Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Roy Romanow: Payback Time for Warnock!

March 14, 2012

Since the middle of 1991 I have certainly been the most vigorous and persistent critic of the decision of the Saskatchewan NDP under Premier Roy Romano to strongly move the party to the right – or the liberal position – and abandon the left and democratic tradition of the previous NDP governments of Tommy Douglas, Woodrow Lloyd and Allan Blakeney. I have written many newspaper articles, magazine articles, presented papers, contributed chapters in books, and jointly published a book with two of my friends which is an overall critique. In fact, at times I thought that I was the only one in the province who thought this was a bad move. No one active within the NDP put forth any public criticism. No federal NDP leader ever came to Saskatchewan and in any way criticized the neoliberal policies being implemented by Romanow and his successor, Lorne Calvert. Now it seems that Roy has finally been able in some way to pay me back.

Saskatchewan model of medicare reform
In 1991 the new NDP government found that the spending programs of Grant Devine’s Conservative government (1982-91) had left the province with a large debt and annual budget deficits. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice argued that the NDP should follow the example of the CCF government of T.C. Douglas. They had paid down a similar debt over 20 years so that they could retain the ability to implement their progressive party platform. Instead, the Romanow government put its first priority on balancing the budget and paying down the debt.

One of the goals of the Romanow government was to reduce the cost of medicare. They chose the liberal road. They closed 52 of 132 hospitals, transforming them into “health centres.” They created 30 health districts, appointed the majority of their boards, and gave them budgets which were set by the provincial government. The districts were forced to shut facilities and contract out services in order to meet the budget cuts set by the provincial government.

With so many rural hospitals closed, people with emergency health problems were forced to travel by ambulance over significant distances to the remaining hospitals. There was the issue of ambulance service. Originally, the Douglas government had paid for ambulance service. Later there were flat user fees charged. The Romnanow government introduced fees by distances covered. It was not unusual for rural residents to have to pay over $700 to take someone to a hospital by ambulance.

The Romanow government called this “the Wellness Model.” It is no surprise that the NDP lost all of its rural ridings. There is a democratic alternative to the liberal model, based on inequality. In 1998 it was advanced by a new political party, the New Green Alliance, which later formally presented it to the Romanow Commission on Health Care.
Regina's Plains Health Centre - Closed!

Changes in Regina
The “Wellness Model” was also instituted in Regina. A private consultant recommended that one hospital be closed, and of course the NDP agreed. They closed the Plains Health Centre, the newest of the three hospitals, built by Allan Blakeney’s NDP government on the southern edge of the city to better serve rural and eastern Saskatchewan. The older two hospitals were to receive some rather expensive upgrading. The key for the Romanow government was that the number of hospital beds in Regina would be reduced from 1200 to 630. They would also move to contract out services. Robins Donuts replaced the on site food services provided by hospital employees.

The Plains hospital was highly regarded. All rooms were private, with large windows looking out at the prairies. Rural communities had contributed to its construction, and they were outraged. The two older hospitals had little room for additional parking space. The Plains was also a teaching centre linked to the University of Saskatchewan schools of medicine and nursing.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Fiacco Steps Down: Will There Be Any Change for Regina?

Act Up in Saskatchewan
March 5, 2012

On Valentine’s Day Mayor Pat Fiacco held a press conference to announce that he was stepping down and would not run in the fall municipal election. A week later he announced that he would be supporting city Councillor Michael Fougere to replace him. Fougere, who has represented Ward 4 for fifteen years, is the president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.

Both Fiacco and Fougere stated that their primary commitment for the future of Regina was the building of a new domed stadium. This is the central focus of Fiacco’s dream for the development of the old CPR yards on Dewdney Ave. The existing stadium, known to the people  as Taylor Field, is located in the North Central inner city area. Mayor Fiacco has proclaimed that the existing stadium would be torn down and the land would be redeveloped with “affordable and market-rate housing.” This latter part of his plan would begin in 2020.
Taylor Field to be Upgraded 2012

The new domed stadium
The new stadium, with a retractable roof, would have seats for 33,000 fans. In the winter the dome would be closed and it would host major events like rock shows. While no serious studies have been completed, two years ago the estimated cost of the stadium was set at $431 million. The Mayor said then that 75% of the cost would come from the private sector. To break even on operating costs, it was estimated that the stadium would have to host around 31 major events each year to be able to turn a profit of $1 million.

Brad Wall’s provincial government announced support for the stadium. However, it has yet to commit any funds. An appeal was made to Stephen Harper for federal money. It was hoped that PPP Canada would come up with 25% of the cost or at least $100 million. However, the Harper government pointed out that PPP Canada does not provide funding for professional sports facilities. Mayor Fiacco has yet to reveal who from the private sector might invest in the project. It is not clear how much will come from Regina taxpayers.

Even among those who support the domed stadium there were early criticisms. The original estimate did not include the cost of acquiring the land from the CPR. The draft released to the public called for the site to have a hotel and another casino; many asked why this was necessary.  It was quickly pointed out that the original plan does not include any parking facilities! Many supporters want any new stadium to be built out of the city, similar to the hockey stadium in Saskatoon, the Credit Union Centre.

Brad Humphreys, a University of Alberta economist who specializes in researching sports facilities, has warned the people of Regina that many stadiums end up losing money. The Skydome in Toronto was a disaster; originally costing over $800 million, it was sold to Rogers Communications a few years ago for $25 million. His research has indicated that there is no evidence to show that building sports stadiums results in any local net increase in income or jobs. It is widely recognized that professional sports are in competition with other businesses in the entertainment industry for peoples’ discretionary spending. They are not productive enterprises.