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Throne Speech Debate
(3 November 2014)

From Hansard - 3 November 2014

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Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s an honour to rise this evening to speak to the Throne Speech and some of the things that our government is doing. But first I, like most of my colleagues, would like to thank a few people who make our jobs possible. To my constituency assistant, Whitney Friesen, who I’ve talked about many times before in this House, I want to say thank you. I’m not back home very much, and he takes care of things while I’m gone. And I really appreciate all the work that he’s done over his 21 years of service to the people of this province.

To the staff of my minister’s office, to Cole, Adam, Annie, and David, I’ve been so very blessed. Regardless of the portfolio I had, I’ve had amazing staff in my minister’s offices. And this one is no exception, and I want to thank them for all the work that they do.

Mr. Speaker, and to my family. My family, through a series of circumstances, has become a little bit larger lately. And so I wanted to thank Jasmine, Sharmaine, Dylan, Ben, Adrienne, Lyle, and Anaisa for all that they’ve done to help me out, for all of their support, and more importantly than that, Mr. Speaker, for all of their understanding for me being gone so much and that they’ve spent the last several months taking care of each other as well as taking care of me. So I want to thank them.

And I do want to thank my deputy minister, Nithi, and the staff in the Highways ministry for their patience over the last several months as they’ve taught another Highways minister the ropes and had patience as I learn my way around.

And, Mr. Speaker, I’d also like to thank a very good friend of mine. He has a vast history and experience with highways in Saskatchewan, both under this government and the previous administration. And he spent a lot of time this weekend . . . I asked him if he had some stories for me and he did. And so he spent a lot of time out on the weekend sending me some information, and I told him I was going to thank him publicly. And he didn’t want any kind of public recognition, so I’m just going to call him George. So to George, I want to say thank you for all of your help, helping me put this speech together over the weekend, and I hope I do justice to the information that you’ve given me. And I’ll get to some of that in a few minutes.

I’d also like to thank the people of the Martensville constituency for seven and a half years of support from the constituency. My constituency has changed a lot, even the last seven years. It’s growing a lot. Martensville and Warman remain some of the fastest growing communities in our entire province. And it’s so exciting; it seems like every weekend when I go home there’s something new being built, whether it’s new houses or new commercial developments, new rec centres. There’s a lot going on. And I’m very thankful for the support of this government in recognizing that growth and the commitment to joint-use schools in both Warman and Martensville. The other communities I represent are growing as well, Mr. Speaker, and it’s exciting to see.

Good things are happening. My constituency will be changing again. After the next election, the boundaries change because of the massive population growth. I’ll be losing four of my communities and two of my RMs [rural municipality]. I know I still have some time left with these folks, but to the mayors and reeves of the communities that I’m losing, I want to say thank you for all of your support and help over the last seven and a half years.

I had mentioned in one of my last speeches in this House — it was before I was named Highways minister; I think it was to the great surprise of the then Highways minister — that I didn’t really have any highways issues in my constituency. Because I really don’t. Mr. Speaker, I recall when I was in opposition I wrote to the then Highways minister, the member for Athabasca. My highways were not in great shape in 2007, and so I sent him a letter and I asked him to come out to my constituency to drive some of those roads with me. And guess what, Mr. Speaker? No surprise. He didn’t show up.

And, Mr. Speaker, the difference between our government and theirs is we’re not talking about highways, we’re actually fixing them. Connecting Warman and Martensville is Highway 305. It’s the main road that connects those two communities, and if you count the population in Warman and Martensville and the outlying areas, there’s probably getting close to about 20,000 people. And 305 is this windy little goat path that goes from one community to the next. There’s no shoulders, and the edges of the highways were all crumbling.

And, Mr. Speaker, we have recently invested $22 million to move 305 north, $22 million . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . The Finance minister is having a bit of a meltdown. Twenty-two million dollars to move 305 farther north and completely rebuild it so that these two booming communities have a safe form of transportation between the two of them. And, Mr. Speaker, 305 is also facilitating access to a very large commercial development on the north end of Warman.

Another road that was in serious disrepair when I was first elected was the access road off of Highway 16 into the community of Dalmeny. I had talked to many people over the years, folks who were interested in moving to Dalmeny who actually, after driving the road into Dalmeny to go look at houses, decided they didn’t want to move there because the road was so bad. And, Mr. Speaker, over the last couple of years we’ve invested $20 million in completely rebuilding that road so the people there have a safe road in and out of their community, and it will also facilitate growth in the community of Dalmeny. Mr. Speaker, improvements aren’t just in my constituency. We see them across the province.

