REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is looking at changing how health care and education are run in a bid to improve service and save money.
Premier Brad Wall said everything will be on the table as the province considers some major changes to better deliver programs more efficiently.
“One, improve service, good service, quality service for Saskatchewan taxpayers, but also the cost piece, perhaps delivering them in a more efficient way,” Wall said Tuesday.
“Do we have the right number of health regions? Do we have the right governance ratio even in education? What about the structure of post-secondary education?”
Wall said that could mean looking at one super-sized health region, similar to the model in Alberta.
There are 12 health regions in Saskatchewan, plus the Athabasca Health Authority in the far north, which is not a regional health authority.
The “government-wide exercise of transformational change” was mentioned in the throne speech delivered Tuesday. The speech talks about reducing health region administration costs by $7.5 million a year and redirecting that money to front-line seniors’ care.
The premier said the government wants to spend the next year talking with stakeholders and to not expect specific changes in the June 1 budget
Wall said he’ll also urge urban and rural municipalities to look at their numbers, but he won’t force change.
“We won’t be coming with a stick, rather a carrot in this case.”
Carmen Sterling, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said it’s a good thing to make sure that services are being provided in an efficient way.
There are currently 296 rural municipalities. Sterling said there have been amalgamations over the years, but such decisions should be made locally.
“I think there’s a difference between asked and being told, so I think we would need to hear more detail as to what that proposal might look at,” she said.
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said nurses favour transformation and want to be involved in the process.
“Registered nurses are the largest part of the health care system,” she said. “We’re 12,000 strong and we need to have that voice of patient safety.”
The rest of the throne speech largely reiterates promises made by the Saskatchewan Party during the recent election campaign, including $70 million over three years to fix highways and allowing seniors with household incomes under $70,000 to defer the education part of their property taxes.
Opposition NDP Leader Trent Wotherspoon wanted to see more.
“It’s a lot of small items, or actually not even that many small items, and I think represents small thinking at a time where we should be working to build a bright future for Saskatchewan people,” he said.
Wotherspoon also criticized the fact that it will be nearly two months after the April 4 election before a budget is tabled.
The speech also outlines plans for an all-party legislative committee to look at ways to increase Saskatchewan’s “dubious record” on organ donations.
One option could be where people would have to opt out of being an organ donor.
“For whatever reason, we are, as a population not as engaged in organ donations as we, I think, could be,” said Wall.
Here are some highlights from the Throne Speech:
- Changing Crown protection legislation so that 40 government-owned liquor stores can be sold and 12 new private stores created.
- $70 million more over three years for fixing highways.
- An all-party legislative committee will be asked to look at ways to increase the rate of organ donations.
- The upcoming budget will mark the beginning of a government-wide exercise of transformational change to improve service and save money.
- A new tax incentive for businesses who come up with patents for new products that create jobs and investment.
- Allowing seniors with household incomes under $70,000 to defer the education part of their property taxes.
- Expanding a robotics telemedicine pilot program that lets doctors connect with a patient remotely in the north.
- Extending leave to 28 weeks from eight for people caring for family members near the end of their lives.