Tag Archives: Saskatchewan

May 1: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

As soon as the sun comes out and daytime temperatures hover above zero, Canadian gardeners get itchy to plant flowers and vegetables. But depending on the part of the country and how far north you live, the optimum dates for planting differ. And if you take a chance and put in your garden too early you run the risk of having delicate seedlings ravaged by an unwelcome frost.

Here are links to some helpful information about gardening in Saskatchewan:

The goal of the  Northern Saskatchewan Gardening Manual is to encourage people to grow gardens, specifically in Northern Saskatchewan where many people still think that the climate is too harsh for growing a prosperous garden. This manual can help you to:

  • Start and maintain a healthy and prosperous garden in Northern Saskatchewan
  • Start gardening in containers
  • Start gardening in raised garden beds
  • Learn more about gardening, plant basics, and/or
  • Work as part of a group to create a community/shared garden.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Dates Calculator for Saskatoon not only tells you when to sow vegetables indoors and plant in the ground, but also when to harvest — and it is customized to your location based on the nearest weather station. For example, lettuce can be planted outside in early May but wait until the first of June for peppers. You can also receive planting reminders and a copy of this planting calendar by email.

LandscapeSaskatchewan.com says when planting vegetables, find an area, which will receive at least five to six hours of direct sunlight daily. Take into consideration: the amount of space you have available as some vegetables need more growing room than others; your own requirements for canning, freezing or table use; local frost dates and climate conditions. For a longer harvest period, plant vegetables at staggered time intervals.

Interviewed by CBC last year, Rick Van Duyvendyk, the owner of Dutch Growers Garden Centre in Saskatoon suggested that customers try watermelons or cantaloupes for a change. “Put them in a pot [then] put them outside during the May long weekend,” he said. “Once you get to September, cover them with a frost blanket. Two weeks into September, you’ll have watermelons that are 17 pounds.”

And also on CBC News l Saskatchewan, landscape designer Heather Lowe, the owner of Heather Lowe: Landscape Design in Regina offered 5 tips on how to add beautiful fall colour to your garden. She says don’t worry about matching colours, because in nature all kinds of colours blend together beautifully. “You can plan a garden around any season but try to have it be at peak beauty in the season you use it most,” she concludes.


Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

8 reasons for taking your vacation in Canada

By Sheryl Smolkin

Editor’s note: If you came here looking for “10 things you need to know about enhanced CPP benefits” post follow this link: http://wp.me/p7Idrl-1ir.

An article I read in the Globe & Mail this week noted that the Canadian tourism industry is grappling with a demographic problem that could threaten its future. Apparently millennials are spending far more of their travel dollars outside the country than at home. One reason cited is that it is so expensive to fly within Canada, it makes sense to go further afield.

I can understand that most of us would love to be able to jet off somewhere warm to get away from our frigid winters. But in spite of seasonal mosquitoes and black flies in some parts of the country, Canadian spring and summers at their best are not to be missed.  So in the hope of persuading more of you to spend at least a couple of vacation weeks a year exploring closer to home, here are eight reasons in no particular order why I think you should consider some domestic travel along with the international adventures on your bucket list.

