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Question Period
(5 November 2015)

From Hansard - 5 November 2015

To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 26:45.

Highway Repair

Mr. Broten: — Eight years ago, 600 kilometres of highway were paved, graded, twinned, or resurfaced in our province. But with just one exception, the number has been considerably lower every year since then. This year the Sask Party government did 20 per cent less roadwork. A simple question to the Premier: why?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Mr. Speaker, in the absence of the Premier, I’m happy to take that question on behalf of the government. Mr. Speaker, I’m proud of the record that our government has when it comes to infrastructure investment in our province. In the last eight years, we have invested $5.2 billion in highways, which is $1 billion more in eight years than the last 16 years of the NDP government, Mr. Speaker.

There is obviously more work to be done. Particularly the last few years, we’ve had some extreme weather which has caused failures across the province, Mr. Speaker, and we are doing our best to keep up to that. But, Mr. Speaker, overall I am very proud of the investment that we are making, and we are planning for the future, Mr. Speaker, which is something that the NDP never did.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, it’s not that this government isn’t paying more. They’re definitely paying a lot more. In fact, Mr. Speaker, highway spending jumped by 80 per cent. But actual roadwork, actual roadwork dropped by 20 per cent. So the question, Mr. Speaker, for the Premier is this: why is the Sask Party government paying more but paving way less?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Mr. Speaker, again I’m happy to take that question on behalf of the Premier in his absence. Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of the investment that we’re making in our highway system across this province, Mr. Speaker. As I said, we are building for the future. It’s not just crack filling and pothole filling which . . . obviously we have to do a lot of that, Mr. Speaker, but we are building for the next generation, whether it’s interchanges or passing lanes or the bypass, Mr. Speaker.

There are huge projects. Our budget last year was $842 million, which is record investment in highways in our province, Mr. Speaker. Obviously there’s inflationary pressures when it comes to any kind of project in our province, Mr. Speaker, but again, very proud of the record that we have.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, here’s the thing. They are paying way more but they are paving way less. Mr. Speaker, these are the government’s very own numbers, so you would think they would have a better explanation than what we just heard from the member opposite. A $180 million increase, $180 million increase in Highways spending compared to eight years ago, but 120 fewer kilometres were paved this year.

And Saskatchewan people see it, Mr. Speaker. We see it with those red triangles all over the province, and we certainly feel it when we drive up and down the highways throughout Saskatchewan. So again to the Premier, Mr. Speaker. The $180 million increase in Highways spending didn’t lead to more paving. They’ve actually paved 20 per cent less. So where exactly did all the money go?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Well, Mr. Speaker, I can give you an example of where that money went. If we look at northern roads, Mr. Speaker, we’ve had a 40 per cent increase in infrastructure investment in the North, including a $15 million project for a Stony Rapids airport which is incredibly important to the folks in the North, Mr. Speaker. That’s just one example.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, they’re paying way more but they’re paving way less. The government’s very own numbers show this: $180 million more, 120 fewer kilometres. That is what this government’s numbers clearly show.

And do you know what’s changed during that time, Mr. Speaker? What has changed is that the Sask Party government has gutted the Highways ministry and then jacked up spending on highways consultants by 400 per cent — 400 per cent. Will the Premier admit that those reckless decisions are one of the main reasons why the Sask Party government is paying way more but paving way less?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think one of the things that the member asking the question needs to understand is that it’s the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure. It’s not just highways that we’re responsible for, Mr. Speaker. As an example, culvert replacement across this province, we’ve increased that by 2,000 per cent over what the NDP did, Mr. Speaker. There is more than paving. We are making investments in paving, Mr. Speaker. There’s bridges. There’s culverts. There’s passing lanes. There is major construction, Mr. Speaker. It is Highways and Infrastructure.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, it is clear in the government’s very own numbers that they are paving fewer kilometres than they were before, Mr. Speaker, but they are spending way more. The numbers from the government clearly show that, time and time again. Mr. Minister, at the same time as we have seen Highways spending skyrocket and actual roadwork plummet, we’ve seen the Sask Party government get rid of about 350 road building and engineering staff within government — around 350. Meanwhile, spending on highways consultants has gone up by a whopping 400 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, this is the Sask Party government’s approach to highways here in Saskatchewan. Get rid of highways workers and waste huge sums of money on consultants instead, and then they pay way more and they pave way less. And we, Mr. Speaker, the people of Saskatchewan are left to pay the price for that. How can the Premier, how can the Premier possibly justify the 400 per cent increase in highways consultants and the 20 per cent decrease in actual roadwork being done on our roads?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Mr. Speaker, again it is the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure. We have increased culvert projects by over 2,000 per cent. And when it comes to consultants, Mr. Speaker, we are doing bigger projects, more specialized projects. And I would point out just this April the actual Highways critic, the member for Athabasca, said, and I quote:

. . . I agree, you do need specialized services. And we don’t need five or six individuals sitting in the Highways ministry that are going to be used once every two or three years. I agree with that, that if there is an instance where, where you’re able to look out and find some private firms that can do . . . [that kind] of the speciality work that is required, so be it.

Mr. Speaker, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are hiring consultants to work on specialized projects — bypass, passing lanes, interchanges, those sorts of things, Mr. Speaker. But when it comes to paving in this province, the members opposite have to understand that the budget in the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure includes infrastructure, Mr. Speaker. Culverts, bridges.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, it’s clear with this government’s record. They have cut hundreds of staff within Highways, Mr. Speaker. They have hugely increased the use of consultants. They are paying way more, Mr. Speaker, and they are paving way less here in Saskatchewan. So a simple question, Mr. Speaker, to the minister: would she agree, would the minister agree that they have cut roadwork by 20 per cent? Yes or no?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Mr. Speaker, what I can tell the members opposite is when it comes to bridge and culvert repair — which again, Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure — is up 381 per cent funding levels from what the NDP did, Mr. Speaker. When we look across the province there was an infrastructure deficit, whether it’s schools or hospitals or highways. That includes bridges and culverts and the other responsibilities that are within the Ministry of Highways. But when it comes to building, Mr. Speaker, we have spent $17 million on Highway 10 passing lanes and I think anybody who has travelled that highway fully understands the necessity of that. In partnership with the federal government, we are twinning Highway 7. Again in partnership with the federal government, we are twinning parts of Highway 16 and we are working on twinning of Highway 39 between Estevan and Bienfait, Mr. Speaker. We are building in this province.

Mr. Broten: — Mr. Speaker, the government’s numbers show that they’re paving 120 fewer kilometres than eight years ago. Does the minister agree with that? Yes or no?

Hon. Ms. Heppner: — Mr. Speaker, as I pointed out, within the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure there are projects across this province. Paving is one of those things, Mr. Speaker. We take care of 17 airports across the province, I believe almost all of them in the North, Mr. Speaker. We are making investments in our airports in the North. We are building passing lanes. We are twinning across this province, Mr. Speaker. We are planning for interchanges and planning . . . The work for the bypass has already started, Mr. Speaker. Yes, there is paving work to be done, but there’s also infrastructure projects across this province that we are responsible for.

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