Harrison tells Redvers council there will be no additional help for rural rinks

·11 min read

Cannington MLA Daryl Harrison told members of Redvers town council Wednesday that the provincial government won’t have additional funds available for community rinks hurt by Covid restrictions, over and above the $2,500 Community Rink Affordability Grant and 10 per cent SaskPower rebate.

Mayor Brad Bulbuck had contacted Harrison to ask if there would be additional support for community rinks and community recreation, in light of the support the province provided to the SJHL and to WHL teams in Saskatchewan—$3 million to Saskatchewan’s five WHL teams ($600,00 each), and $1 million to the SJHL.

Harrison attended Wednesday’s council meeting in Redvers and said that there won’t be additional funding for community rinks.

“Brad called me wondering about the rinks. The short answer was no,” he said. “The $2,500 for ice surfaces and the 10 per cent SaskPower savings are there. I reaffirmed that a lot of community rinks were shut down last spring when the provincial restrictions came in. There were no provincial playoffs, no league playoffs. For a lot of rinks, that’s half their revenue, in March, because the rink’s packed, the burgers are going out the door. That was last year. This year there was nothing. Minor hockey a little bit at the start, but no significant revenue. These are community facilities that rely on the game revenue and fundraisers, which have also ground to a halt. The government is well aware, but there are a lot of demands.”

“You made a good point about the rinks and burgers not being sold,” said Mayor Brad Bulbuck. “One of the challenges we have in the arena is we are missing out on about $30,000 of profit from the canteen, and that equates right to our losses. Between the RM of Antler and the town of Redvers we are funding the rec board $130,000 a year—so $65,000 each. Minor hockey has been very gracious in providing additional funds to keep the arena open for February and March. That money is not going to be there forever and I worry that minor hockey is going to start with nothing next year, so they are going to have to raise the fees. What is that going to do to families that are struggling right now, and what is that going to do to the community, and what is it going to do to the businesses in the community? Because that place filters down through our whole economy in our community. And I understand that the easy answer is no. Quite frankly I don’t know if I want to accept no as an answer, not when I see the WHL starting to go, not when I see a million dollars going to SJHL teams.

“Rural Saskatchewan is as important as the cities.”

Harrison said that recreation in Redvers was lucky to have such strong support from the town and the RM.

“There is a fellow rookie MLA and he says his RM and community don’t support their rink through the local government grant. Lots of them believe the user pays and if it’s $2,200 to register your kid for minor hockey, that’s the way it is. It is hard, I’m not trying to sugar coat it, but it is good the towns and the RMs can support it that way, and yes the rink is where your money is made. Gate revenue is good at playoff time and throughout the year the burgers go across the counter and that’s what’s makes it, and Redvers rink is no different than Carnduff’s or Oxbow’s or Carlyle’s.”

Vaccine rollout and timelines for easing restrictions discussed

Harrison and council also discussed what is happening in the province regarding vaccine rollout and timelines for things to get more or less back to normal.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was when the premier announced about the changes to the households restrictions,” said Harrison. “That came down before Christmas and it was a hard thing. My family is no different than yours. I think that was a good step and there will be more to come.

“For the vacinne rollout there is a toll free number and online booking for the 85-pluses starting tomorrow (Thursday, March 11) at 8 am and then it will be a matter of days before it gets rolled out to younger people.

“So the province is expecting that everybody who wants a vaccine in the province is going to be done by the end of June, is that correct?” asked Bulbuck.

“Actually before the end of June for the first shots, but that’s also dependent on vaccine ability as well,” said Harrison.

“I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but if everyone is going to have the first vaccine by the end of June, is there any kind of reality where minor sports and high school athletics and schools are shut down again this fall?” asked Bulbuck.

“I suppose anything is possible, but the goal is to get things up and going,” replied Harrison. “I’m hopeful that minor ball and senior ball—I think the plan is laid out for that to continue. And golf and all those summer sports, there shouldn’t be any impact this summer, and I don’t see any reason why the high school athletics couldn’t resume their activities in the fall.”

Jensen asks about budget, library funding

Councillor Michelle Jensen had some questions for Harrison regarding the upcoming provincial budget.

“We are about a month away from the budget reveal,” she said. “Are there any surprises that we should be expecting, because a few years ago they tried to cut our library funding, and that was reversed. And now that we’ve had a tough year ahead, are we expecting to supplement or come up with more library funding?”

“Specifically with libraries I don’t know of anything in that regard,” said Harrison. “I know the PST revenue generated in the province is likely to be less and therefore less to local governments. The revenue sharing is a direct percentage of the PST taken in.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be a budget that’s detrimental. We’re trying to get everything back flowing again. I know lots around this room might not be surprised by what’s in it, but then the community down the highway, they might have a surprise to them—it’s all kind of personal.

“I would think libraries, after last time, there wouldn’t be a big change there.”

