Back from the 2022 SUMA Convention, Humboldt Mayor Michael Behiel reflected on some of the key concerns and elements encountered at the meetings. Behiel has been an outspoken proponent for the need to shore up mental health services and assist those who are marginalized in his community. It turns out it’s a concern among many mayors and councils. 

“It’s always great to network with some of the other mayors and councils and find out that we’re on the same page and dealing with the same issues,” said Behiel. “But on the same note, there’s that frustration when we try to deal with the problems and we keep getting hit with the stone walls that we’re always experiencing.”

The key issue, as Behiel expanded on in his media scrum, continues to be mental health, addictions and homelessness. Behiel says that issue was reflected in about 90 percent of questions and concerns expressed by other councils and mayors. Behiel is especially critical of the “lone gun” and ad hoc approach that communities are seemingly being asked to take. It’s a concern he brought up during the bearpit session with members of the provincial cabinet on hand. 

“You’re having everybody go at this on their own. I said that every time I try to deal with something, the phone gets slammed down on me. The community-based organizations are coming the same way trying to say what’s working and not working, but they’re all fragmented and trying to do this separately.”

Behiel asked for the formation of a task force to coordinate government and community efforts. He suggested a collective of the working group from SUMA, representatives from community based organizations and decision makers from the government. 

“We have a lot of data available to us,” notes Behiel. “This way we could restructure our plan to start making differences and being effective.”

Behiel was met with the government’s assertion that progress was being made and that there was no need for further organization of community based and municipal based interests. 

Another hot topic was the health care system, both in the context of COVID impact, but also addressing the ongoing erosion of rural services. Nowhere is the situation more evident than in Lanigan where Mayor Tony Mycock recently attended a legislative session to plead the case for restoring the town’s hospital. Behiel referenced the crisis being faced by nurses, a reality echoed by Tracy Zambory, head of the Saskatchewan Nurses Union, who revealed a recent survey that painted the situation in specific relief.

“We’re recognizing that we can’t provide critical care services in most of our areas. They talked about ambulance waiting times, and it’s pretty scary when you hear some of it.”

The government responded with its current agenda of bolstering recruitment and attempting to provide for more seats in post-secondary. Behiel says that SUMA representatives pushed the government representatives one step further.

“Why are you not going into K-12 schools now, approaching grade 10,11 and 12 students, giving them that these are the areas we need people in and giving them incentives, whether it's a portion of student loans paid back or a grant.” Those incentives, he noted, would be dependent on rural residency for a defined period of time. It’s a situation similar to the Graduate Retention Program, but targeted to the health care sector. 

However, training programs are looking to prospects in a few years, and they do little to fix burn-out and acute shortages in the here and now, Behiel cautions.

One positive take away from SUMA for Behiel was the efforts of the province to support the plight of Ukrainian refugees. 

“We’ve got people in Germany working with refugees trying to streamline the processes to get them over here, making sure they’ve got assistance where they need it, and doing whatever they can to help them.”

Behiel praised the efforts of Premier Scott Moe, on the Premier’s return from his trade mission to Germany, to activate agencies that would allow refugees to enter as temporary visitors.