Saskatchewan sees STARS

Air ambulance service propels on the prairies

Feb. 15, 2012 — The World-Spectator

SAKATCHEWAN – Kelly Prime has seen his share of trauma.

An advanced care paramedic in Wynard, Prime responds to emergency calls and deals with critically injured patients on a daily basis. His job requires immediate medical response—providing intensive care to injured patients on-scene and often transporting patients to city hospitals.

This spring, STARS helicopter air ambulance service will land inSaskatchewan, assisting rural EMS with their duties. The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society will provide intensive care for critically ill or injured patients, air-lifting them to hospitals inReginaorSaskatoon.

Prime says he has had two cases this year where he could have benefited from an air ambulance service, so he expects STARS will be an asset in his area.

“I’m going to get those (emergency) calls no matter what—a helicopter is never going to beat me out to the scene, but they can assist me with critical care once they arrive,” he said.

“If I have an accident, and three critical (injuries), I can send two patients off in a helicopter and I can take the least critical back to the local hospital. I will always be there first, but they can come as extra help.”

Founded in Alberta 25 years ago, STARS announced the launch of their services in Saskatchewan last November and is expected to move into Manitoba. Since the news of their landing on the prairies, operations have moved forward and information outreach sessions have been held across the province.

“The purpose of the outreach sessions are to both inform and educate our community partners, emergency services and health care providers,” said Cameron Heke from STARS. “And since we are new to Saskatchewan, we are also learning from each group with whom we meet.”

STARS met with approximately 55 groups in southern Saskatchewanin 2011, completing phase one of the outreach program. Directed at community medical practitioners and first responders, the outreach sessions explained the role of STARS in rural emergencies. The service will not replace existing rural paramedics, but rather work with them, and supplement their efforts on the ground.

The air ambulances are equipped with a pilot, a co-pilot, critical care nurse and an advanced care paramedic. The STARS Emergency Link Centre is a 24-hour communications centre that is notified in the case of an emergency—one call notifies a team of responders who fly out to the scene, help with critical care and transport patients back to city hospitals.

With their initial introductions complete, STARS is now further integrating the program intoSaskatchewan’s rural communities. So far this year, they have met with 10 groups and communities, and hope to reach at least 50 by year end.

Heke says the info sessions have been well received in rural communities thus far, and the cooperation between Saskatchewancommunities and STARS is revolves around a common goal of providing immediate patient care.

Although Prime believes that it’s more important to have advanced care paramedics in all rural communities than an air-transportation service, he recognizes that STARS has a big role to play in the province.

“It takes away from my job, but on the flip side, patients will get to the city faster and will get more care. And it keeps me in my community so if I’m needed for another incident, I can be there. With our skills and our ability (rural paramedics) are better able to support our patients on scene, but STARS will definitely help to get them transported more quickly,” he said.

The Regina landing base is scheduled to be operational by this spring, with Saskatoon following suit in the fall.

Bridging the Gap

Aboriginals and the media in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has seventy-four First Nations, ten daily news outlets, and one major problem.

Along with provinces across the country, Saskatchewan’s mainstream media has failed to accurately incorporate aboriginal affairs into its news coverage.

“Canada is a colonial country and it’s still alive and well. And as we found, it’s certainly alive and well in the press,” said Carmen Robertson, co author of Seeing Red, a book that explores how aboriginals have been portrayed in the Canadian media since 1869.

Aboriginal people are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, and research done for the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy suggests that by 2050 at least half the province’s population could be aboriginal. Despite the rapid growth, issues pertaining to aboriginal people are still under represented in mainstream news. Aboriginal journalists make up just a small portion of the media and the relationship between First Nations leaders and the media is tainted with fear and mistrust. This leads to a lack of coverage of aboriginal issues—a failing that has been apparent throughout the history of the province.

In an industry that revolves around current trends and ‘the now’, it only makes sense that the media incorporate more aboriginal content in their coverage. Over the last decade, journalism has come under pressure to address the issue. Newsrooms have made strides in the right direction, but the gap between aboriginal people and the media still exists and begs to be bridged.

One of these things is not like the others

When Nelson Bird took his first job at CTV Regina in 1998, he was immediately singled out.

“There were very, very few reporters of Aboriginal descent. It was difficult for me, because I was labeled. It was tokenism—the only reason I was hired was because I was First Nations,” said Bird. At the time, he was one of the only First Nations reporters at CTV in Canada.

“I was always viewed from the beginning as the ‘aboriginal reporter’: ‘This is Nelson Bird, our aboriginal reporter.’ When we would have tours and people would meet reporters, I was the only one who would have a title.”

The title was not something he asked for, but rather automatically acquired.

Mervin Brass can identify with Bird’s struggle to pursue a career in the media without being defined by his First Nations background. Throughout his ten-year career in the Saskatchewan media, Brass encountered segregation from the pool of ‘mainstream’ journalists.

“When I was doing a CBC story on the Saskatoon police, one of the head bosses in Toronto came up to me and said, ‘We are running the story tonight and we want to know how to introduce you. Should we call you a First Nations reporter from Saskatchewan?’ And I said, ‘Only if you start calling Ian Hanomansing the East Indian reporter from Vancouver.’ ”

With intentions of incorporating more First Nations perspectives into news coverage in Saskatchewan, this approach has accomplished the opposite. Identifying aboriginal reporters by their cultural identity perpetuates the notion of marginalization that is so commonly attached to First Nations and Métis people.

Both Bird and Brass argue their cultural background should not identify their professional positions—and nor should it for anyone else.

“I’m a reporter who happens to be aboriginal,” said Bird. “I don’t deny the fact that I’m aboriginal, but why should I have a label when nobody else does? It just defeats the purpose that I can be professional without my culture having to define who I am.”

“I never really shied away from the First Nations stories because that was my strength. I had all the contacts. I had all the sources. But at the same time I also proved to my producers and editors that I could do mainstream stories just as well, if not better, than the other reporters in the business,” said Brass.

“You’re a journalist. You’re supposed to cover everything. You should know a little bit about everything, not just one specialized beat.”

Carol Morin, a veteran journalist with 32 years experience in the Canadian media agrees. She suggests it’s beneficial for aboriginal journalists to produce stories about their own communities, but the coverage should not lie solely in their hands.

“The fact is, I think a lot of times, aboriginal people make better in-roads to the aboriginal population just because we understand each other. But I think it’s important that other reporters who are not aboriginal make those in-roads too. Because we have to build bridges, and change the relationship and the dynamic between everybody,” said Morin.

“This whole ‘us and them’ thing has got to stop.”

And having more aboriginal journalists isn’t the only answer—non-Native journalists who are knowledgeable on First Nations and Métis issues are essential players as well.

Informed informers

The limited and often misinformed coverage of aboriginal issues in the province can arguably be blamed on a lack of education and understanding about the culture. Shannon Avison has been teaching Indian Communications Arts (INCA) classes at First Nations University of Canada for two decades and recognizes the benefit of a knowledgeable media.

“I’ve been around for more than 20 years and I’ve certainly seen that the mainstream media’s attitude has changed. There’s still a limitation and it’s really quite profound frankly, around journalists not having one clue what they’re talking about when they cover an aboriginal issue. They don’t know what a treaty is. They don’t know what a TLE (Treaty Land Entitlement) is. They don’t know the difference between a Métis and an Indian for crying out loud,” said Avison.

Along with Bird, she suggests the answer to this is basic education—learning the vocabulary and understanding what makes aboriginal people unique in the province. There are key acts of legislation, leadership structures, and specialized protocols that all journalists need to know.

“You should be able to learn about going to a reserve. And what the governing structure of a First Nation in Saskatchewan is. And it’s quite simple. A lot of these things are pretty basic. But it’s good to be able to learn them before you actually get out into the field and into a professional newsroom,” said Bird.

Covering aboriginal stories can often present unique challenges. Reserves may be difficult to get to, there are certain cultural guidelines, there may be language barriers, and these things can make reporters unfamiliar with aboriginal issues uncomfortable. The lack of familiarity prevents coverage of certain issues, which in turn, translates into a public audience that is also uninformed on aboriginal affairs.

“As journalists I think we need to be very open minded and not afraid to go that extra step to learn about things such as this,” said Bird.

It’s also the role of journalists to look past the spokespeople and find real voices with real stories to tell—especially in the case of First Nations and Métis affairs.

“I find when journalists have a superficial understanding of the (aboriginal) community, they don’t have any networks, the only people they know to call is the chief usually,” said Avison.

“Often times it’s not about issues, it’s about people. So go find a person, and a chief is not a person. A chief in his capacity is an organization. You need to find the real people that are affected—parents and caregivers and so on, those are the people that (the media) needs to be finding, and the only way we find them is networking within that community,” says Avison.

But all the blame can’t be put solely on the media. Those on the receiving side of the coverage (or lack there of) need to reach out to journalists too.

It takes two to tango

Media literacy among First Nations leaders and organizers is just as important as literacy about aboriginal culture for journalists. First Nations communities and reserves have often been criticized for communicating poorly with the media and meeting their inquiries with chilly reception. Just as the mainstream media has tended to ignore coverage of aboriginal affairs in the news, aboriginal communities have also ignored the media.

A 2005 survey conducted by University of Regina journalism students proved there is some hostility. Students were assigned to simply contact a First Nations band office and speak to a chief or a councilor. In all, 68 reserves were contacted and only 25 responded. Of those, 12 were met with an unfriendly, rude, or reluctant reception.

“First Nations people tend to have this fear of the media. And what needs to happen is that so many chiefs and counselors and people in positions of management or communications on a reserve need to be able to use the media. They need to be able to approach the media and not always hide,” said Bird, who recognizes that even he doesn’t always have luck getting a story from First Nations communities.

 There has been progress in aboriginal coverage in the media over the last decade, but furthering the trend requires a change and cooperation from both parties.

“What I see right now is that there is a much greater willingness and interest in the mainstream media to cover aboriginal issues and tell aboriginal stories, and a real commitment to tell them better, but they can’t invent stories out of the air. They have to be met with a response from the community,” said Avison.

“There have to be people in the newsroom ready and willing to receive the information. But on the other hand, something has got to feed them.”

And that’s where Avison says more education for First Nations and Métis leaders comes in, and it comes in the form of two letters—PR.

“Be aware of the opportunity for doing public relations, for reaching out to the media, and providing them with information on things that are happening in the community. Understanding how to do that is half, and the second thing is trusting that the people who receive the information are going to handle it intelligently,” she said.

Avison instructs an INCA public relations class that teaches students how to create a positive relationship with the media, which is a crucial part of ensuring story reportage. When PR people make connections with newsrooms and the journalists within them, they are able to send their news releases to individuals who have a vested interest in the subject and will take an initiative in covering.

“So by aboriginal organizations doing media relations, at least the journalists are being provided with some leads on what might be interesting stories that really are newsworthy,” said Avison.

Organizations like the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) are working hard to do just that—increasing consideration is going towards making events appealing to the media in hopes of being chosen out of the pile of other daily news releases.

“When we plan events, I’m thinking, ‘Okay I want to try to get at least two maybe three days worth of news out of this. How do I do that? How do I create the follows?’ So it’s constant thinking, but you need to know the media and understand and be able to accept the limits that the media has today because of their resource issues,” said Brass, who is the current communications director with FSIN.

“Knowing that media rooms, newsrooms and television stations are all downsizing, (is important). It’s getting harder and harder for the message from organizations, regardless of who it is, to get out there. You’ve only got a small window.”

So it’s clear that better communication and more education are the keys to building a stronger relationship between the news media and those in aboriginal communities, but how is that achieved?

It’s all in the approach

A steady relationship is built on trust, and trust can only be developed when both parties are committed to cooperation.

This formula is no different when it comes to aboriginal people and the media.

Forming a cooperative relationship built on trust is beneficial for not only the parties involved—but it plays a significant role in helping to create a public who can recognize the equal importance that aboriginal people have in society.

The mainstream media plays a very important role in influencing and educating the public. So just as exclusionary reporting and an inaccurate portrayal of aboriginal people can cause negative affects, inclusionary and accurate reporting can help do the opposite— it can help create awareness of aboriginal affairs in Saskatchewan and stop the marginalization that is perpetuated through selective coverage.

“Ultimately I think there is room for improvement when it comes to the coverage of aboriginal people in this province, and I know that it will happen but there is a variety of reasons why it should happen but there’s also a variety of solutions to make it happen. Education in universities, in media newsrooms and just a general open mindedness for everyone,” said Bird.

“People need to open their eyes. Its so easy just to ignore.”

A multicultural media?

Oct. 21, 2011 — INK

REGINA—Eight years ago, academic Mark Anderson was asked to review a book on how newspapers in the United States had portrayed aboriginal people in the early 1800s. As he sifted through the research, a seed was planted in his head—one that took until this October to bloom.

“In the course of preparing the review, I wondered, ‘What has been done in Canada on this topic?’ and discovered to my deep surprise, considering how central aboriginal issues seem to be in public discourse in the country, that nothing had been done,” said Anderson, a history professor at Luther College.

Motivated by curiosity, Anderson teamed up with Carmen Robertson, a fellow University of Regina professor, and took on the task of researching the way aboriginals have been portrayed in Canadian media throughout history. The pair started doing the research themselves, obtained a federal grant, and hired research assistants. On Oct. 18, the book Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers was launched.

“With no false modesty, it is groundbreaking,” said Anderson. “And we had a sense of that going in—we realized it was an opportunity but we also had a responsibility to do it right . . . and the evidence is pretty overwhelming.”

The research is based on a survey of 42 local, regional, and national Canadian daily newspapers from 1869 to the present. The authors look at how the newspapers covered historic events like the North-West Rebellion, Bended Elbow standoff, and the Oka crisis to assess how Canada’s press has represented aboriginal people through the decades.

Their findings are worthwhile—showing that the Canadian media has played a role in perpetuating the public view of aboriginal inferiority.

“People were ready to get up and fist fight over things like trade policy with the U.S., how the railroad should be, and how Rupert’s Land should be purchased, but with respect to aboriginal people, they basically spoke with one voice,” said Anderson.

“Canada is a colonial country and it’s still alive and well. And as we found, certainly alive and well in the press,” added Robertson.

The authors concluded that today’s coverage of aboriginal affairs in Canadian media is shockingly similar to what it was 140 years ago—the coverage takes a back-seat to other news, and aboriginal people in the media are commonly associated with things like death, crime, poverty and disease.
“A lot of people would say to us, ‘Oh, (racism) was bad in the old days but it’s not bad anymore, right?’ And we would say, ‘Well actually the evidence doesn’t support that at all,’” said Anderson, who argues the evidence suggests perceptions of aboriginal inferiority are as strong now as ever.

Keith Carlson, professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan, says the book is an important contribution in a country where we assume that each generation’s portrayal of aboriginal people is better than the last.

“This is important work. There are authors who have done similar sorts of things but nobody has done a nationwide survey of aboriginal people and how they are portrayed (through the Canadian media). And that makes this really different and really interesting,” said Carlson.

With no intention of blaming the media for the perpetuation of aboriginal stereotypes in Canada, the authors say the research speaks for itself.

“There’s a lot of research that demonstrates the public audience gets a great deal of what they know from the press, and it’s also true with aboriginal people,” said Anderson.

“It doesn’t mean that we think journalists are bad people or racist; there is just a kind of structure and a series of norms operating in journalism that help continue to perpetuate the myth of aboriginal inferiority.”

Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers book launch was held at Luther College on Oct.18.

50 years of Medicare

Tension, opposition and hostility characterized Saskatchewan’s fight for Medicare

July 23, 2012 — The Leader-Post & The StarPhoenix

It started just as any other political platform does — as an announcement during a party nomination meeting. But the backlash that followed Premier Tommy Douglas’s proposal for Medicare has made Canadian history.

History

Immediately after it was announced in April of 1959, the CCF government’s proposed plan to implement a tax-payer-funded, universal health care program was met with opposition from Saskatchewan doctors and nurses. Calling it a “scheme,” the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons officially opposed the government-controlled program in 1960, and Saskatchewan’s struggle for Medicare was ignited.

Political negotiations, citizen protests, and province-wide discord ensued as tension built between medical professionals and the government.

The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act was passed by the CCF government in November of 1961, but doctors were far from done fighting.

After months of struggle and rejected offers, a province-wide doctors’ strike resulted, and hundreds of doctors walked off the job on July 1, 1962. Left with only a handful of practicing physicians, local groups of doctors and citizens established member-owned community clinics to ensure patients could still get access to medical care.

The emergence of community clinics

By 1962, clinics were popping up around the province and the government was recruiting doctors from Britain to replace the doctors engaged in the labor action.

One of those physicians, Dr. John Bury, came from England to Saskatoon in 1963.

“I was practicing as a GP in England before I came and joined the Saskatoon Community Clinic. The reason I came was that the idea of a clinic owned by the patients whose objective was to establish a partnership between health providers, and health users, working in partnership in a salaried, pre-national health service in which there would be other health professionals working as a team — that attracted me,” said Bury, who remembers the conflict of the 1960s vividly.

“There were about 34 of the clinics in the end, and that’s where the hostility developed.”

Members of the community clinics, who sided with the government, faced strong opposition from the rest of the medical profession. They were denied permission to work in hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon and experienced extreme hostility.

“One reason for that was because we sided with the government,” said Bury. “But more importantly, I believe the community clinics were more of a threat to the doctors than Medicare itself was. With Medicare, [doctors] would still get their bills paid … but the community clinics meant that lay people were taking control of what had always been controlled by the medical profession — we were challenging the autonomy of the profession.”

Strike ends — agreement reached

After countless months of protesting, and 23 days off the job, the Saskatchewan doctors strike was settled.

On July 23, 1962 — 50 years ago today — Lord Stephen Taylor, British doctor and MP, mediated an agreement between the parties.   The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act would remain in place. Despite pleas from doctors, medical professionals across the province would work under Tommy Douglas’s vision of a free, accessible-for-all medical care program. The July 23 agreement introduced amendments to the existing act, which accommodated doctors and allowed them to opt out of Medicare if they wished.

A memorable milestone

As the 1960s rolled on, tension in hospitals and clinics slowly receded, and Medicare evolved into an effective system that allowed people around the province to have equal access to medical care.

Fifty years later, Bury says people should not forget the struggle and the opposition that went into what our medical system is today.

“The whole era was tremendously traumatic for the people of Saskatchewan because it split groups right down the middle. We had threats against our lives. Some people still don’t talk today because of the trauma that happened.”

Bury, who remained involved in pro-government health care initiatives for many years following, says the conflict was ultimately caused by political differences.

“The doctors thought that what we were doing was communism. So there was that attitude of paranoia about socialism … they were fearful that the government was trying to introduce a salaried medical service. What the government was trying to do was find a way that patients didn’t have to have barriers of getting medical care because they couldn’t afford to pay the bills.”

“One of the most important things to remember was the paranoia that doctors and nurses had about the government’s intentions. They saw a socialist, communist manifesto and that coloured their behavior. The profession had their own private medical plans, which included GMS and MSI, and they thought that would be undermined with Medicare.”

While many have their own memories of the conflict of the 1960s, the struggle for Medicare in Saskatchewan is easily the most significant development in the history of the province.

When Tommy Douglas first publically proposed his plan for Medicare on a radio broadcast in 1959, he said: “If we can do this — then I would like to hazard a prophecy that, before 1970, almost every other province in Canada will have followed the lead of Saskatchewan, and we shall have a national health insurance program from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

Paving the way for the rest of the country, the Saskatchewan Medicare model was adopted in every other Canadian province by 1972.

First Nations demand education support

Sept. 26, 2011 — INK

First Nations people in Saskatchewan are demanding that education should be a right, not a privilege.

“Help us to be productive. Help us to be employed. Help us to get that education that we need. Fund our education systems properly, and bring new things into our schools to have different (options) open up for our kids,” said Chief Larry Cachene to a cheering crowd of supporters inReginaon Monday.

More than 900 people gathered for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) day of action, where concerns about First Nations and Metis treaty rights were voiced publicly. High on the list of  issues – aboriginal education. First Nations leaders called on the Saskatchewan government to help reserve schools foster strong young minds.

“First Nations education inSaskatchewanis not up to where we should be,” said Cachene, Chief of the Yellowquill First Nation. “First of all, our funding levels are not enough to get the teachers that we want. We’re providing general maths and sciences but we should be offering more.”

“We want to open the doors for our kids. And to do that, we need to develop at the band level and change our system to improve the graduation rates and keep kids in school.”

Cachene says First Nations schools need the dollars and cents to make the necessary changes.

“We need the proper funding,” he said. “We are already trying to deliver an education when we are behind in funding levels already, and it’s probably a third or two-thirds of what provincial schools get. So right away, we’re set back already.”

Approximately $107 million is directed to funding the education of the 16,500 students that attend First Nations schools on reserves inSaskatchewan– or $6,500 per student. In comparison, francophone schools in the province receive $18,800 per student.

Data compiled by the FSIN Education Secretariat suggests that if First Nations language and culture were valued in a similar fashion to the Francophone school division, there would be a total of $310 million for education on reserve schools versus the current $107 million.

