Feds, province roll out infrastructure cash at rural municipalities meeting

·2 min read

Senior levels of government are betting that infrastructure cash will help plug some of the holes COVID-19 has created in Saskatchewan's local economies.

The provincial and federal governments are pumping roughly $33 million into swimming pools, playgrounds and water systems, they announced to attendees at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention on Tuesday.

The cash will fund 26 projects, Government Relations Minister Don McMorris said. Ottawa is spending $21 million, while the province is offering $12 million.

The projects aim to "improve the rural transportation system, water and recreation facilities, create jobs, (and) improve quality of life," McMorris said.

“These projects create good jobs and they support our economic recovery," noted MP Jim Carr, who is the federal government’s special representative for the Prairies. "Across the province, communities will see improvements to arenas, pools and playgrounds."

Some of that money is going toward bridge replacements in the RM of Preeceville and the RM of Porcupine. The latter's Reeve Steve Kwiatkowski has raised concerns over the federal government's role in approving the project.

The bridge replacement snagged while seeking federal approval, delaying the project until next winter, he said in a recent interview. As a result, the RM of Porcupine has a resolution at the convention asking for the bridge approval criteria to only be administered by the province and SARM.

Aside from bridge replacements, few of the remaining announced projects will be directly sent to the rural municipalities who are attending the convention. Much of the money will instead flow into parks, cities, towns and villages.

Examples include a park and community garden in the Village of Craven, and a district water park project in the Town of Lanigan.

In his remarks, SARM President Ray Orb urged more rural infrastructure money, saying rural Saskatchewan isn't getting its fair share. Unless hundreds of millions go toward projects like maintaining rural Saskatchewan's 1,400 bridges, the transportation system will be in "jeopardy," he said.

Beyond infrastructure, he disagreed with criticism that there are "too many municipalities and our populations are too small," saying he expected rural lifestyles to attract more growth.

Orb said he hopes to mend the "broken relationship" with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association after it rebranded to Municipalities of Saskatchewan. He noted McMorris has previously asked the group to reconsider the move.

Orb went on to repeat a common theme of the convention: poor rural internet service hobbling local businesses and farmers competing in a more connected world.

"Where you live shouldn't determine the level of broadband you receive," he said.

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix