Mandryk: Better SUMA relationship would help Moe government to connect
In fairness to the Saskatchewan Party government, it wouldn’t be the first to give short shrift to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.
Somehow, SUMA sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. So do its concerns, which is not only a problem for SUMA and the people it serves, but, ultimately, for the current government as well.
But it really doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, at a time when this government administration is becoming increasingly isolated and insular, listening to SUMA’s concerns might be helpful.
For example, there has been a lot of talk of late of people from elsewhere in the country deciding to relocate to “rural Saskatchewan” because of its cheaper housing.
This is a good story coming out of COVID — for both the province and the Sask. Party government — that is gaining a bit of nationwide attention. However, it is not a “rural Saskatchewan” story, per se.
SUMA president Randy Goulden pointed out there’s a high likelihood anyone relocating here isn’t, technically, moving to rural Saskatchewan. Far more likely, they are moving to one of the villages, resort communities, towns or cities that SUMA represents.
“Eighty per cent of the people who live in Saskatchewan live in (these communities) we represent,” Goulden said in a recent interview.
As such, the issues of those either moving to the province or those living here — infrastructure like sewer, water, roads, hospitals, schools, policing and cell and Internet service critical to making “rural Saskatchewan” a modern-day alternative to live and do business — are all SUMA issues, Goulden said.
And it would likely be helpful to the government to see the province’s foremost municipal organization as a partner capable of helping it find solutions to the “meat and potato issues” Saskatchewan faces.
“We need a seat at the table,” Goulden said.
SUMA balks when asked if part of the problem may be a Sask. Party government that tends to favour the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).
The connection between rural MLAs who farm and SARM — beginning with Agriculture Minister David Marit, a former SARM president — run deep. All such Sask. Party cabinet ministers received a rousing welcome at the most recent SARM convention.
There is an indisputable philosophical bond between the rural reeves and councillors and the Sask. Party government — especially when it comes to federal government loathing over issues like carbon tax, gun registration, agriculture support and most anything else Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is thought to represent.
By contrast, SUMA has often taken a slightly wider perspective and leans heavily into what Goulden describes as its non-partisan nature.
She emphasized her organization’s approach, suggesting it is SUMA’s mandate to work with all levels of government and all parties, which would include the current NDP opposition.
And she rightly points out that SARM is SUMA’s partner in municipal affairs that shares many of the same issues like roads, hospitals, schools, policing and internet service.
“We’ve worked well together, but there’s room for improvement,” Goulden said.
However, Goulden does acknowledge hers is an organization that seems somewhat caught in the middle. It’s sometimes caught between its own municipal members and the constituents they represent.
It’s caught as a stakeholder reliant on provincial government funding and an organization that actually should be working in partnership with the province in the delivery of many services.
And it’s certainly often caught in the politics — especially, given that it occasionally partners directly with the federal government now at loggerheads with the provincial government on all too many matters.
But as such, one might think SUMA would be well-positioned to aid this provincial government in recognizing the need for a broader approach that would benefit not only municipalities, but also this Sask. Party administration.
“We know we need to do more,” Goulden said.
This seems like an opportunity for everyone.
Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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