In Our Words: Turn the border from a pain to a strength

Somewhere in this week’s paper, you can read a story about a new strategy to promote snowmobiling in northern Manitoba, giving it a kickstart in hopes of attracting more money to the region.

That makes sense. There is one problem, however; what happens to the trails on the Saskatchewan side of the border? There wasn’t much of an answer for that, either in the report or the presentation.

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It doesn’t take long to extend that line of thinking into almost everything else in this area.

Flin Flonners don’t usually care about the border.  It’s not a big deal. If someone new came into the community, they could easily go from one province to another without noticing.

Administratively, however, the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border can be a nightmare. It gets in the way for businesses, charities and community groups, adding another hurdle to already complicated work.

Now, I know in these columns, I’m supposed to offer some sort of advice, idea or solution. It’s not really enough to just fill this space with free-floating complaining, whining or drama. Facebook and social media already fill that need well enough.

The best advice I can muster is to find a way to get provincial authorities to ignore the border the same way locals do. The thing is, how exactly do you do it, and who picks up the cheque?

People far more intelligent and resourceful than myself looked into this years ago, even decades ago, with little progress. Often there seems to be little willingness from either provincial government to actually do something to help this, no matter who’s in charge.

So, red tape aside, how could improved interprovincial cooperation work? A big first step would be for provincially administrated bodies, like school divisions and health regions, to share data and records. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I’ve heard people from Saskatchewan, at meetings and in private conversations, say they have issues having their records accessed at Manitoba health facilities.

A big first step toward interprovincial unity could be easing communication between the provinces, especially considering how often people from northern Saskatchewan, particularly people from more remote Indigenous communities, rely on Manitoba facilities for care. It surely won’t be as easy as I’m making it sound, but that’s not a bad first step to take.

The second option would be to allow businesses and community organizations in the area to apply for grant money in both provinces. As far as I’m aware, there are some groups who can do this, but the numbers really should be boosted. After all, a group, a club or a business based in Creighton is likely to be utilized not only by people in Creighton, but by Flin Flonners, Denare Beach residents or people from outside communities in both provinces. If you’re based in Saskatchewan and have Manitoba people using your services or joining your group, why shouldn’t you be eligible for funding there?

For a tangible example, take the Flin Flon General Hospital emergency department that just opened this week. That project came with a pretty hefty price tag, one that was paid almost exclusively by Manitoba taxpayers. That makes sense on one level – if you had to pick one thing to put tax money toward, a hospital is a very good choice. But if Saskatchewan residents are going to use the facility, shouldn’t there be some funding from the Saskatchewan Health Authority or provincial government?

The City of Flin Flon is a member of municipal organizations in both provinces and if you ask any council member about that, they’ll say it’s a great asset. Even the tourism could benefit from this. How much easier would it be if you could just buy one fishing license for northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan? Combine the two. After all, if you don’t have to double up, what’s going to stop a Manitoba fisher from heading over to Saskatchewan to cast a line? Keep in mind, that means they’ll likely buy gas, accommodations, supplies, food and other things in Saskatchewan, too.

The biggest short-term thing we can do to help this community is to find a way to turn the thing that makes us different into a strength. Flin Flon is a weird place with a weird name in a weird location. As the great lyricist Gord Downie once put it, “What you can’t escape, you’ve got to embrace.”

Use our location on the border to our advantage, draw in more businesses by showing that you can double your chances of government cooperation, get money and assistance if needed for the groups already here and strengthen our institutions. If the mine is closed two years from now, we’ll need those institutions to keep things together.

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