Rural crime and health dominated the question and answer “bear pit” session at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention.
Cabinet ministers and the premier were made available to answer questions from RM councillors from across the province who had a variety of concerns. But most of the questions were focused on the two main areas of crime and health.
“Premier, we need trespassing laws changed in this province,” said Arlynn Kurtz from the RM of Fertile Belt near Stockholm, Sask.
“If we have that kind of a law in place as I believe some of our neighbours do, maybe we can put some teeth into it and charge people for trespassing being where they’re not supposed to be.”
Justice Minister Don Morgan said they’d be open for discussion on balancing the rights of the public; what’s a reasonable expectation of a potential trespasser versus those of a homeowner.
“Not castle laws, not stand your ground, nothing like that. We’re talking about getting consent to enter people’s property,” he said.
Other delegates asked about policing levels, comparing levels on a per capita basis in cities to what is currently in place in rural areas. Some suggested the difference is significant.
Premier Scott Moe said he realizes rural crime is an area that has to be addressed in some form.
“We have some work to do here. I acknowledge that and some of it will be on the enforcement side. Do we need to add investment dollars to that enforcement side?” he asked.
Both Moe and Morgan floated the potential idea of establishing a regional policing model for certain areas.
Healthcare issues brought up
Aside from crime, numerous questions surfaced regarding healthcare in rural areas.
“I’ve been working in rural hospitals for the past 15 years and I have seen a decline in morale. I’ve seen a decline in our staffing,” said Shelley Quist, a combined lab and X-ray technician from Wynyard.
“We’re burning out because of the fact that we work all day and then in the evenings we’re on call.”
Another question from the floor had to do with the possibility of expanding the use and scope of advanced care paramedics, who some councillors suggested could offer emergency services in rural areas where doctors can’t necessarily get to as easily.
Premier Moe said simply having these sorts of talks and getting these issues out in an engaging way is what is needed.
Discussions will be ongoing, and he said further investments are possible, but part of the solution also lies in potentially doing business differently while also having it be uniform across the province.