ISHMAEL N. DARO
Anna Maria Tremonti, host of The Current on CBC Radio One, records most episodes of her show in Toronto but earlier this week she recorded in Saskatoon, examining the city and province’s economic successes.
“This place is laden with things everyone else wants,” Tremonti said at the top of her program on Monday the 13th, “from potash to uranium to oil to wheat.”
Indeed, things are looking up.
After years of outmigration, Saskatchewan is actually growing as people from across Canada and around the world settle here. Saskatchewan has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4.8 per cent, while the national average rests at 8.1. Prices are healthy for potash, uranium and oil and gas.
Even lentils are doing well, of which Saskatchewan is the world’s biggest exporter.
All this change inspired Tremonti and The Current’s producers to come to Saskatoon as part of their ongoing series on demographic shifts.
“If you just look at the stats, everything from unemployment, which is low here, to movement of people — you have more people moving in here than you have had before,” explained Tremonti during an interview Sept. 13. “There’s also new immigrants. New Canadians are coming here, so it’s shifting things.”
“When you look at those numbers, you go, ”˜How do we tell that story?’ We came here because there were lots of numbers that interested us.”
While in Saskatoon, Tremonti spoke with a wide cross-section of people including Premier Brad Wall, City Councillor Charlie Clark and even Vaughn Wyant, owner of Saskatchewan’s first Porsche dealership.
At the municipal level, Saskatoon’s boom has meant a 10 per cent growth in population since 2006, the construction of three new high schools in the last four years and housing prices almost doubling in the last five years. These changes have led to an air of optimism but have also strained the city’s resources at times.
Building new roads and bridges as the city grows is going to cost billions of dollars by some estimates. The city’s medical facilities often have difficulty keeping up with the increased numbers of people and there is a looming HIV crisis. The infection rate in the Saskatoon Health Region has more than doubled since 2005, with 94 new cases of HIV in 2009 alone.
Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal community is particularly hard-hit by HIV and AIDS. It is also demographically much younger than the non-Aboriginal population.
“If you look at First Nations, the median age of First Nations people is 25,” said Tremonti. “In Canada, the median age of everybody else, not Aboriginal, is 40. If you look at the concentration of Aboriginal youth in this country, it’s highest in Winnipeg and Saskatoon.”
Aboriginal youth face particular challenges, such as higher incarceration rates, the appeal of gangs and the high number of Aboriginal women contracting HIV. Indeed, it sometimes seems not everyone is enjoying the fruits of economic success. But as Tremonti says, it depends who you talk to. The Sept. 14th episode of The Current included an interview with Keith Martell, CEO of the First Nations Bank of Canada, who sees some good news for all Saskatchewan communities.
With all the changes taking place in Saskatoon, perhaps a bit of navel-gazing is in order for all residents, especially if new people continue to set down here.
Daphne Taras, dean of the Edwards School of Business, who moved east from Calgary, told Tremonti that Saskatoon has the same energy Calgary enjoyed during Alberta’s great boom.
“I moved to Saskatoon because there was a pulse here,” she said. “It was so gorgeous and there was so much optimism here.”
In her time at the CBC, Tremonti has travelled far afield, covering a wide range of events from the fall of the Soviet Union to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. That Tremonti and her cohorts at The Current have now made their way to Saskatoon is a sure indication of the city’s growing importance and potential.
Episodes of The Current are archived on the show’s website and in podcast form. See cbc.ca/thecurrent for more information and to listen to the Saskatoon episodes.
image: The Current