Deele Charette, a Metis graduate of the University of Regina, has seen first-hand how the lack of funding for First Nations and Metis students can affect the process of education.

“I know a lot of First Nations students who can’t get things paid for because reserves are only given a certain amount of money (for education). And so the funding is really important. My cousin just graduated from law school, but wasn’t funded and covered the costs himself . . . so people like that are lucky that they have the means to do it, but other students can’t do that,” she says.

Five months ago, the province signed an agreement with FSIN to establish a task force to link education and employment for First Nations and Metis people inSaskatchewan. The cost of the task force is $2 million and will focus on increasing high school and post-secondary graduation rates. It will address the current gaps in education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis people.

Public consultations on the issues are scheduled to begin this fall, but Cachene says changes need to be made sooner rather than later.

“(The initiative) will help eventually. But not until 15 or 20 years from now, and a lot of that stuff we need to do today,” said Cachene.

First Nations demands education support

REGINA—First Nations people in Saskatchewan are demanding that education should be a right, not a privilege.

“Help us to be productive. Help us to be employed. Help us to get that education that we need. Fund our education systems properly, and bring new things into our schools to have different (options) open up for our kids,” said Chief Larry Cachene to a cheering crowd of supporters in Regina on September 26.

 More than 900 people gathered for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN)  day of action, where concerns about First Nations and Metis treaty rights were voiced publicly.  High on the list of  issues – aboriginal education. First Nations leaders called on the  Saskatchewan government to help reserve schools foster strong young minds.

“First Nations education inSaskatchewanis not up to where we should be,” said Cachene,  Chief of the Yellowquill First Nation. “First of all, our funding levels are not enough to get the    teachers that we want. We’re providing general maths and sciences but we should be offering  more.”

“We want to open the doors for our kids. And to do that, we need to develop at the band level    and change our system to improve the graduation rates and keep kids in school.”

Cachene says First Nations schools need the dollars and cents to make the necessary changes.

“We need the proper funding,” he said. “We are already trying to deliver an education when we  are behind in funding levels already, and it’s probably a third or two-thirds of what provincial  schools get. So right away, we’re set back already.”

Approximately $107 million is directed to funding the education of the 16,500 students that attend First Nations schools on reserves inSaskatchewan– or $6,500 per student. In comparison, francophone schools in the province receive $18,800 per student.

Data compiled by the FSIN Education Secretariat suggests that if First Nations language and culture were valued in a similar fashion to the Francophone school division, there would be a total of $310 million for education on reserve schools versus the current $107 million.

Deele Charette, a Metis graduate of the University of Regina, has seen first-hand how the lack of funding for First Nations and Metis students can affect the process of education.

“I know a lot of First Nations students who can’t get things paid for because reserves are only given a certain amount of money (for education). And so the funding is really important. My cousin just graduated from law school, but wasn’t funded and covered the costs himself . . . so people like that are lucky that they have the means to do it, but other students can’t do that,” she says.

Five months ago, the province signed an agreement with FSIN to establish a task force to link education and employment for First Nations and Metis people inSaskatchewan. The cost of the task force is $2 million and will focus on increasing high school and post-secondary graduation rates. It will address the current gaps in education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Metis people.

Public consultations on the issues are scheduled to begin this fall, but Cachene says changes need to be made sooner rather than later.

“(The initiative) will help eventually. But not until 15 or 20 years from now, and a lot of that stuff we need to do today,” said Cachene.

Wawota tries to save long-term care beds

Aug. 15, 2011 — The World Spectator

It’s been more than a year since five long-term care beds in Wawota were closed, and four months since the Sun Country Health region agreed to bring them back. But since then, not much progress has been made on turning the decision into a reality.

“We cant keep going on this way, there’s no way,” says Ken Wilson, member of the Wawota Save our Beds Committee. “Our mandate is to get our beds back, and get the services to our community, and communities—because this doesn’t just involve Wawota, it’s bigger than that. And we want to get our services back that our people need.” 

The Save our Beds committee has been working tirelessly to get the ball rolling on the project, and the NDP has stepped up to help. The party’s provincial leader Dwaine Lingenfelter, and Cannington candidate Todd Gervais met with members from the Save our Beds committee last week in Wawota to discuss the issue and offer their support.

“What we need to do, most importantly, is look after the needs of the people in the area, especially here in Wawota, where the closure of the long term care beds is just not acceptable,” said Lingenfelter from Kimi’s Cafe in Wawota. “Especially at a time when the need is greater than ever—to reduce the number of beds just doesn’t make any sense.”

“We have made a commitment to definitely seeing this problem remedied as soon as possible,” adds Gervais. Lingenfelter and Gervais have had ongoing meetings with the Wawota committee since the beds were closed last spring and say if they continue to keep tabs on the issue and push for the reopening of the beds, the government might take formal action.

“I think we’ve made progress in the sense that it’s still under consideration to make changes to either re-open the beds or even look at expanding the number of beds—which would be even better,”says Lingenfelter. “So we believe that if we keep pressure on the government, that we can in fact expand the service of long term care here (in Wawota).”

He hopes that the board will make some firm decisions and formulate plans for the new beds in the next couple months, but if things are still up in the air by election time, Lingenfelter says it will definitely be an issue that he will draw attention to.

“If we form government and are given the confidence of the people here and in other parts of the province, this is a high priority,” he says. “It has been for the past year and certainly would be after the election.”

And the issue goes further than just the lack of immediacy the Sun Country Health Region has put on implementing the new long term care beds—there are concerns about the board itself.

The main reasons that the board gave for closing the beds last year was that the closure of the beds would save $100,000, and that there was a risk of infection where the beds were located. In April, when the Sun Country Health Region announced that they would re-open the beds, it was reported they had plans to bring in a consultant to look at adding the new beds to a different area of the existing building they were in.

“This is ironic because the whole reason they gave for closing the beds in the first place is because they wanted to save $110,000 a year in operating fees, which I’m sure will get eaten up by any kind of architectural consultant fees and construction,” says Gervais.

Wilson says that the Save our Beds committee wants to get the ball rolling on re-opening the beds, but it has been somewhat difficult working with the board.

“Every time we poke a hole in what they are talking about, they come up with another plan, they have another set of reasons.,” says Wilson. “So it has just mushroomed and mushroomed.”

“People don’t like to admit they made a mistake, so what do you do? How do you solve that mistake?” “This is what we’ve been trying our darndest to do,” says Wilson.

Gervais says that as the NDP candidate for the area, he will do everything he can to address the concerns with the health region’s board.

“I want to remind you that the interm CEO and the board members of the entire health region all serve at the pleasure of the minister. And we all know there have been problems, so as a candidate down here, I can assure you that I will be pushing for a very close review of what’s happening within the management of the Sun Country Health Region,” he says.

After a string of incidences that resulted in the firing of the health region’s CEO and the resignation of the vice president of finance last year, the board has been under fire, and people including Gervais want to see them held accountable.

“I believe that it has been a failure of this government to not act earlier on taking a detailed look at the board and their practices,” says Gervais. “I think the time to do it was a year ago . . . and now we’re a year after that and problems still havent been solved, and we’re coming up on an election, so if not now—when?,” he says. “I’m ready to push for that to happen as soon as possible.”

Wilson says the Save our Beds committee is happy with the efforts that Gervais and Lingenfelter are making, but they are more focused on getting the beds back, rather than launching an audit into the actions of the Sun Country Health Region.

Local poker professional wins big in Vegas

June 20, 2011 — The World Spectator

Moosomin native Tyler Bonkowski’s perfect poker face has led him all the way to the top at the world’s biggest poker event.

The World Series of Poker is a big deal, with more than 70,000 participants competing for more than $180,000,000 in prize money. Surrounded by ESPN cameras and live streaming online, players compete for more than just money—but for poker’s most prized possession, a WSOP bracelet. Playing in the Limit Hold ‘Em event last week, Bonkowski sat at a poker table, with a worldwide audience, and put it all on the table.

“After day two, there were 18 players left, I was third in chips and I was thinking ‘I’ve got a really good shot at winning’,” he says in an interview from his Las Vegas condo. “Then when it got down to four players, I was chip leader and I was sure I would win . . . but anything can happen still. It doesn’t matter who the best player is, there is still a lot of luck involved.”

After eliminating more than 300 players throughout the tournament, Bonkowski found himself face-to-face with his final opponent.

“We started off heads-up, but then he got up to a 12:1 chip lead, so things weren’t looking good,” says Bonkowski,“But I still thought ‘This is destiny, I did not come here to get second.’ “

With his sights set on winning, Bonkowski had more than just cards on his mind. He wanted to take down his opponent and prove himself to the audience.

“The atmosphere for the final table, there was probably 20 or 30 players cheering for this other guy, and I had one of my buddies in my corner and that was it,” says Bonkowski.

“I just wanted to silence the crowd, because they were cheering every time he won a hand and it was dead silent for me.”

And the underdog came out on top— Bonkowski won the final hand, his K-10 trumping his opponent’s K-Q after the dealer revealed a 10. The win came along with $220, 817, a coveted WSOP gold bracelet and Championship bragging rights. Bonkowski is thrilled with his winnings, but says the cash wasn’t his only motivation to do well.

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“It wasn’t so much about the money. I was happy with anything in the top four for a payout—once I was in the top four I just had to win,” he says. “I just had to come out as the winner of the tournament.”

“The bracelet is also big, and I know a lot of my friends and family were watching so I didn’t want to fall short, I wanted to do it for them too.”

Adding to the loot that came along with victory, Bonkowski was the first Canadian to win a series tournament this year at the world- renown Las Vegas showdown. Although he exuded confidence and came out on top, Bonkowski started out shaky at the World Series.

“Starting in the tournament, I was kind of miserable,” he says. “I had just lost a tournament, and some big money. I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t have registered for this.” But as he gained confidence, his playing hand improved and Bonkowski pushed forward in the tournament.

“Things just fell into place the way they should.” he says.

And as things fell into place, money fell into Bonkowski’s hands. What will he do with the six figure sum?

“Nothing in particular. I have a house and that was my biggest goal money-wise —to get a house and be comfortable,” he says. “So now I’m going to continue playing poker and I don’t have one special thing that I will go out and spend it on.”

This wasn’t Bonkowski’s first time playing his hand at the World Series. Last year he won a total of $19,710 in three different events. Also winning a at a number of other international tournaments, Bonkowski is gaining some major attention in the poker network. But it’s more than just talent that is leading the young poker pro to the top. His poker face might have something to do with it too.

“I think it’s pretty stone cold,” says Bonkowski. “I’ve got some compliments before from pros in Australia that said ‘If I could just have that poker face, I would be unstoppable.’ I don’t give off too much emotion or anything.”

Although he is now playing in the most major international poker tournaments, Bonkowski started his career as a university student, experimenting with the card game and looking for some extra cash.

“Me and my friend Kurt Russell from Moosomin were living together in Regina and we had just finished moving . . . we sat down and started watching poker on TV, and it was the World Series,” Bonkowski remembers.

“Once we got back to Moosomin for the summer, we started playing home games. I wanted to be better than everybody. I’m pretty competitive, so I bought a strategy book and that ended up making me a little bit better.”

As he learned more about the game and improved his skills, Bonkowski decided to try playing poker online.

“I deposited 20 bucks and within a year. I turned that 20 into a few thousand,” he says.

His confidence continued to build, and before he knew it Bonkowski had caught poker fever. The young student quit school and his job to pursue the game as a career. Although it was a risky move, Bonkowski is happy with his gamble.

“It worked out really well,” he says.”There have been lots an ups and downs along the way—I have failed a ton of times but you just never quit. And as long as you think you’re good, you’re probably good.”

He admits that being a professional poker player is very unpredictable and he compares it to flipping a coin, but he does his best to keep his spirits high, even when he’s losing.

“The biggest downside is that you never know whether you’re going to win or lose going into a day, you just know that overall in the long run you should be ahead,” says Bonkowski.

“It’s easier to handle if you’re just having a bad day, but if you’re having a long streak, it can be quite tough.” But Bonkowski has no regrets with his choice to pursue the game of chips and chance. “None whatsoever. I am extremely happy with my choices and I always think that if I want to go back to school I can go instantly.”

“If I want to do something else I always can, I like having that option.” Bonkowski will continue to try his hand at winning some more money, and maybe another bracelet. Over the course of the World Series, he will play in about 20 tournaments, in addition to the five or six tournaments he plays at international venues during the year.

“There are tournaments here every day until the middle of July, and then there is the final event, so I’ll be here for that time,” he says.“After that I’ll probably relax in Regina for the summer and get back to the tournament grind.”

At 26, Bonkowski has bluffed his way to the top, and gained championship status at the biggest poker event in the world, but he certainly doesn’t plan on folding anytime soon.

Hal Schmidt working in health system again

June 27, 2011 — The World Spectator

A year after resigning from the Sun Country Health Region, following the release of details about his past, Hal Schmidt’s is back in a senior position in the health care system.

Schmidt has been employed with three different Canadian health employers in the last fifteen years, leaving a string of incidents in his wake. These issues came to light last June —as he was serving as vice-president of finance for the Sun Country Health Region—when the World-Spectator published a series of articles exposing Schmidt’s questionable past. He was accused of mishandling funds while serving as CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. back in the late 1990s. Court documents from 2005 indicate that Schmidt borrowed $75,000 from the hospital—an amount that was never paid back. A civil lawsuit was filed against him, and the court-ordered judgment still remains outstanding.

In 2004, Schmidt was briefly employed as CEO with the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. After 12 weeks, he was fired for misrepresentation when it was discovered that he had lied on his resume—claiming to be a chartered accountant, when he did not have the designation. He then moved on to take a position as vice-president of finance with Sun Country Health Region in Saskatchewan in 2010. After the allegations against him garnered media attention last spring, Schmidt resigned from his position at Sun Country. He was hired again this spring as Executive Director of the H’ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus, B.C. The organization, located just outside of Victoria, is a private health care agency—not overseen by the B.C. Ministry of Health—and represents the four communities within the Coast Salish First Nation.

“I’m stunned,” says Judy Junor, NDP Health Critic. “A guy with an outstanding judgment in B.C. gets hired there again. They must not have known.”

The World-Spectator received a tip about Schmidt’s new position from a woman in the B.C. community of Halat, who expressed her concern about his hiring. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she was left with an uneasy feeling after meeting Schmidt for the first time.

“I can’t put my finger on it, but when I met the man, my spidey senses went ‘You are somebody that I don’t think we can trust’ ,” she says. “The more I spoke with the man, the more I got the impression(he thought that) I was one that he needed to watch—because I ask a lot of questions.”

The woman says her suspicions were confirmed after she came across the stories that exposed Schmidt’s previous employment history. She also says she isn’t the only one with uneasy feelings about the new executive director at H’ulh-etun.

“One person became suspicious and asked him about the $75,000 and that’s when Hal said, ‘That was a loan. They used to do that years and years ago. They used to give out loans to their hospital employees and it’s just somebody out to get me. Somebody is out to soil my name’,” she says.

The woman believes the Board of Directors took Schmidt at surface value, and hired him in a time of desperation, as the position of executive director at H’ulh-etun was vacant.

“I don’t think they looked into him close enough (when they hired him). I really don’t. I think he probably dazzled them with talk,” she says. “It truly worries me because there is not a lot of accountability on reserves. There truly isn’t. And that’s the part that’s so unsettling.”

The woman says she does not have malicious intent, but is rather looking out for the best interests of the health society.

“I want people to question his background,” she says. “I just want (the health unit) to start working for the people that it is there for.”

The World-Spectator contacted David Harry, Chair of the Board of Directors at H’ulh-etun Health Socitey, who was taken aback by news of Schmidt’s past.

“This is a bit blind-siding for me, so could you enlighten me where this is coming from?” said Harry in an interview on Wednesday.

When told there were a number of issues regarding Schmidt’s previous employment record, Harry requested printed evidence of the allegations against Schmidt. When asked if he was aware of Schmidt’s history, Harry responded, ”At the time of hiring—no.”

After reading the string of stories that were printed last spring regarding Schmidt’s employment past, Harry said the information was enlightening.

“(The stories) are definitely a little interesting,” he says. “When we hired him, we had taken all the right steps in that process however we thank you for your information. It helps paint a picture on our end and make things a little more clear.”

Harry said the Board of Directors took all the necessary steps when hiring Schmidt by reviewing his resume and inquiring with the references that were provided. When asked if he contacted Schmidt’s most recent employer, Sun Country Health Region, Harry said he had not.

Junor says she doesn’t know of a way that the government can monitor employees with questionable pasts and prevent them from being hired elsewhere.

“It sure begs the question,” she says. “We didn’t know (about Schmidt’s allegations) either—he came from B.C. to Nova Scotia, to Saskatchewan and now back to B.C.”

“He obviously has moved across Canada, but he hasn’t had any accountability,” she says.

Junor admits that it would be hard to regulate the employment records of all health employees—especially when they get involved In private health agencies—but it’s an issue that is worth looking into.

“I think it does speak to ‘How can these people be kept accountable for what they’ve done?’ They can just jump into another jurisdiction and act almost as if they have a clean slate.”

Harry confirms that he had no previous suspicions about Schmidt’s past, but says that they will now be taken in to consideration.

“I want to connect the dots on some of the things that you sent me,” says Harry. “And some of it . . . it sums things up fairly nicely. Let’s put it that way.”

“Your information helps me decide the next steps.”

Harry would not comment on what those steps might be, and when they might occur, but he did confirm that the issue will be addressed with the Board of Directors.

“There will be a conversation in the very near future. The very, very near future,” he said.

Schmidt did not return any phone calls requesting comment last week. As the Executive Director of H’ulh-etun Health Society, he oversees the entire health agency, including the finance department and all other staff. He started the position on April 29.

Ritz gives farmers relief

Aug. 8, 2011 — The World Spectator

People say that the best gifts come in small packages, but for Prairie farmers, it’s just the opposite. A huge support package from the federal government was announced last Thursday—a package worth $448 million, and one that will go directly toward flood relief for farmers.

“While farmers know how to deal with difficult weather, the extreme flooding of crop land this year, and year after year, can be devastating,” said federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz at a farm outside McTaggart, Saskatchewan.

“It’s safe to say that it has been a remarkably tough year for farmers in the Western provinces that have been affected. Extreme weather and flooding is once again hampering farm production on the Prairies and preventing some farmers from producing the high quality foods that we have all come to expect.”

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Officials estimate that 13 to 14 million acres of crop was unseeded this year on the Prairies, including eight million acres in Saskatchewan, leaving many farmers with damaged land and minimal crops. So the federal government has stepped in to help producers manage the financial burden the flooding caused.

“I’m proud to announce with the government of Canada in partnership with our provincial colleges in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, we will deliver an assistance package worth some $448 million to producers in the affected areas,” said Ritz. “Under this initiative, crop producers will receive $30 per unseeded acre to assist with the extraordinary costs of rehabilitating their crop land.”

This AgriRecovery initiative will offer relief to the three prairie provinces, with about $250 million being directed towards Saskatchewan farmers. The program will provide producers with $30 per eligible acre of land too wet to seed as of June 20, or seeded land that was ruined by flooding before July 31.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud highlights that the newly announced support is in addition to the unseeded acreage benefit of $70 per acre that crop insurance coverage customers are already receiving, so when used in conjunction, farmers will be receiving $100 for every unseeded acre.

And grain farmers aren’t the only ones getting assistance from the government.

“We recognize that it’s not only grain producers who were affected by this year’s wet conditions,” says Bjornerud. “Livestock producers around the province have lost pasture land due to flooding and continue to cope with rain that is affecting their haying operations. To address this, the provincial government is continuing our Saskatchewan Feed and Forage program—the province of Saskatchewan is putting in our 40 per cent share to help livestock producers purchase additional winter feed if they have been affected by excess moisture.”

This part of the program results in a payment of $12 per ton of excess feed purchased by feedlot owners whose feed was too damaged to be used. Bjornerud hopes to continue talks with the federal government to increase this number to $30. He also hopes that this program, which is continuing from last year, will help producers to re-seed hay, forage, and pasture land that has been damaged by excess moisture.

The team of agriculture ministers additionally announced a new program to offer support to intensive livestock operations such as feedlots that were affected by the excess moisture.

“Feedlots will now be eligible for up to 75 per cent rebate up to $250,000 on the cost of repairing or replacing pens and manure storage systems that have been damaged by excess moisture,” says Bjornerud.

The government initiatives were stemmed after both Ritz and Bjornerud were subject to the reality that Prairie farmers faced this spring, but also are also a symbol that the government recognizes the importance of a healthy agricultural industry in the country.

“Agriculture has been a driving force in helping to steer this country through tough economic times,” says Ritz. “It’s an industry that gives a lot to Canada, and one that deserves our respect and our support. Canadians told us that while they tighten their own belts, they want to see their government do the same, and of course we agree. Given the disaster and the long-term impact it will have on future agricultural production, it’s important to help producers deal with the extraordinary cost of disasters like this.”