I do want to talk for a minute about the member for Cut Knife-Turtleford who is . . . This spring the Premier appointed him my Legislative Secretary with a focus on TMS [thin membrane surface] roads. And, Mr. Speaker, he has done a phenomenal job. I know that he won’t brag about himself, he’s not that kind of guy, but I’m happy to do it for him. Mr. Speaker, he spent the summer driving 14 000 kilometres on our highway system to check out for himself the state of our highways in Saskatchewan, and I want to publicly thank him for all the work that he’s done on behalf of the people of this province.

Mr. Speaker, he connected with RMs, with area transportation committees, with road crews, to get their opinions on what their priorities are. We have contacted all rural MLAs in this Chamber. I sent letters to the members for Athabasca and Cumberland as well to get their input, and I want to thank all of those MLAs for getting back to me with their input and responses. It will certainly help as we set our priorities going forward.

And, Mr. Speaker, we know that there is a lot of work to do in this province. We have invested a record amount of money into highways since coming into office in 2007. And there still is a lot of work to do, Mr. Speaker, partly because of the state of the highways that the NDP left behind.

Between 1991 and 2007, the NDP reverted 910 kilometres of TMS highway back to gravel. And, Mr. Speaker, under our administration we have a pilot project to turn TMS into super grids, which actually serve the people of this province better. The NDP didn’t do that; they didn’t turn these into super grids. They just shaved the pavement off, threw some gravel on and said, there’s your road — almost 1000 kilometres of TMS highway across this province, Mr. Speaker. And the reversions were necessary because the roads were so bad and they didn’t want to invest in those roads. And, Mr. Speaker, their attitude is so evident back then and I’m pretty sure it’s probably just as evident today.

In 2007, when they were participating in a reversion back to gravel, Dwain Lingenfelter — and I know folks opposite don’t want to talk about Mr. Lingenfelter very much — but he said, and I quote, “I don’t see anything wrong with taxpayers fixing their own roads. This is what community building is all about.” Community building — taking a bucket of gravel and going out to your road to fill a pothole. That’s their definition of community building. I’m glad we’ve moved on from those dark days, Mr. Speaker, because that’s pretty pathetic.

Because, Mr. Speaker, under the NDP, the roads in this province fell apart because of sheer neglect. We see now our roads falling apart — and I will be the first to admit that we have roads that need some help — but, Mr. Speaker, they’re falling apart now because of increased traffic on our roads and the fact that we have so many more trucks on our highways, beating those highways because of the increased economic activity in our province. And, Mr. Speaker, while there is still work to do, I guess I am glad that the work that needs to be done is because our province is doing well, not because we are ignoring our highway system.

Mr. Speaker, as I said, improvements are happening across the province. In the constituency of Cumberland alone, they have seen a 75 per cent increase in highway spending in our first seven years as opposed to the NDP’s last seven years. So I know that the two northern members like to stand and, either in committee or in the House — when they get a chance to get up on their feet in the House because question period’s kind of taken over by two other individuals here — but when they do get a chance, they like to talk about northern Saskatchewan, Mr. Speaker. And we are investing in northern Saskatchewan.

On Highway 123, when I wrote to the opposition members, the northern opposition members asking for their priority list, the member for Cumberland had mentioned 123. Mr. Speaker, we’ve invested over $2 million on 123. And this is a letter from the mayor of Cumberland House, and I’ll quote:

We applaud your hard work and dedication that has kept the community safe during travels on these highways. We express our deep appreciation for the work that you are doing to maintain Highway 123 this winter season.

Mr. Speaker, we are investing across our province. Overall highway spending is up 80 per cent in our first seven years compared to the NDP’s last seven years.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Athabasca, who is the Highways critic, will say that they had no money for roads. We heard that, I believe, last week in response to a colleague’s speech. He’ll sit there and complain they didn’t have any money for roads, so how could we possibly expect them to have fixed anything? But, Mr. Speaker, in the very next breath he will tell us that they left us $2 billion and we’re not supposed to mess it up. I’m pretty sure that’s what . . . which is what he said. They left us $2 billion. Actually I believe what he said is billions in the bank is what the NDP left us when we took office. Mr. Speaker, it obviously can’t be both.

But if they had all that money, why didn’t they do something with it? Instead of building schools, they were closing them. Instead building hospitals, they were closing them. Instead of fixing our highways, they just let them fall into complete disrepair. So, Mr. Speaker, he can’t have it both ways. If they had all this money, they should’ve been doing something.

But, Mr. Speaker, we understand that the NDP have a very hard time accepting blame for anything that they did or did not do in their time in office. They don’t like talking about their history very much. But what is even more shocking to me than them not accepting blame, Mr. Speaker, is taking credit for things that they actually never did do.

I have been told that in 2011 when there were repairs going on on Highway 155, the member for Athabasca had stopped by, talked to some road crews. Guess what he said? That 155 in the year 2011 was getting fixed because he was Highways minister in 2007. And he stood there and took credit for the repair of the highway, Mr. Speaker. They didn’t do it; we did.

Mr. Speaker, we know why the NDP didn’t fix highways. Their history shows that they completely abdicated rural Saskatchewan. And where are our highways, Mr. Speaker? In rural Saskatchewan. There was no political upside for them to fix those highways. They didn’t get votes out there and, Mr. Speaker, it was just one more thing to rural Saskatchewan, the NDP government completely ignoring the needs in those communities.

Mr. Speaker, I know that in the last couple years the CAA [Canadian Automobile Association] worst road list has been released and, Mr. Speaker, I have to say it’s not actually necessarily a bad thing when those lists come out, for a few reasons. It reinforces what we’ve said all along that roads do need to fixed, Mr. Speaker, but as I’ve said, the difference is that under the NDP those repairs were necessary due to complete neglect. It also keeps us accountable, and there’s nothing wrong with a government being held accountable. And, Mr. Speaker, it allows taxpayers’ voices to be heard.

And I will point out, Mr. Speaker, to the members opposite — because they ignored a lot of roads along the way when they were in government — the 2012 CAA worst road list, there’s a top 10. One of them’s an RM road, so I’ll take that one out of the mix. So of the top nine, we have fixed seven of them, Mr. Speaker, in two years. The 2013 CAA worst road list, we have fixed a majority of those in just a year, Mr. Speaker, so we are paying attention to the people of this province and fixing the roads that they view as a priority.

And, Mr. Speaker, I have so many examples of roads that the NDP completely ignored. It’s interesting. I guess kind of the joy of the Internet, things never really disappear. You can always go find things.

But I have pictures that the fine people who lived around and had to drive on Highway 368 to St. Brieux had put up over the years. There’s a whole lot of different descriptors for what NDP stands for: now destroying the province, new democratic potholes, and a few others that I can’t say because there’s some unparliamentary language in there, Mr. Speaker. And I’m told that prior to 2007, the good people of Lake Lenore and St. Brieux actually had outhouses put up on either side of the highway, spray-painted NDP toll road on them, Mr. Speaker, because the road was so bad. And I can say that those toll booths are no longer there. We have invested almost $27 million improving 36 kilometres of highway in that area, Mr. Speaker.

In 2006 there was a website set up having to do with Highway 32, and you can still check it out. It’s still online. And I just want to read some of the quotes that I found on that website.

Government’s lack of funding to build and maintain this highway is just another example of the rural people being shafted. Where are our tax dollars going? What about all the revenue the province collects from the oil and gas royalties coming from the Southwest? Why are rural people always treated like ‘third’ class citizens?

And, Mr. Speaker, again that was from 2006. And another quote: “I agree this highway is a nightmare and to be avoided at all costs. What a shame and how embarrassing.”

And, Mr. Speaker, the quotes and the things that people were writing on that website ended in 2009, and do you know why? Because we fixed the road. We invested almost $48 million and improved 128 kilometres of highway on Highway 32. And the end result, Mr. Speaker, were headlines in local newspapers: “Highway 32 back in business;” “From goat trail to a highway;” “Highway 32, from travesty to legacy.” Mr. Speaker, I will say this again, there is still a lot of work to do but there was so much catching up to do when we took over in 2007.

Mr. Speaker, I anticipate getting a few questions from the NDP Highways critic, the member for Athabasca in this session, but in the meantime I have a couple of questions for him mainly about what roads does he drive when he goes home. Because there’s a few roads that he can take, whether it’s 155, where we’ve invested $115 million; Highway 155, where we’ve invested $14 million; Highway 4, which has been rebuilt, the Glaslyn, Meadow Lake, Buffalo Narrows area. And I just talked to the MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] for Meadow Lake, and he confirms that that’s a pretty nice road now compared to what it used to be. Mr. Speaker, there’s more work to do. Or does he fly out of Buffalo Narrows airport which, Mr. Speaker, the resurfacing of that airport is in our fall tender plan for this year. So the roads that he drives we are fixing as well, Mr. Speaker.

And we know, Mr. Speaker, that highways were not a priority when the NDP were in government, and it has become painfully obvious that they are not a priority when they’re in opposition either, Mr. Speaker. I would point out that the day before the Throne Speech was read, the NDP released out of their communications department, “NDP lays out Throne Speech must-haves,” a list of 25 top priorities for the NDP that were must-haves to be seen in the Throne Speech. You know what’s not in here, Mr. Speaker? Not one mention of highways, Not a word. Not a reference. In the top 25, nothing on highways. Not a priority in government, Mr. Speaker, obviously not a priority in opposition.

And, Mr. Speaker, it’s not even just the press release that they sent out before the Throne Speech. On March 18th of this year right before the budget, they sent out another must-have list. Apparently in March there was only seven things that they wanted. Now there’s 25. And in March, their seven must-haves for the budget, highways wasn’t mentioned. Not once. Not once at budget time, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition Leader’s leadership platform in 2013, again highways not mentioned. Mr. Speaker, I don’t think they have any credibility on this issue, not just because of their history when it comes to highways, Mr. Speaker, but because they’re not making it a priority today either.

Mr. Speaker, we are not only just keeping up with repairs and maintenance, but we’re building for the future. And I have a long list of major projects that we’re undertaking in this province, Mr. Speaker. There’s passing lanes on Highways 7 and 10, the new bridge at St. Louis that just opened a couple weeks ago, twinning projects on Highways 16 and 7. There’s design work under way for overpasses in Warman and Martensville, for which I’m quite thankful. There’s planning work under way for the perimeter highway around Saskatoon. There’s a Regina bypass, which is the biggest infrastructure project of our province’s history, Mr. Speaker. We provided funding for a new commuter bridge in Saskatoon, and the Premier recently committed to help fund the second bridge in Prince Albert.

And I do have to point out, Mr. Speaker, it’s pretty interesting, the member for Athabasca and his different viewpoints when it comes to the P3 project in Saskatoon versus Prince Albert. When we announced one in Saskatoon, the member for Athabasca said, and I quote, “Saskatoon needs a bridge . . . It’s good for the economy so we’ve got to take advantage of it.” Fully supportive apparently of that bridge but, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to exactly the same funding proposal for the second bridge in Prince Albert, the member for Athabasca said recently in a radio interview, and I quote, “That’s really a cop-out.”

So it’s perfectly fine. He’s supportive when we take this approach in Saskatoon, but he’s not at all supportive of the same approach in Prince Albert, Mr. Speaker. And I’m sure the people of that city will be interested to know that the NDP don’t support a new bridge for Prince Albert funded under exactly the same model as the bridge for Saskatoon.

Mr. Speaker, also outlined in the Throne Speech is an innovative proposal that we received from SARM, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. I thought I’d spell out that acronym for the members opposite because they’re not probably familiar with what SARM is. And, Mr. Speaker, it’s to use Building Canada Fund money to help build rural RM roads that are servicing the resource industry, Mr. Speaker. And we look forward to continuing to work with SARM to examine that proposal.

Mr. Speaker, we are doing all of these things — all of the maintenance, all the repairs, all of these large projects that I have outlined — and, Mr. Speaker, we are doing it all within a balanced budget. And we are doing that because we have a plan, the plan for growth that was released by the Premier, and it guides the decisions that we make in government, Mr. Speaker.

But, Mr. Speaker, we didn’t just have plans in government; we had plans in opposition as well. I know that when the Premier was named leader of our party, he came out with a plan for Saskatchewan and the people of this province judge us on that.

Mr. Speaker, the NDP haven’t figured out yet that they need to do more than just simply oppose. That is part of their job. I’ve been in opposition. I understand that the part of what their job is, Mr. Speaker, is to tell the people of this province what they want to do, how they’re going to do it, and what they’re planning on spending for it, Mr. Speaker.

And we have seen absolutely none of that from the NDP over the last seven years. Mr. Speaker, not only are they not ready to govern, they haven’t figured out to be an opposition party. But luckily for them, they’ll have years and years and years to figure out how to do that, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we are seeing unprecedented growth in our province, and we are planning accordingly. We are building new schools, new hospitals, unprecedented money for highways, lower taxes, and programs for those who need our help. And, Mr. Speaker, as I said, all of this within balanced budgets.

Mr. Speaker, for all of these reasons I will be supporting our government’s Throne Speech, and I will not be supporting the opposition’s amendment.

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