Meili Makes Moose Jaw Stop
Friday may have been hot outside but it didn't deter the spirit of Dr Ryan Meili, leader of the NDP and Official Opposition to Scott Moe's governing Sask Party. Dr Meili was in Moose Jaw as part of his Summer tour, listening to the concerns of local organizations, municipal leaders and individuals.
"We want to hear from as many people as we are able to," Dr Meili told the MJ Independent as he had lunch at Veroba's Restaurant.
Asked about his tour, which so far has taken him to both rural and urban Saskatchewan, Meili said the reception has been good. Many people have expressed concerns about the effects of cuts to health, education and social services.
Meili felt that being raised on a farm near Courval, while later attending school at St Agnes School, and graduating from Vanier Collegiate in 1993 helped him understand and bridge the gap between rural and urban Saskatchewan.
A major issue Meili said he had heard about from citizens was "the slowdown in the economy everywhere...employment is hard to find" he said, further adding, an issue that is a concern right now is people out of work or not full employment."
"People are pretty worried in every community," Meili stated, adding that people were worried if there "were jobs at all or fewer hours or wages or benefits cut."
Asked about recent sudden restaurant closures in the Friendly City, he said the PST hasn't helped.
The sad thing about it is the move to collect more tax to prop up the Province's finances has resulted in less taxes coming in with less business resulting because of it.
Expanding the 6 per cent PST to construction has likewise resulted in a further slowing of the economy, he said.
"The economy is slowing and they threw water on it," Meili stated.
Examples of a slowing economy, he said: "mortgage defaults are the highest in the country."
He was also critical of the Provincial Government's austerity approach during tough economic times.
Asked about cannabis legalization Dr Meili said he would like to see taxes derived to be dedicated to mental health and addiction services.
As a medical doctor by profession, Dr Meili spoke about the true impact of mental health and illness on society as a whole. And because of that the issue needed more attention and funding.
"At any time you have 10 percent of the population struggling with mental health problems...half will have problems in their life...it touches everyone's life and for so long we have buried it."
"People are more and more ready to recognize it's real."
Meili was critical of Premier Scott Moe who promised to do more but "they did nothing in the Spring budget."
"It's all let's talk, that's great but let's do something."
Funding the replacement of infrastructure is a major concern for municipalities, Meili said.
"Most municipal governments are facing serious shortfalls in infrastructure funding."
He attributed the problems municipalities faced to aging early 1900s infrastructure only designed for the generation for whom it was constructed.
Cuts to municipalities of the grants in lieu have left municipalities struggling to find finances to replace the worn out infrastructure.
"Every municipality we visit, they talk about having 100 year old infrastructure."
"The cost of fixing that everyday is enormous...it's a patch instead of a real fix...we can do it for so long and you realize the whole structure needs to be replaced."
Meili said there was a need for a community partnership to help solve municipal infrastructure problems.
At the present time, Meili said he wasn't prepared to announce a program but instead was listening to what municipalities had to say in order to form a partnership with the province and federal government to better fund infrastructure replacement.
On Friday afternoon, Meili met with Mayor Frasier Tolmie to hear his and the City's concerns.
People leaving the province, despite an increasing population, was a major concern.
"We are seeing outmigration a lot, the last year, as the population has grown."
It's not just young people leaving for better opportunities but immigrants - who are ironically driving the population boom - leaving as well. Many immigrants are staying for only two years and then moving out of province.
"A survival jobs like driving cab or packing groceries isn't enough," he said.
"We need to be doing immigration through the lens to invite people in and have the conditions for them to put down roots and have family and friends here and stick around."
What's needed is employment, education opportunities, housing and medical support, he said.
While in the city he met with the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council.
"It's a lot different since I was a kid; the increased diversity," Meili said, calling diversity good and saying it was strengthening to our society.
"Marijuana is addictive; it is an addictive substance," Dr Meili said during questions about cannabis legalization.
He stressed that cannabis was like alcohol and people can struggle from addiction to it and funds from its sales should go to mental health and addiction services.
"We need to be cautious about normalization of use...we need to be very cautious how we respond to use," he said.
Dr Meili said there were concerns raised about the need for consultations and the lottery which was used to select the lucky recipients of retail licenses.
He declined to comment when asked about how unless changes are made to what Executive Committee has decided, a licensed cannabis retailer would be legally able to set up right next door to the youth centre Joe's Place.
He did speak out about the need for "overall consistency, safety and the need make sure cannabis is not going to young people."
Regarding crystal meth, when he was informed it was a serious concern in Moose Jaw, Dr Meili spoke about its effects in other centres.
"Crystal Meth is a terror on our society," he said before once again emphasizing the need for more resources for mental health and addictions.
About the overall response to his summer tour Meili said it has been good.
"It's been really good everywhere we go in the province people are looking for a change."
Regarding rural Saskatchewan, Meili said "the Sask Party has lost the benefit of the doubt they had for so long. There is a growing sense rural Saskatchewan has been taken for granted."