The Saskatchewan provincial election will be taking place October 26, and the World-Spectator talked to the candidates in Moosomin, Melville-Saltcoats, and Cannington about education and health with a focus on Covid-19, teacher shortages, the need for increased space in schools, rural connectivity, and staff shortages in medical facilities.
Steven Bonk, Sask Party
Moosomin Sask Party candidate Steven Bonk says Covid-19 is an unprecedented situation and it’s been an up and down process, but the current government has gotten a handle on it.
“This is a new situation for all of us,” said Bonk. “We’re the first people to admit that we haven’t been perfect in our response. In retrospect we haven’t been that bad either if you compare us to other jurisdictions. We’re trying our best to manage these problems and every time we make a new regulation or program there’s an unforeseen consequence.
“Now that we’re getting a better handle on the Covid-19 situation and how to manage the health care and education protocols, I think things are starting to stabilize. Of course we’re getting advice from the health authority and our chief health officer. I think you’ll see our response will become more stabilized and consistent as we go forward from this point.”
Bonk understands the need for increased rural connectivity and says the Saskatchewan Party is working towards improving both cell and internet connection in rural areas of the province.
“Rural connectivity has been a real priority for our government,” he said. “We’ve invested in towers and this has been a focus for our government. We understand that some parts of the province are lacking in their connectivity and it’s something we’re going to address as a government. It’s not just an issue from the educational standpoint, but it’s also an issue from an economic standpoint. Most businesses now rely heavily on being connected to the internet and we don’t want to have rural based businesses at a disadvantage compared to urban based businesses.”
Staff shortages in medical facilities have been an issue, especially in rural areas. Bonk says it’s not just a provincial problem and the efforts to recruit staff will continue.
“We’re trying as best we can to keep a full complement of staff in every health care facility we have in Saskatchewan,” he said. “Right now we’re facing a problem with the availability of staff and this isn’t just a Saskatchewan problem, this is country wide. I know that the people in the health authority are working very hard at this and it’s something our government supports and supports them strongly in their efforts. Hopefully we can find a solution to this in the future.”
Ken Burton, NDP
With the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the need for more space in schools, Moosomin NDP candidate Ken Burton points to a need for more education funding to help improve class sizes.
“The hope is that these are temporary issues as a result of Covid-19 with the current protocols implemented in schools,” said Burton. “But obviously education funding is a huge part of that equation, and was even before Covid-19.
“Funding the education system to the level it needs to be can help solve the oversized classes and we hear that from the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation over and over again, and from parents who feel the student to teacher ratio needs to be adjusted and the only thing that’s going to help with that is increased funding to the frontline services—teachers, teachers’ aides.”
Schools had to shift to remote learning during the start of the pandemic and Burton thinks rural connectivity must be taken care of now to help give families the option of an alternative learning method to being in the classroom.
“Connectivity is the key,” he said. “I think internet access is huge when it comes to delivering education. People need to be able to connect, especially when they’re not able to physically be in the classroom. Covid-19 has made this especially clear. People who have compromised immune systems or high-risk family members need to have internet access. One of the keys is to make sure there’s access to quality internet in all of the rural areas.”
With a history of staff shortages in rural medical facilities, Burton wants to see a more firm plan with funding put together to have the problem addressed.
“Staffing has been an area where we fall pretty short in the health system,” he said. “It’s especially a problem in rural areas, but it’s also an issue in the cities. That starts at the level where we provide education at the universities and technical schools where we’re training people. We have to ensure that there are enough spaces available that all students who need that type of education and those careers, that those opportunities are available to them. That’s done by funding at a greater level in these universities and other educational institutes.
“Once we do educate them we have to encourage them to move to the rural areas and have financial incentives to those who are willing to specifically relocate or go back to their home communities in rural areas. A lot of times it is going back. We’re training lots of people that grew up in rural areas and they’re moving on to go to the cities and not coming back to the rural areas. We have to find financial incentives to ensure they do go to rural areas.”
Warren Kaeding, Sask Party
Overcrowding in schools creates a need for planning at every level for expansion to better serve students says Melville-Saltcoats Sask Party candidate Warren Kaeding, but he also points out the growth in these communities is a positive.
“Overcrowding is kind of a double edged sword,” Kaeding said. “We love to see our communities expanding, to see growth in our communities, and to see young families coming to our communities, and we want to make sure that they stay there.
“It’s very encouraging to see our schools have so many students and needing to expand. It’s certainly a challenge, each school division is looking at how they can best serve the students, teachers, and staff appropriately and safely in each facility. I think that’s why we can’t just go broad brush and say that this is the mandate that we need to ensure in each community. Each school, administration, and school leadership team needs to determine how they can best serve their school population in each facility. Some may need to bring in modular facilities or reconstruction in their schools, but each of the schools need a unique plan to make sure they have the appropriate environment for learning.”
Resources have been put towards improving rural connectivity under the Sask Party government and the work will continue towards improving access for everybody in the province, Kaeding said.
“Connectivity is a piece I’ve spent a lot of time helping in developing. We’ve seen a number of announcements over the last three years for improving cellular coverage in rural Saskatchewan with that comes internet coverage,” he said. “We’re certainly seeing a lot of investment by SaskTel as well as by the private suppliers out there to make sure our communities are up to speed when it comes to cellular and internet service. I know school divisions are certainly putting resources into that to make sure that they’ve got the learning environment both in facilities and at home for their students. We need to continue to work together to make sure that everybody’s got what they need to succeed.”
Staff shortages in the health industry are a problem everywhere said Kaeding, but as long as communication stays strong and resources and creativity are put into fixing the problem, he thinks the province will improve in this area.
