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Good Economic News Amidst the COVID Gloom

by Murray Mandryk

It was another bad week for COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, but things may be looking up on a couple economic fronts. Things actually may even be looking up on the COVID-19 front as well, although no one — including the Saskatchewan Party government — seems to know for certain.

The good COVID-19 news is vaccinations in Saskatchewan surpassed 400,000 shots last week. Premier Scott Moe is right: Vaccines are only our best chance to get out of this pandemic mess.
The less-than-good-news, however, is Regina ICUs remain full and the new variants are spreading to Saskatoon and throughout Southern Saskatchewan.

To their credit, Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman, delivered a stronger message to anti-mask, anti-lockdown rallies in the cities and in smaller centres like Maple Creek, stating that any such gatherings break public health orders and slow down our ability to get through this pandemic, but how he can more quickly get through all in of this as we administer the first shot to everyone during the coming months continues to be a huge source of debate and contention.

While both Merriman and Moe have scolded the more outlandish behaviour of the anti-mask crowd — including their picketing of the Regina General Hospital where people were fighting for their lives — they seem reluctant to advocate more policing and seem unwilling introduce harsher fines for those breaking public health orders.

It’s hard not to suspect that this is because the government fears the backlash of the extreme right … or maybe even a few more moderates who share the frustration over lockdowns. Similarly, the Sask. Party government’s hesitance to impose provincewide restrictions on bars, restaurants and school openings even places like Saskatoon that recently surpassed Regina in the daily COVID-19 case count.

If it is the government’s argument that the strategy is actually working in Regina where government public health officers declared it was safe to re-open schools this week to in-class learning, why wouldn’t the same metrics be applied to Saskatoon?

It remains a bit of mystery as to what those metrics are. Asked last week what level of daily cases or percentage of people vaccinated in the province it would take to one day re-open Saskatchewan, Moe was shy on specifics. One gets the distinct impression that the Saskatchewan Premier would surely love to be talking about most anything else. Who could blame him? Few if any, Saskatchewan leaders have had to deal with an issue of such sustained pressured.

The good news for Moe is that, recently, there have been some other positive things to talk about.
Accompanying COVID-19 has been a loss of jobs partly due to the drastic fall in oil, but agriculture has remained steady. That industry has recently been awarded with some positive announcements.

Viterra unveiled a proposal for the world’s largest canola crushing facility to be built in Regina. It’s plan for a 2.5 million tonnes processing facility followed an announcement by Cargill for a similar $350-million canola crushing plant, also proposed for Regina, capable of processing one million tonnes a year. These announcements follow the March news by Richardson International Ltd. that it was doubling its canola crushing capacity in Yorkton to 2.2 tonnes per year.

Toss in the opening of the $32-million North American Helium Inc. plant near Battle Creek in the province’s southwest corner and there is suddenly a smattering of good news amidst all the COVID-19 gloom and doom.

While the Sask. Party government does sit on a comfortable majority in the legislature, it is clear that its popularity has taken a beating since the October election. It needs to get back on track and the same can be said for an entire province also bogged down in this pandemic. At this point, we’ll all take any good news we can get.

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