On March 22, as transportation planet Mercury in Aries formed a square to "illegitimate power and hierarchy" Pluto in Capricorn, the neo-conservative Brad Wall government in Saskatchewan, my home province, announced in its budget that it will be shutting down the province's bus system.
Yes, that's right. No public debate, no public consultation, no transportation alternatives offered. It's just over because Brad Wall and his buddies say it is.
This government, full of "one car per person" drivers, decided that it can unilaterally eliminate (Pluto) a mass transportation system (Mercury) that people throughout the province have relied on for over 70 years. ("'It's going to be quite a nightmare': Passengers outraged by STC closure" by Jason Warick of CBC News)
The Pluto in Capricorn bulldozer strikes again, creating a nightmarish and potentially deadly (Pluto) transportation scenario (Mercury) for many...
The Wall government was much beloved by conservatives in the heavily oil-dependent province of Saskatchewan when oil was at $100 U.S. a barrel. And this government spent and spent and spent keeping itself in that golden position. No thought for the future.
Then, of course, the price of oil crashed. As it always does. Oil is a highly-manipulated, highly-volatile, boom-and-bust commodity. This really should have come as zero surprise. But there is a strange amnesia that sets in when people are riding an oil high. They somehow believe it's going to last forever and spend accordingly. The Wall government was no different.
The price of oil has now been halved and sits around $50 U.S. a barrel.
And now this government has decided - as so many governments do - to make up for its own spending sprees on the backs of the poor and sick and vulnerable in society. All to save $17 million a year, which in the scope of a provincial budget the size of Saskatchewan's is a drop in the bucket.
Saskatchewan is an agriculturally-based province, meaning it has many small communities and farms spread throughout its land mass as people go about producing food to feed the world (among other activities). It also has many remote northern communities.
Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) is the only bus service that goes to many of the smaller, rural communities. It connects the little places with each other, and it also connects the little places to the cities, where people can access essential services that can't be found in the smaller communities. Many people use the bus service for doctor's appointments and medical treatments, and this decision leaves them stranded. Around 300 people used STC to access cancer treatments alone in 2016. ("STC shutdown leaves cancer patients looking for a ride" by Adam Hunter of CBC News.)
STC is also often the only company that will deliver freight to the smaller communities.
There is a Greyhound run in Saskatchewan, but it only goes along major routes, missing the more remote and rural communities in the province.
In short, this bus is an essential service for many seniors, disabled people, sick people, rural people, students, people living below the poverty line, and people who do not drive.
I've used buses my whole adult life. I've used STC more times than I could count, primarily traveling to and from my parents' ranch. Without this mass transit system, I would have had few to no transportation options, and it fills me with dread to now have this option eliminated so unceremoniously.
But there is something more that is being destroyed here by this short-sighted, mean-spirited little man and his short-sighted, mean-spirited little cronies, something broader, something that really hits me where it hurts.
The Wall government is dealing a major blow to the strong collective spirit of the people of Saskatchewan, a place where people have traditionally chipped in to help each other.
Saskatchewan is the province where universal healthcare was born. The Canadian system is terribly flawed, some would even say irreparably broken, but the fundamentals remain: if you break your arm, need medication, or need to see a specialist, you can get treatment regardless of your income level. You know how Canada's health care system is often held up as one to be emulated, particularly by the U.S.? Well, it started in Saskatchewan. It started because the people in Saskatchewan didn't want to see their fellow human beings suffer. They wanted everyone to have the care they needed when they were sick or injured, regardless of income, regardless of ability to pay.
Saskatchewan is a hard place in which to survive. The climate is harsh, but it's more than that. Since the beginning of civilized humanity, independent farmers and ranchers have been under attack by the establishment. The establishment doesn't like people being self-reliant, growing their own food, feeding each other, sharing, making decisions in their own communities. In current times, the rules and regulations and bureaucracy, the manipulated markets, the high land and machinery prices coupled with low commodity prices (and now weather modification) have squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until only the true die-hards (or the people with other income streams) are left trying to make a living doing it. Because of this constant attack and lack of support, it's damned hard to make a living farming or ranching. Damned hard.
So no matter how many generations removed they are from the family farm, in the hard-wired soul memory of the people of the agriculture-based province of Saskatchewan is the knowledge of what it's like to not have two dimes to rub together, no matter how hard you work, no matter how exhausted you are. Built right into the DNA of the people in Saskatchewan is the memory of the horror of not being able to pay for a doctor or a hospital stay when it was critically needed. The shame, the frustration, the anger, the hopelessness, the despair. Built right into their DNA is the memory of the horror of medical care being inaccessible, too far away, too far from home. Being too late to save someone they loved. All this is running through the people - not just in Saskatchewan, but definitely also in Saskatchewan. And all this has been motivation to say: no more; never again.
As the Wall government now makes it more difficult to access health care for many people in the province, as it destroys (Pluto) a transportation safe guard and safety net (Mercury), this soul horror (Pluto) is stirred. The Plutonic threads are plucked.
The likelihood that people will not get the care they need is increased, including alternative health treatments. The likelihood that a person will put off a check-up or doctor's visit in the city for another year is increased. The likelihood that people will just put up with symptoms rather than go through the hassle and embarrassment of finding transportation is increased.
(Yes, in a country that is so dominated by "one car per person" transportation, there is often shame and embarrassment in not having transportation, in being reliant on someone else, in having to ask for a ride.)
Saskatchewan has a long history of grassroots collective struggle, of joining together and fighting for better conditions for everyone.
In the horrifying (Pluto) decision to end the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (Mercury), the Brad Wall government is disconnecting people from each other in my home province. It is striking a major blow to the collective spirit that has underpinned life in Saskatchewan for so long.
Aside from the essential services people are being cut off from in the cities and elsewhere, this decision destroys a valuable part of Saskatchewan's culture and history. It damages a transportation network, a web, that brought us together.
This decision ends much-needed restorative and celebratory visits to family and friends. It ends the excitement and renewal of a trip to the city after many months of nothing but lonesome prairie. It ends new faces coming through your small town. It ends spontaneous conversations being struck up between strangers meeting on the bus.
"So where are you headed?"
"Where are you from?"
"How far till Saskatoon?"
It ends the classic smokers groupings outside the bus terminals, those transitory karasses formed and temporary connections made as the bus makes its stops along the highway. It ends the pile-ups in bus station cafeterias, like clockwork, with greasy fries and cups of coffee and the relief at being motionless for half an hour. It ends so many possibilities for non-drivers to go to new places on their own. It ends the independent travel of many, even just the knowledge that you could go somewhere if you wanted to, the spiritual freedom of that.
It also ends the jobs of 224 people, leaving them at the mercy of a very tough job market, making them vulnerable to poverty themselves.
This is regressive transportation policy at its finest - eliminating efficient mass transit while making people more reliant on resource-heavy individual vehicles.
As many of you know, I'm anarchist, and I don't believe in the mechanism of government. This is a prime example of why. This government is not doing what's best for the people it claims to serve. It's harming the sick, the disabled, the poor, and the vulnerable in order to prop up its own bullshit facade as a "fiscally responsible, no deficit" conservative government.
Imagine what we could do on this planet if we were not being constantly attacked, eroded, and hamstrung by these establishments and institutions, by illegitimate people in positions of illegitimate power.
A better world for everyone is not only possible, it's necessary. We all deserve a world that does not prop certain human beings up on the backs of other human beings. We deserve a world that does not benefit some by hurting others.
Imagine this world, and keep it in your mind's eye always. Because that's what we're working for. That's why we're here. That's why I'm writing this.
I know the people of Saskatchewan - myself included - will find a way. We will because we have to, and that's always been the way of it in Sask.
We'll all find a better way through these times together, no matter where we live - as we're being "ruled" by power-hungry, outdated, and treacherous beasts - because we have to find a better way. There's no alternate option.
UPDATE May 24, 2022
Since STC was eliminated, we have seen a chaotic disaster for public transportation and for the transportation of goods in the province, including needed medical supplies.
with a lick of sense could have told the Brad Wall government that this
would be the result by eliminating an efficient and cost effective
system of bus transport that had served the province for over 70 years.
(And we did tell them...repeatedly.) The end result of the short-sighted
actions of a handful of misguided politicians has been confusion;
frustration; a massive waste of time, medical supplies, and taxpayers'
dollars; the creation of dangerous and even potentially deadly
conditions; shoddy, piecemeal service that serves only certain
communities; and thousands of people in the province being left cut off
and without transportation. The actions of this handful of misguided
politicians has harmed a couple hundred thousand people in the province
ideology constantly promoted by neo-conservatives that private,
corporate industry is so much more efficient and cost-effective than
publicly-owned services has proven to be utterly false to a devastating
degree in the case of STC. They are now paying almost as much per year
to their cronies for one small part of the service STC provided, and it
seems the cronies are doing a terrible job of it.
October 6, 2020: Saskatchewan Party Corporate Donor Received $60 Million Medical Contract After Crown Corporation Shut Down