Mental health, STC closure among issues discussed at U of R candidates forum

Mental health, STC closure among issues discussed at U of R candidates forum

Support for seniors, mental health and transportation for people with disabilities were among the topics discussed during a candidates forum hosted by the University of Regina.

Author of the article:

Mark Melnychuk

Publishing date:

Oct 14, 2020  •   •  3 minute read

The final Regina outbound STC passenger bus leaves the downtown terminal in Regina on May 31, 2017. Photo by TROY FLEECE /Regina Leader-Post

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Support for seniors, mental health and transportation for people with disabilities were among the topics discussed during a candidates forum hosted by the University of Regina’s Lifelong Learning Centre on Wednesday.

The forum took place online over Zoom, and the participants included Naomi Hunter, the Green Party candidate for Regina Elphinstone-Centre, Tina Beaudry-Mellor, the Sask. Party candidate for Regina University and Nicole Sarauer, the NDP candidate for Regina Douglas Park.

The debate touched on the Sask. Party’s decision to dismantle the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) in 2017. The candidates were asked about their parties’ positions on transportation for seniors and people with disabilities, especially in the rural areas of the province.

Beaudry-Mellor defended the Sask. Party’s decision to shut down STC.

“I know that the STC ridership was down significantly, and it was costing us a lot in terms of keeping it alive with respect to subsidies,” said Beaudry-Mellor.

Beaudry-Mellor said the province has tried to support those with disabilities by setting up the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program.

Hunter said STC was “absolutely vital” and since its dismantling, seniors and disabled people have had challenges making it to doctors appointments in cities. Hunter proposed bringing back STC, as well as converting the service to run on clean energy.

Sarauer said the private bus companies that have sprung up have not come close to closing the gap left behind by STC. She said vulnerable populations relied on STC, including women who used it to flee situations of domestic violence.

“STC was never meant to be a major profitable industry. It was a service, and it was a service that was provided because of the province that we live in, because we still have a very largely rural-based population,” said Sarauer.

The candidates were also asked about their parties’ strategies to address youth suicide in the province, especially in First Nations communities.

Sarauer brought up the NDP’s bill calling for the government to put forward a provincial suicide strategy, which was voted down by the Sask. Party. She said that if elected, the NDP would put forward the bill “in very short order.”

Beaudry-Mellor referred to the government’s current suicide prevention plan, Pillars for Life, which she said was made with involvement from northern leaders. She said part of the issue facing young people in the north is a lack of opportunities, which the Sask. Party has tried to address by concentrating on areas where there will be future job opportunities such as coding and robotics.

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Hunter said the province needs a suicide prevention plan with set targets, and said residents she has spoken to in the north were upset with the plan. Hunter said the lack of appropriate legislation to deal with the suicide epidemic is a “kick in the face” to those who have come forward with their stories on the issue.

Hunter said she lost her own brother to suicide, and attended several funerals while growing up in the north for other young men who took their own lives.

“It’s still happening. No one can feel okay with there not being stronger legislation. This is not all right, and I’m prepared to fight for this every day,” said Hunter.

The candidates were also asked whether the parties have a plan to help senior citizens stay in their own homes as they age, and when the province will get an independent advocate for seniors.

Hunter said she would table legislation regarding the issue of supports for seniors staying in their own homes within the first 100 days of becoming elected. Sarauer said the NDP is campaigning on creating the best home care in Canada so seniors can stay in their homes longer. The NDP is also promising to provide better funding for long-term care homes to ensure they are properly staffed. Sarauer also said the NDP would create an independent seniors advocate office.

Beaudry-Mellor said the Sask. Party has introduced 346 more licensed care practical nurses, many of whom do home care work for seniors. She also said the Sask. Party has increased home care funding by $190 million since it formed government. Beaudry-Mellor would not commit to appointing an independent advocate, and instead said the party has had a minister responsible for seniors.

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