NDP MLA opens community office in the far north

The MLA for Athabasca, Buckley Belanger, has opened a community office in the far north community of Black Lake, about 900 kilometres north of Prince Albert.

“Families in Saskatchewan’s north deserve the same representation as all people, and by opening a Black Lake constituency office, I’ll be able to serve northern residents even better,” said Belanger, who has been the MLA for Athabasca since 1995.

“Under this government, the north is being ignored more than ever. When it comes to the challenges northerners face – including the very high cost of living – this government is taking a head-in-the-sand approach. I want to make sure northerners have the information and support they need to be successful, and that the voices of Saskatchewan’s far north are heard, in their communities and at the Legislature.”

The Black Lake constituency office is open to the public. Constituency offices are community-based spaces from which MLAs work, open to all to express concerns or ideas, or to get help accessing information or government services.

The office in Black Lake is open at the Black Lake First Nation Band Office from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Residents can contact the office by phone at 306-284-1001, by fax at 306-284-1002; or by email at athabasca2@ndpcaucus.sk.ca.

Belanger thanked Black Lake First Nation Chief Ricky Robillard for his warm welcome, and forward-thinking leadership. Belanger said Robillard has been at the forefront of local community and First Nations leaders who have been positive about the added resource in their region.

The innovative northern office model is one Belanger is looking to expand, citing Fond du Lac as a community in which he’s been working with local leadership.

Belanger said that northern families and businesses face unique challenges, which the government is wilfully ignoring. The government dismissing the crippling cost of living, ignoring the lack of safe housing, failing to expand internet and cellular services to encourage education, economic development and remote services and refusing to maintain safe highways are among the top concerns.

The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce released a Northern Business Task Force report and recommendations in December, also highlighting the government’s dismissal of northern people and development. Among those recommendations in agreement with the Opposition’s proposals, the Chamber of Commerce recommends that Brad Wall actually travel to the far north for the first time as premier; that bandwidth and cellular services be upgraded to be comparable with the rest of the province; that access to training and education opportunities be improved; and that investments into northern roads be “meaningful.” The Chamber of Commerce also recommends the cost of living be mitigated by changing utility billing practices in the north, which sees power bills in the region consistently several hundred dollars every month or even over $1,000 monthly.