On June 6, 2012, newly appointed Saskatchewan Minister of Health, Dustin Duncan, stopped by the Triangle News.
Duncan has been the MLA for the Weyburn-Big Muddy constituency since winning a by-election in 2006.
Duncan began his time in the Provincial Legislature in the opposition, then after the SaskParty gained power in 2007, moved to a backbencher for the Government.
His first cabinet position was with Tourism Parks, Culture and Sport, moving to Environment and Water and on May 25, in the most recent cabinet shuffle, Duncan moved to the position of Minister of Health.
Changes to the provincial cabinet also included adding Randy Weekes, MLA for Biggar, as the new Minister responsible for Rural and Remote Health under the Health ministry. Duncan and Weekes will be working together. “Right now we are still in the process of trying to get a sense of how that is work as that’s a new type of set up,” said Duncan.
Duncan talked about the shuffle. He explained that once the cabinet positions were announced, the Legislature was closed for the weekend while the building staff moved the cabinet ministers to their appointed office.
Duncan is now busy getting to know his staff and new portfolio.
Having worked in the Department of Health, ten years previously, Duncan found returning as the Minister of Health “almost surreal’.
Duncan said, “Minister Weekes is going to be actively involved in some of the challenges that come with delivering health care to rural and remote areas. Doctor retention and recruitment, things like that. I want to be involved with that too, so we are still trying to sort how that role is going to work.”
Duncan addressed the issues being faced by Coronach in regards to healthcare. When asked what his first priority is, Duncan said, “Ensuring that there is greater collaboration and cooperation between communities, that are very active, and that is very important to have active communities, and the health regions, that are trying to do their role in delivering health care and the province.”
Duncan talked about his first steps in that direction. His plan is to get to know everyone in the leadership roles in each of the 11 regions in the province. He talked about his plan for the Coronach area and his talks with Minister Weekes, “I have told him that in my constituency, for health care, there are a couple of concerns, one is the lack of service in Coronach. I told him that even though he is responsible for rural health care. . . I want to be involved as well. When we get a date when (Weekes) can come down here, we want to put some people in a room together. . . (we will talk about) where have come from over the last four years especially, since there hasn’t been a doctor here and here are the options and what does the community feel. I know ultimatetly people want to see a doctor and we would like to see more doctors available so that is an option, but we also know that it probably hasn’t been acceptable to have no service (in Coronach) waiting to try and find a doctor. In the interim, are there other things that we can do.” said Duncan.
Duncan talked about things his government is working on. Incentives such as more adding more training seats for doctors, repayment of $120,000 in student loans for doctors that choose to work in a small community for a set amount of time. Duncan reported that the CAPE assessment has been eliminated and the new provincial exam is open to doctors from anywhere in the world, rather than only the four countries that used to be allowed.
One of the first things Duncan and Weekes did was to travel to Toronto for a meeting of Canadian Provincial Ministers of Health. The country’s provincial ministers have identified 8 examples of healthcare delivery that could be applied to areas like Coronach that face difficulties offering emergency and ongoing healthcare
“We have to start looking more outside of the box to help communities deal with their health care challenges. I think everybody recognizes that the days of a doctor staying in a community for 40 years and then you name the hockey rink after them after they retire, those days are over. And I understand the challenges that a health region has in being concerned about all the, not only dollars, but the time, and the community’s time and dollars that goes into recruiting a doctor that only stays two years.” said Duncan.
“Doctors are a big part of it, but we have to look beyond that and look at the scope of practice for Nurse Practioners, RNs, Pharmacists. But, there is still alot of work to do,” he said.
From healthcare, the conversation bumped to local highway conditions. Duncan was surprised with the state of disrepair of local highways. He said, “I knew coming down here there were some problems, but I didn’t realize that they were still a problem to this day, and almost worse than I remember last fall.”
“If you are in an ambulance from Coronach and you are being taken to Assiniboia or Moose Jaw, that’s going to be one unpleasant trip and (the roads) are an inconvenience for people that live here,” he said.
Duncan reported that upon arriving in Coronach, he immediately called to find out the long term plan for the roads in our area. He promised to report back on the plan for local highways.
Duncan replayed the words heard many times in the area, “If you look at it through the lens of being efficient with tax dollars, that makes no sense to make these patch jobs that in a month they have to come back again because the road is pounded out again. Let’s get this taken care of, let’s get this fixed.”
Duncan blamed the wet year last year and many road emergencies for the work that hasn’t been completed but admitted it is time the roads were fixed.
Duncan then delved into the environmental issues that the coal industry in Saskatchewan face. Issues that he dealt directly with in his last post as Minster of Environment and Water.
According to Duncan, the provincial Environment Minstiry has been working closely with the Federal Government and SaskPower to ensure that impending environmental regulations allow Saskatchewan to continue to use coal as a source of power.
He reported that the federal coal-fire regulations are expected to be final by the end of June.
“What we have tried to impress on the federal government, is the concern that across Canada coal is not a major source of power production, but in Saskatchewan it is. So we wanted to impress upon, not just the federal government, but the federal MPs from Saskatchewan, that this might be seen as low hanging fruit for the federal government, but it has a huge impact on us. We want to be able to use coal well into the future and use it responsibly and clean it up as best we can,” recalled Duncan.
According to Duncan, his government is working hard to ensure that the federal regulations don’t inhibit the current work happening at Boundary Dam to test clean coal. “SaskPower needs time before the federal regulations kick in, to get a couple of years of actual data, If they don’t get that time, they wouldn’t be in a position, that even if they wanted to, to add clean coal (technology) to Boundary Dam #4 and #5,” he said.
“Between the federal and provincial governments we would have spent well over a billion dollars and tested a technology at one unit at the power plant at Boundary and then not have had the ability, if it worked, to use it again. We would have paid a lot of money for a pretty need science experiment that we had no application for after,” said Duncan.
Duncan wrapped up by talking about his role as a cabinet minister as a whole. “The biggest challenge, even aside from kind of getting up to speed and knowing your file, the biggest challenge has been family life and constituency work,” he said.
According to Duncan, moving from back bencher to cabinet minister took him from four days a week in your constituency office and one day for appointments to four days in Regina and one day for appointments in the constituency.
Duncan expects to be in his current position as Minister of Health for 1-2 years, but says cabinet shuffles can happen at any time.