Bulbuck says he’d like to see regional restrictions

Mayor Brad Bulbuck asked Harrison if the government would consider loosening Covid restrictions more in some areas than others due to low numbers in some parts of the province.

“If you watch the numbers, they are showing that between two thirds and three quarters of the Covid cases in Saskatchewan are confined to Regina, Saskatoon and the far north,” he said. “A lot of areas are doing things right and I feel the southeast is one of those areas. Has there ever been any consideration given to regional shutdowns as opposed to province-wide?”

“We get that a lot and they did do that back in November—it was Regina, Saskatoon and PA, and the bedroom communities around there, and it was shortly after that Indian Head has their outbreak,” said Harrison. “People don’t stay (in one place). People from Redvers go into Regina, they travel. That’s where the regional thing breaks down. And I get that, and the minister of rural and remote health is from Swift Current and they have been really hit there, and they were the last to get the first round of vaccine. I can’t imagine the calls his office would have got around that. I’m not a Costco person but I’m told they do have counters there counting people in and out.”

“But if I go to Costco, I interact with more people in Costco in half an hour than I do in Redvers in three weeks. That’s why I’d like to see some regional restrictions,” said Bulbuck.

“It’s tough and the quicker the restrictions come off and the cases come down, the better,” said Harrison. “I watch the ICU bed usage, unfortunately they are going up slightly—they are 27 today.”

“But the whole reason for the shutdown was to ensure there wasn’t an overrun on the ICU and on hospitals,” said Bulbuck. “We’ve never really had that run on ICU beds and hospital stays like some other jurisdiction. When the lockdowns occurred it was about protecting the integrity of the health care system. It’s not about protecting the integrity of the health care system now, and that’s what a lot of people are getting upset at. It’s about spreading or not spreading the virus. Some people in this room will think we need tighter restrictions and some people think we need less, and I understand it’s a delicate balancing act, but if we go back to the original reason for the lockdowns, it was to protect the health care system, and I think the health care system is fine.”

“In the province we have about 94 ICU beds total,” said Harrison. “Twenty-seven per cent are being used for Covid patients, it’s not that those beds are sitting empty otherwise, and keep in mind those ICU beds are counted from every facility around the province. If there were Covid patients in an ICU bed out here, they would probably be transferred to Regina or Saskatoon. Those beds are used for heart attack, stoke, everything else. Same as our hospital beds around the province, they are filled with other things as well so it’s trying to strike that balance.”

“I don’t mean to beat you up,” said Bulbuck. “Your job is just like our job. It’s a balancing act and trying to make everybody relatively happy.”

Issues with rural ambulance service discussed

Councillor David Pryde asked about improving rural EMS services.

“What about pre hospital care? Our rural EMS has issues, especially in this area. Redvers is out of service every day (due to lack of available volunteers). Maryfield is out of service a lot. Are we working on that?”

“The first responder care is most critical,” said Harrison. “That’s what I would really like to see is some enhancement there so we have not just fully trained staff but enough staff to cover. It’s like a nurse or anyone who works shift work, you are 24 hours a day and it’s tough to cover that off.”

“In our situation, there are five of us in the service here in Redvers and all five of us work full time outside the EMS,” said Pryde. “We’re all working a full-time job during the day and coming in and being on call at night. When you get a call at 3 am it’s a lot to put another full day of work in after that. So we need to start working on this.”

“At one time they talked about having our EMS people employed in the hospital doing other things like taking blood pressure and blood samples and stuff like that. Is that still on the table?” asked Bulbuck.

“I don’t know if that’s still a consideration,” said Harrison.

“There are places like Coronach that are guaranteed four hours every day and then they work in the doctor’s office to take blood pressures,” added Pryde.

“It’s a valid point and I will inquire about it,” said Harrison.

“We know there are challenges with rural ambulance services, especially out here,” said Bulbuck. “The problem is that if us and Maryfield are down at the same time, we have problems. Carlyle has a private ambulance service but they spend a lot of time going north and it’s a challenge for us. And you know how important the golden hour is.”

“I can probably count seven or eight times in the last six months that there have been no ambulances available in the Southeast,” added Pryde.

Thomas asks about surgery wait times

Councillor Ken Thomas asked about surgery wait times due to Covid-19? “Is there some light at the end of the tunnel?” he said.

“They are piling up but the necessary ones are still getting through,” said Harrison. “It’s all prioritized with doctors and referrals. I’ve had a few concerns with doctors not visiting their patients in person and somebody would like to see their physician in a face to face, and to force your doctor to come and meet with you, I don’t know what you do with that. And it’s the same with mental health, those are al done virtually and I think a lot gets lost, no different than having a Zoom meeting. It’s better face to face, better dialogue.

“The sooner we come out of this the better and I think that’s good for those living independently over the age of 85. If they haven’t had their vaccine already they can register online or by phone and then it’s a matter of days that younger people can get them and they want to get them out as quick as they can.”

Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator