Regina– When you call in to a Saskatchewan Crown corporation, there’s some expectation that the person answering is based in Saskatchewan. At least that’s what RM of Willow Bunch Reeve Patrick Therrien thinks. He grilled the Government of Saskatchewan cabinet about that during the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities annual convention “bear pit” session, held virtually on March 10.
Therrien pointed out that any payments under $10,000 to SaskPower are sent to Alberta for processing. “More recently, calling into SaskTel last month to arrange an automatic debit from my credit card on my mobility bill, I was shocked to find out that my call was forwarded to Ottawa, Ontario, to a call centre for processing.
“And last summer dialing into Sask. First Call, otherwise known as dial before you dig, and having my call answered as such, ‘Sask. First Call,’ I was disappointed to find out that this call, too, was to our neighbors to the west, Calgary, Alberta. What gave it away was when the person on the other end asked me what county I was calling from? I had to explain to him that Saskatchewan and Sask. First Call doesn't have counties in our lovely province. We are all municipalities.”
He added, “And then calling to the affected ministries to discuss these concerns, I was told from SaskEnergy, that it was their decision, based solely on efficiencies. So I humbly request that we please ensure that agriculture remains our number one export, and not good-paying Crown Corporation and public jobs in this province of Saskatchewan.
Premier Scott Moe thanked him for the question, saying, “And here is our first peek into Main Street, in rural communities across Saskatchewan. Because I was unaware of this, it'll be something that we'll be checking into. Point well taken.”
Minister of Crown Investment Corporation Don Morgan responded, “The Crowns have, over the last number of years, been given a directive that they should be as profitable as they possibly can. They look towards the Saskatchewan companies first to provide services. If they're not able to find it as quickly as they want, they've been looking outside of the province, which in a lot of areas is unacceptable.
“I was not aware of the full nature and extent of the issues that you've raised. But I can tell you that we're working with the Crowns to try and develop better systems of collaboration, of working with each other, and trying to do things more where we hire and retain some of the best and brightest people in Canada, and those people live right here in our province, so I want to make sure that those people are given the best opportunities to do it.
“Interesting enough, at one time, Saskatchewan and Saskatoon had some of the best infrastructure for call centres, and we were doing work in Saskatoon for Apple for an all the tech centres. All the tech calls went through Saskatoon, but if you lived in Saskatoon, your tech call was rerouted through Bombay. So, I think we should do a better job of trying to focus on keeping things the in Saskatchewan, so point well taken and we'll see what we can do.”
Moe added, “Given that we do try to prioritize Saskatchewan workers, to the degree that we can, and there's some work that's done, on that, through Sask. Builds across government when priority Saskatchewan, and it's some good work that has occurred. There will be some, such as this, I suppose, for the time being, where there is going to be some contracts that are out or province. As Don said, better to be out of province then out of country, in some instances.
“But there is some work that will be contracted to companies outside of the province, but we always do have an eye to prioritizing the opportunities that we have for building a strong economy here, within Saskatchewan.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury