunday November 23, 2014

Floods remind Sask. of its priorities


Sometimes it takes something like a natural disaster to put things in proper perspective.

And if one good think has come out of the Saskatchewan’s summer flooding of 2014 — now, unsurpassed in water flow and damage done for this or perhaps any time of year — it is the reminder that we are a rural-based, agriculture province.

This is something that has been lost on some people of late — perhaps misplaced in all the bravado over the oil boom and constant bickering over politics.

At issue is the concern raised by left-wing bloggers that Premier Brad Wall`s primary concern has been the slowdown in oil activity rather than farmers’ crops, damage to rural infrastructure and the general plight of those towns and smaller cities hit by the flood waters.

Oddly, the criticism appears to be based on a single remark Wall recently made while talking to reporters about securing an immediate $100-million advance from Ottawa. Here is what he said:

“We think the number will be a lot higher than the $360 million of 2011, which was just basically the damage, the repair and not necessarily the economic impact,” Wall told reporters. “In this case, we have oil leases now inaccessible. We have farmland under water. So in addition to whatever numbers I am talking about right now, there will be an economic impact and is too early to assess that just yet.”

That Wall would have the audacity to mention that the flooding has also hit the oil sector was grounds enough for some on the left to suggest that is his only priority. It’s what sadly happens to some when everything in your world becomes about your own political narrative.

Well, that Wall mentioned that flooding is even having an impact on the oil sector is simply the reality.

Don Rae, President of Yorkton-based Crusader Drilling Corp., recently told the Leader-Post that one of his rigs in the Stoughton area has been out of commission since the June flooding and another rig in the Carnduff area has been stranded by flood waters.

“We’ve got a ton of work ahead and we can’t get at it,” Rae said. “So we’re losing our (rig) utilization days and we don’t get them back.”

Rae has had to lay off about 50 of the 70 people working for him as a result. That means they’re not getting paid, the companies aren’t buying things from their suppliers, meaning less money in the economy for these support services.

Meanwhile, the provincial coffers will take a hit, as less drilling simply means less oil royalty revenue.

But does this mean this is Wall’s only concern? Of course not.

Wall wasn’t in the southeast to tour the oil rigs. He was examining the plight of towns with water and sewer cut off, washed out roads that has made it harder for all of us to get around and farms that saw crops washed away and were literally rounding up their cattle by boat.

And while no one wants to see such frustration on the farms and in in the towns and smaller cities, maybe one good thing to come out of it is the reminder how important farming and smaller communities are to Saskatchewan.

There is little wrong with our new-found identity as a major oil-producing region, but it’s important to always remember that the backbone of this province has been — and still is — the rural communities and the farms that existed here long before oil was important.

It is hard-working farmers and people in these communities servicing agriculture that have rightly been the focus of Wall and the rest of the province.

Sometimes, it takes a bad-news event like this flooding to be reminded how important they truly are to this province.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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