“Shortages are certainly a concern that I have and I had personal responsibilities in that area with my previous ministerial responsibilities,” he said. “It’s a problem that we’re facing in Saskatchewan, but overall when I look at my political colleagues across North America, everyone is suffering from the difficulty to recruit positions in rural jurisdictions and rural municipalities. It’s going to take a multitude of approaches to it.
“We need to be creative in how we position jobs out there. A lot of times in a certain location a job may require part-time applications so how can we make sure that we can get a full-time person into an area and then be able to work in maybe two or three facilities. Covid-19 has certainly put a bit of a restriction in that area right now, but I think there’s going to be a lot of creativity in how jobs are going to be posted and listed in the future.
“We’re having those conversations with municipal leaders and we continue to have a very active recruitment program when it comes to doctors, we’re finding them in the province, outside of the province, and outside of the country,” he said. “At the same time we need to continue to support our young local people when they’re wanting a career in medicine as a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, a care aid, or a paramedic.
“We need to make sure we create that environment for young people so when they go off for their training they’ll look at coming back home as an option to develop their career. We talk to a lot of communities that are supportive of trying to find creative ways to make sure they get that opportunity out in front of young people.
Bonnie Galenzoski, NDP
Increased funding is how the issues in education must be alleviated said Melville-Saltcoats NDP candidate Bonnie Galenzoski.
“Increased space is definitely needed and getting more teachers,” Galenzoski said. “Also getting supports for those teachers in the way of classroom assistants.”
Galenzoksi thinks the most important way to improve the education system is reducing class sizes and hiring more teachers.
“We have to reduce class sizes,” she said. “That’s how we can help the teachers manage the students. Also, rural connectivity is huge especially with children spending time out of the classroom this year. After being pulled out of the classroom they’re going back to the classroom. If we had some support system there for rural internet that would allow people to be able to teach more online instead of having them in that classroom. We don’t seem to have the support in place. I use rural internet and I know exactly how unreliable it is. Those kinds of supports would increase rural connectivity and also allow classrooms to be decreased in size.”
With the current state of some medical facilities in rural Saskatchewan and the second wave of Covid-19, Galenzoski says staff shortages must be a top priority of the government.
“I think Covid-19 actually brought to light some of the issues in staffing in hospitals that has been happening for some time,” she said. “There’s been a lack of staffing in most hospitals. Look at the Saskatchewan Health Authority, they had posted emergency hours in Melville for the last month. That’s not a result of Covid-19, that’s a result of doctor shortages.
“You can’t plan an emergency around when emergency services are open. I’m also seeing these issues in other areas. It’s been impacted in Moosomin with Broadview and Wolseley still closed. Something needs to be done to address those staff shortages, especially with the second wave of Covid-19 coming. Under the current government I think we’re looking at a disaster heading our way.”
Daryl Harrison, Sask Party
Cannington Sask Party candidate Daryl Harrison says schools have done a good job of implementing Covid-19 protocols to resume in-class learning.
“The school divisions developed a plan and the individual schools adjusted them to their own needs,” said Harrison. “It’s going quite well, my own son is going through it right now.
“It’s just a different way of doing things with longer classes and other adaptations. I haven’t heard that there’s issues with overcrowding, but I think the schools are handling this current situation very well.”
Harrison says rural connectivity improvements are a big factor for the Sask Party going forward and Covid-19 has only furthered the need to better the situation.
“Broadband internet is very important,” he said. “Students were gone from the middle of March to learn at home and that put a lot of emphasis on the need to have better internet capabilities.
“Connectivity is going to be a growing demand for years to come as more stuff goes online. That will be a growth industry.”
With Covid-19 at the forefront of health conversations, Harrison says preparation for the second wave in medical facilities is a priority.
“I haven’t heard of any shortages here in the southeast,” he said. “With the Covid-19 protocols the staff have been put into cohorts based on their areas of healthcare. That’s created some challenges staff wise, but through the cooperation of the staff, union, and management, overall it’s something they’ve handled quite well. We haven’t been overrun with Covid-19 cases in this corner. I’d say we have to be prepared for that possible outcome.”
Dianne Twietmeyer, NDP
Increased funding to education needs to be a top focus of the government says Cannington NDP candidate Dianne Twietmeyer.
“We do have to expand our schools either improve on the older buildings or, as we have seen, new schools being built in communities,” said Twietmeyer.
“We need to do something to create more classrooms, but we still do need that funding for support staff and more teaching staff in order to have the people to work in those classrooms.
“We’ve seen recently money coming back from the federal government in the form of the rebate from the carbon tax which the current government apparently plans to use on improvements in schools.
“We have money for improvements to schools, but I think we need to put more money into either expanding and renovating old schools or building news ones. I know that’s a lot of money we’re talking about, but it’s important.”
Twietmeyer thinks the cuts to education funding were a mistake and it’s put Saskatchewan at a crossroads with a need for more space and staff.
“We heard that there were huge cuts to education funding,” she said. “The cuts were done in order to make up for the money that was squandered on other things—global transportation hub, Regina bypass.
“We had education funding cut and it needs to go back. We need to put the money to education. We need to hirer more teachers and staff and give them more classrooms to work in.”
The only way to improve on the staff shortages in medical facilities is funding says Twietmeyer.
“It’s all about money,” she said. “We can really only address these things by throwing money at them. We have to hirer enough staff so that these frontline workers aren’t running off their feet.
“We have to provide them with all the safety requisites that they need. It just has to be done, there’s no way around it.”