  1. Mobility rights
    You don’t need a passport or a visa to travel from one end of our vast country to the other. With the exception of arcane laws forbidding the import of alcohol between provinces, you can buy anything you want and take it home without worrying about declaring your goods or paying duty. Medicare insurance coverage varies from one province to another, but your health card will generally be accepted across the country. Nevertheless, travel insurance is still a good idea to fill in any coverage gaps like air ambulance in the case of illness or an accident.
  2. See Canada first
    Tourists come from all over the world to see our country, but many of us are looking for “exotic experiences” elsewhere. The fact is that every region in Canada has its own unique attractions. Unless you have seen the snow-capped Rockies, skated on the canal in Ottawa or visited Peggy’s Cove you cannot fully appreciate the beauty of this diverse country and how well it compares with foreign destinations.
  3. They speak your language(s)
    Travelling in Canada can be so much less complicated than going to Europe or Asia because you don’t have to worry about making yourself understood. Even if you decide to visit Quebec, most of us studied some French in school and can get by. And if Air Canada loses your luggage or you need to see a doctor for an unexpected ailment, you will be able to explain the problem without the benefit of an interpreter.
  4. Spend Canadian dollars
    In January of this year, the Canadian dollar sunk to new lows. It has bounced up and down since then, but the fact is if you have to exchange it for U.S. dollars or euros to pay for a trip, it’s going to cost you a lot more than a few years ago. It’s a great time to see your country and support our economy.
  5. Meet great people
    Whether they live north, south, east or west, your Canadian neighbours are great people. They will go out of their way to show you around, invite you into their homes and make sure you have a terrific visit. With few exceptions, you can feel confident that whether you travel alone, with a companion or as part of a family you are vacationing in a safe, welcoming place.
  6. Festivals and special events
    Theatre, music, comedy, film and literary festivals abound. Whatever you are interested in, you can time your visit to catch concerts and live performances. Here is a listing of the top ten summer music festivals in Saskatchewan, but from the Symphony Splash in Victoria B.C. to the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario to the Shelbourne County Lobster Festival in Nova Scotia there are hundreds of local events across the country you can plan your vacation around.
  7. The great outdoors
    Frequently whether we travel at home or overseas, we just fly from one city to the next. But there are about 2.6 million lakes and 5 mountainous ecozones in Canada. To really see the country, get into your car and drive in any direction. Whether in a tent, yurt, airstream, pod, igloo, hut, villa, cabin, cube, teepee or treehouse, camping or glamping (upscale camping) are excellent ways to experience the great outdoors.
  8. Multi-cultural cites
    Canada recently welcomed over 25,000 Syrian refugees. That is in addition to the thousands and thousands of immigrants and refugees from all over the world who have found a home here over the last 149 years. As a result, you can sample the cuisine and experience the culture of their homeland right around the block or down the street. Within walking distance of my house in Toronto I can eat Chinese, Indian, Iranian, Japanese, Hungarian, Korean, and Greek cuisine and then head over to a Jewish delicatessen.

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Do you have a Canadian vacation planned this summer? Send us your favourite pictures with a short paragraph telling us where you went and describing the high points. With your permission, we’d love to share your images and your story.

Rent vs Buy: A Reprise

By Sheryl Smolkin

Last year when I wrote about the buy vs. rent dilemma which most of us have confronted at some stage of our life, the five questions I suggested that readers consider were:

  1. How big is your down payment?
  2. How much house can you afford?
  3. Is your job secure?
  4. What are your family plans?
  5. What if interest rates go up?

All of those things are still important, but in the last year dramatic changes in both the Saskatchewan and Alberta rental and housing markets due to the drop in the price of oil may influence your decision.

For example, a report released at the end of last year from the real estate company Re Max says house prices in Regina and Saskatoon have dipped compared to a year ago because there are more properties on the market.

In Saskatoon a recent flurry of construction activity “has created market conditions modestly favoring the buyer,” the report says. “Currently, there are four months of inventory on the market and inventory is expected to increase as more of these new builds come to market next year.” The study also notes that the average sale price for a home in Saskatoon was $361,000 last year. However, by December 2015 it was $354,000 — a two percent drop.

Moreover, the report found similar market conditions in Regina, where there has been a lot of new construction taking place. “High inventory kept Regina in a buyer’s market throughout 2015,” the report says. Prices also dipped in Regina, by about three percent compared to 2014. An average Regina home was $329,000 last year and that figure has now dropped down to $320,000. For 2016, Re Max predicts that in both cities average prices will likely remain the same as for the previous year.

Recently interviewed on Breakfast TV Calgary, blogger Bridget Eastgaard said, “Assuming house prices stay down as long as oil prices remain low and layoffs continue to happen [in Calgary] which is unfortunate, it will give you more time to save and invest so you can accumulate the down payment you need to get the house you want.”

With Saskatchewan experiencing a similar downturn, her advice will also resonate with savewithspp.com readers. “If you are uncertain about your own job security now is a good time to wait it out and see what happens in the next year,” Eastgaard said.

Fortunately, if you do opt to continue renting in the short or long-term, the Saskatoon Landlord Association says it’s a tenant’s market with vacancy rates doubling in the city over the last year. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the vacancy rate went from 3.4% to 6.5% from October 2014 to October 2015. Chandra Lockhart, executive officer with the landlord association attributes this glut in rental properties to the large number of new, unsold houses and condominiums that have been flipped into rentals.

That means renters have lots of leverage Eastgaard says. “You can pick and choose. You also have the bargaining chips to negotiate perks like parking spaces, utilities included or even ask for the first month rent free.”

So how do you decide?

If you have already saved a 10% or 15% down payment, it may be an ideal time to buy your first home or trade up. But if you are not quite ready, don’t be in a rush. Lots of great rental stock means you can find a nice place to live and you don’t have to worry that you will be priced out of the market in the immediate future.

 

Public pensions not enough, most Canadians say

By Sheryl Smolkin

While most (94%) Canadians aged 55 to 75 ‘agree’ that they would ‘like to have guaranteed income for life’ when they retire, a new Ipsos poll* conducted on behalf of RBC Insurance finds that just two in ten (22%) Canadians agree that ‘Canadian public pension plans (such as CPP/QPP/OAS) will provide enough retirement income’ for them. In fact, most (78%) disagree that these pension plans will suffice.

It’s no surprise then that six in ten ‘agree’ that they’re ‘worried about outliving their retirement savings’, while four in ten ‘disagree’ that they’re worried. Women (66%) are considerably more likely than men (50%) to be worried about outliving their savings, as are those aged 55 to 64 (62%) compared to those aged 65 to 75 (52%).

Atlantic Canadians (67%) are most worried about outliving their retirement savings, followed by those in Ontario (63%), Alberta (60%), Quebec (59%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (58%) and finally British Columbia (41%).

One way of supplementing retirement income is through the use of an annuity, but many Canadians aged 55 to 75 appear in the dark about what an annuity is and how it might help them. In fact, six in ten say ‘that they ‘don’t know much about annuities’, while four in ten disagree that they lack knowledge in this area.

Women (71%) are significantly more likely than men (51%) to say they don’t know much about annuities, as are those aged 55 to 64 (66%) compared to those aged 65 to 75 (55%). Albertans (75%) are most likely to admit they don’t know much about annuities, followed by those living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (71%).

Responses to this quiz also confirm that many Canadians lack fundamental knowledge about annuities. Just 55% of Canadians were able to answer more than half of the questions correctly, and only 6% got all six questions right. British Columbians (62%) were most likely to pass the test, followed by those in Quebec (57%), Ontario (54%), Atlantic Canada (53%), Alberta (52%) and finally Saskatchewan and Manitoba (49%).

  • Just four in ten believe that it is true that they need a licensed insurance advisor to buy an annuity. In contrast, six in ten believe this is false – when in fact, it is true.
  • Seven in ten correctly believe it’s true that there are potential tax savings to investing in annuities, while 29% incorrectly believe this to be false.
  • Half incorrectly believe it’s true that annuities last for a specific period of time, while the other half believes this is false, which is the correct answer.
  • Seven in ten correctly believe it’s true that annuities can provide guaranteed income for life, while three in ten incorrectly believe this to be false.
  • Half think it’s true that annuities are not a good investment during low interest rate environments, while the other half correctly believes this to be false.
  • Three quarters correctly believe it’s true that they can invest in an annuity using their RRSP and/or RRIF savings, while 27% incorrectly think this is false.

Despite the majority being uneasy about their retirement savings, just one in three agrees that they are exploring or considering annuities as part of their retirement plan, while most (65%) are not. One quarter say they have an annuity.

Members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can opt at retirement to receive an annuity payable for life. Life only, refund and joint survivor annuities are available.

*These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between August 7 to 14, 2015 on behalf of RBC Insurance. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 55 to 75 from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online.

Why SPP is a great stocking stuffer

By Sheryl Smolkin

The problem with giving cash or gift cards for Christmas is that the money gets spent and the person receiving the gift often is left with little of long lasting value. Gadgets like the latest video game or smart phone get broken or become obsolete. Clothes may not fit properly to start with, or quickly go out of style.

But if you put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan in your children or grandchildren’s Christmas stocking, you will be giving them a gift that keeps on giving. SPP is a voluntary, money purchase plan you can contribute to in order to help them accumulate funds for retirement.

Anyone between ages 18 and 71 with available RRSP room is eligible to join the 33,000 other people who are already part of SPP. The only way to join SPP is by signing up directly. SPP does not have a sales force and commissions are not paid to anyone for selling the Plan.

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, again, subject to available RRSP room. There is no minimum payment and you decide on the contribution schedule and payment method. For example, choose from one of the following methods:

  • By mail (A contribution form is required )
  • In person or by online banking at your financial institution
  • By phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • Online, or
  • Directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

You can change your contribution level or stop making contributions at any time. One way to incent your family members to learn about the plan and keep on saving is to challenge them by agreeing to match their monthly or annual contributions up to a stated amount.

SPP accounts are locked-in and earn interest until the member retires. If he/she dies before retiring, the funds in the account will be paid to the person’s beneficiary.

SPP allocates 100% of the market rate of return, less operating expenses, to members monthly. Since inception, the fund returns have been an average of 8.1%. The return history in the balanced fund for the last 10 years is shown below.

Balanced fund
Year Earnings % MER %
2014 9.10 0.95
2013 15.77 1.00
2012 8.45 1.07
2011 -1.01 1.14
2010 9.42 1.04
2009 12.68 1.01
2008 -16.23 1.00
2007 -0.33 0.94
2006 12.51 0.90
2005 10.13 0.82

Family therapist Carol Mitchell believes so strongly in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) that she signed up several of her family members and deposited money into their accounts. She plans to make contributions for these relatives again in 2015.

Mitchell hopes her family members will continue to contribute to SPP above and beyond her gifts to them; however, she recognizes that some years they may have other, more pressing financial priorities. “The flexibility to contribute whatever they can afford to SPP each year is one reason I really like the program,” she says.

“I decided to invest in their futures,” Mitchell continues. “Someday I’m going to die and they are not going to remember they spent the $100 I gave them on a sweater or a dinner out. But when it comes time for their retirement, they’ll remember I believed in them and put money aside in their names.”

Saskatchewan residents need to save more for retirement

By Sheryl Smolkin

A National payroll survey conducted in September 2015 by the Canadian Payroll Association finds three-quarters of working Canadians have saved just 25% or less of their retirement goal, and many expect to work longer. In Saskatchewan, many employees are living pay cheque to pay cheque, most are not saving enough and economic pessimism is high.

The study reveals that the vast majority of employees are nowhere near reaching their retirement savings goals, and more than one-third (35%) expect to work longer than they had originally planned five years ago, with their average target retirement age rising from 58 to 63 over that period.

Nearly one-quarter (21%) say they’ll now need to work an additional four years or more. “I am not saving enough money” was the top reason for delayed retirement.

Far behind retirement goals

Nationally, three-quarters (76%) of working Canadians say they have put aside a quarter or less of what they will need in retirement (up from an average of 74% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, the number is 71%. And even among those closer to retirement (50 and older), a disturbing 48% are still less than a quarter of the way to their retirement savings goal.

Not only are employed Canadians finding it difficult to save for their retirement, many think they will need a big nest-egg. Half nationally (and 61% in Saskatchewan) think they will need more than $1 million in savings when they exit the workforce.

Most Canadian employees do not expect their financial situation to get better any time soon. Just 33% nationally and 36% in Saskatchewan expect the economy to improve over the next year. That’s down an average of 8% nationally, and down a noteworthy 24% in Saskatchewan, over the past three years.

Living pay cheque to pay cheque

Nationally, a large proportion (48%) report that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week. In Saskatchewan, 43% say they are living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Illustrating just how strapped some employees are, 24% nationally and 17% in Saskatchewan report that they probably could not come up with $2,000 if an emergency arose within the next month.

While more employees nationally say they are trying to save more (71% now, up from 66% over the previous three years), fewer are actually able to do so, with 62% succeeding in their savings efforts (down from an average of 66% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, just 56% are succeeding in their savings efforts (the lowest of all the provinces/regions).

And savings rates continue to be meagre. About half (47%) of employed Canadians are putting away just 5% or less of their pay. In Saskatchewan, the number is 53% (the top province for number of employees who are under-saving for retirement). Financial planning experts generally recommend a retirement savings rate of at least 10% of net pay.

Nationally, 36% of employees (and 38% in Saskatchewan) say they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt.

“Canadians are saying they are having a difficult time making ends meet, and they are not putting enough aside to reach their own retirement goals,” notes Canadian Payroll Association President and CEO, Patrick Culhane. Edna Stack, Canadian Payroll Association Board Chair, explains: “Payroll professionals can help by setting up automatic deductions from an employee’s pay cheque to a savings plan or retirement program. This is the most effective way for an employee to save, so they can get on the path to a more secure financial future.”

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows Canadians with sufficient RRSP contribution room to save up to $2,500/year and transfer in an additional $10,000/year from another RRSP. Members can contribute online using a Visa or MasterCard. SPP contributions can also be made automatically from a member’s bank account.

To Rent or to Buy: That is the Question

By Sheryl Smolkin

The Canadian dream for many is to find a partner, get married, buy a house and have kids –- not necessarily in that order. With the average house price in June 2015 climbing to $639,000 in Toronto and $922,000 in Vancouver, many young people have been shut out of the housing market.

However, Saskatchewan residents are more fortunate, with the average provincial house price sitting at $303,000 province-wide and $316,000 in Regina. But if you or a family member are thinking about leaving the world of rentals behind and buying your first home, it’s still important to factor in all of the costs you will incur, and the impact possible interest rate increases will have on your monthly payments.

Here are 5 questions you should answer before you decide to leap into the housing market:

  1. How big is your down payment? While it is possible to buy a home with as little as 5% down, if your deposit is less than 20% of the purchase price your mortgage must be insured by a third party such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Genworth Financial Canada or Canada Guaranty. The insurance premium will range from 0.5% and 2.75% of your total mortgage amount and add significantly to the cost of your home over time.
  2. How much house can you afford? Mortgage experts suggest no more than 32% of household income be spent on housing costs. The Mortgage Payment Calculator on ratehub.ca will allow you to model how much your monthly payments will be depending on the amount of your deposit, the term of the mortgage, interest rate and any mortgage insurance. So if you buy a house for $350,000 with 5% down, a 5-year mortgage amortized over 25 years at a fixed rate of 2.69%, your payments will be $1,576/month. In addition, you must factor in municipal taxes, utilities and annual maintenance costs. In contrast, over the past year, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Regina ranged from $884 to $1,395.
  3. Is your job secure? Taking on a mortgage is a long-term commitment. If you are basing your ability to pay for your home on your current family income, consider whether or not you and your spouse have secure jobs. Could you afford to continue paying monthly house expenses if one of you lost your job? How long would it likely take get a new job if one of you were downsized?
  4. What are your family plans? If the next major milestone after buying a house is to start a family, that means that at least one parent may be out of the workforce for up to a year after the birth of each child. Are one or both of you eligible for EI maternity and parental leave benefits? Do either of your employers top up EI benefits to all or part of your full salary for some period of time? If not, how will you make up the difference? When both of you go back to work, will you be able to afford daycare costs on top of your mortgage payments?
  5. What if interest rates go up? Mortgage rates are at historic lows. According to ratehub.ca if you have a down payment of 20% your mortgage rate (calculated on August 17/15) you may pay as high as 2.69% for a 5-year fixed rate in Regina or as low as 1.85% for a variable rate in the same city. What if interest rates doubled or tripled? Could you still afford your mortgage payments plus all of your other family commitments?

The advantages of renting are that your costs are fixed for the term of the lease; you are not responsible for the cost of major repairs; and, if you want to leave the neighbourhood or move to another city you have much more flexibility.

While you are not purchasing an asset that will increase in value that you can cash in when you are ready to retire, if you save and invest the difference between your annual rent and the costs of running your home, you will have a nice little nest egg by age 65.But few people have the discipline to do so. And most rental properties cannot be customized or decorated to your own personal taste.

So all things considered, the decision to rent or buy may be as much an emotional decision as an economic one. Each individual or family will make a unique decision based on their stage of life, their finances and their personal priorities.

Also read:
Cheap mortgage rates don’t justify home ownership

Should your teenager get a part-time job?

By Sheryl Smolkin

School has barely started and your teenager tells you she wants to get a part-time job. While you admire her enthusiasm, you are naturally worried about the impact working 15-20 hours per week will have on both her and the family.

First of all, you should become familiar with the minimum age requirements for working in Saskatchewan. The general minimum age of employment in Saskatchewan is age 16.  To work in Saskatchewan, 14 and 15 year olds must have permission from their parents. They are also required to complete the Young Worker Readiness Certificate Course (available online) and obtain a Certificate of Completion.

Fourteen and 15 year olds can’t work more than 16 hours in a week in which school is in session; after 10 p.m. on a day before a school day; and before the start of any school day. They can work the same hours as other employees during school breaks and vacations. Young people under the age of 14 cannot work unless the employer has a special permit from the Director of Employment Standards.

These rules do not apply to sectors exempt from The Saskatchewan Employment Act and regulations, including:

  • Family businesses employing only immediate family;
  • Self-employed;
  • Traditional farming operations;
  • Babysitters; and
  • Newspaper carriers.

So assuming your child is legally-entitled to get a part-time job, here are some of the other questions the family should consider before she starts filling out application forms:

  1. Why does she want/need a job? Is the money that will be earned necessary for the family to cover basic expenses or will it be used for “extras” that you cannot or will not pay for? Will some of the money be saved towards college or university tuition?
  2. Does she feel pressure to work part-time because all her friends are doing it?
  3. Does she really have time to hold down a job? A part-time job can help a student develop a sense of responsibility and organizational skills to balance other commitments. But working could mean lower grades and fewer extra-curricular activities both of which may be considered when students apply for college or university.
  4. Can she handle the added physical and mental stress? An after-school or weekend job may seem like a great idea in sunny September. However, by November mid-terms when the temperatures plummet and everyone has a cold, combining work and school may be more than your child can physically or mentally handle.
  5. What transportation options are available? Is the job in walking distance from school or home? Is public transportation available? Is driving your child to and from work a practical option for the family?
  6. What about other family commitments? Your child may have regular chores like pet care or babysitting younger siblings after school. Are there other cost-effective options for the family?

In spite of the “time crunch” and the potential negative impact on your child’s grades, a part-time job can be a wonderful opportunity to gain work skills and experience. My sister’s first job was at McDonalds and ultimately she decided on a career in the hospitality industry.

In addition, by making their own money, kids have to learn how to manage it. They also have the independence to spend it on things like electronics or clothes that may be beyond the family budget. Saving money for expensive post-secondary education can reduce the need for student loans.

And with more and more young people struggling to get full-time jobs after graduation, the most valuable spin-off from part-time work could be networking opportunities and great references that give them toe-hold on the ladder to future success.

Saskatchewan ombudsman fights for your rights

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen
Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Saskatchewan Ombudsman and Public Disclosure Commissioner Mary McFadyen for savewithpsp.com. She assumed these positions on April 4th, 2014.

Prior to returning to her home province of Saskatchewan to serve in this capacity, Ms. McFadyen was Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada and before that, Director General Legal Services for the office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defense and Canadian Forces.

She has a Law Degree from the University of Saskatchewan and an LLM. from the University of London, the London School of Economics.

Today we’re going to talk about her role as Ombudsman, when her office can and can’t help you, and some examples of cases and investigations conducted by her office, including a recent report about the care provided to Mary Warholm.

Thank you for joining me today, Mary. 

Thank you very much for having me.

Q: Now what exactly is an Ombudsman?
A: Well, an Ombudsman is an independent, impartial public official who has the authority and the responsibility to receive and investigate or formally address complaints about government actions, omissions and decisions. When appropriate they can also make findings, recommendations and publish reports.

Q: So tell me a little bit about the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan and the problems your office can help provincial residents resolve.
A: Well, the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan is to take complaints about government actions, decisions or omissions that affect people personally. Most of the government institutions like the Ministries, the Crown corporations, the agencies and the boards fall under our jurisdiction.

We have very wide powers of investigation and we have the ability to talk to anybody to get any documents to determine whether or not the decision was fair or if we can recommend or suggest that it be changed because it was not fair.

Q: You’re primarily provincial. What complaints and government concerns can you not deal with?
A: We can’t deal with anything that’s in the federal jurisdiction or private interest between citizens of a private nature. That’s for the courts. There are very few provincial organizations that do not fall under our jurisdiction but there are some. Rural and urban municipalities are examples of areas that do not fall under our jurisdiction.

Q: If a Saskatchewan resident wants to file a complaint with your office, what is the process they have to follow and is there anything they should do first?
A: Usually an Ombudsman office is one of last resort, which means that people should try to work out the problem that they have with the institution that they have issues with. For example, most organizations have some kind of customer service or complaint resolution office already in their office and those offices are there to hopefully resolve people’s problems to their satisfaction so they don’t need to call us. Those situations should work themselves out. Otherwise we can help.

Q: So do all complaints get investigated and resolved?
A: Out of the complaints that we get (about 2,500 a year) we estimate that about 80% we deal with at the first instance, within a couple weeks. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding between what someone heard and what they think someone said to them. About 20% of complaints would actually go on to be investigated in our office.

Q: And how long would they take?
A: Well, our objective is to get 90% of our files closed within 90 days and we’re pretty good at meeting that. We try to do the big investigations within six months like we did with the recently Margaret Warholm case. Sometimes, depending on a lot of circumstances it can take longer. But we do try to be timely.

Q: So you’ve got offices in Regina and Saskatoon, but I notice you took a road trip to Kindersley and Meadow Lake at the beginning of the year. Was there a particular reason you traveled to these towns or do you regularly set up appointments throughout the province to meet complainants?
A: Well, one of the goals when I was appointed is I wanted to have a look at where complaints come from throughout the province because not everybody lives in Regina and Saskatoon. That was the reason for our road trips to Meadow Lake and to Kindersley.

Q: Interesting. In April of this year, you filed your first annual report. Can you give me examples of a few cases of unfairness that your office investigated and resolved?
A: This year there was a case that very much attracted the public’s interest. It was a senior citizen who had a direct debit to pay her SaskEnergy account.

Every month the bill came and it was paid directly from her checking account. And this went on for ten years. She didn’t really pay much attention to it but she just knew that it got paid. And then after ten years she got a letter from SaskEnergy saying that she now owed $13,000 immediately.

Q: Wow…
A: So that was a lot and as a result she contacted us. What had happened was the pre-authorized payments had been coming out of somebody else’s account for over ten years.

The other person died and when his estate was settled the executor found this mistake and contacted SaskEnergy realizing that this money had been paid someone else’s bills. So we looked at it and we agreed that it was obvious that this person did owe the money and that SaskEnergy did have the right to collect it.

But we tried to resolve the problem in the best way possible for her. It ended up that SaskEnergy agreed to a smaller lump sum because they understood that they had some responsibility as well because it had been going on for ten years. So the complainant who came to our office paid the lump sum and was very happy to have the issue resolved.

Q: Interesting. Now in mid May of this year, your report “Taking Care, An Ombudsman Investigation Into the Care Provided to Margaret Warholm While a Resident at the Santa Maria Senior Citizen’s Home” was tabled in the legislature and the report included 19 recommendations. What triggered this investigation? What was the issue here?
A: Well, what triggered this investigation is that back in November of 2014 Mrs. Warholm’s family actually went public with concerns about their mother’s care while she was a resident at Santa Maria. They had tried to get information after she died about her care and they found that the answers they received from Santa Maria were not satisfactory and they went to the legislature to express their concerns. The Minister of Health referred the matter to our office for investigation.

In Saskatchewan we have standards of care in the regulations that all long-term care homes must follow when they’re providing care. So we looked at the care Margaret care received when she was at the home and including her bed format, her pain management, nutrition and hydration.

We made ten recommendations directly to Santa Maria that they had to implement. One covered the care of bed sores, because her bed sores were very, very severe.

When we announced we were doing this investigation we got about 89 calls from all over the province, which led us to believe these were not issues for just one long-term care facility within just one health region.  People weren’t sure where to complain and if they did complain they were afraid that there may be reprisal against their loved ones and they wouldn’t be properly cared for.

When we looked at how the whole long term care system works in Saskatchewan we found about 100 care standards that the Ministry of Health has enacted that all long-term care facilities are to follow. Throughout this whole system there was actually nobody monitoring or making sure that the standards of care were actually being met.

Q: That’s frightening because we’re all going to be there eventually.
A: It is. That is a very good point because we did make recommendations that the Ministry of Health and the health regions have to make sure that people actually understand what it means and that the homes are actually putting processes in place to make sure that they are meeting the standards of care for each resident.

Because we had a really tight time frame for doing this investigation, there were lots of things that were mentioned to us that we just did not have an opportunity to look at, nor necessarily was my role to do so as an Ombudsman.

The last recommendation that we made was that they really have to determine what the future needs of long term care patients in Saskatchewan are and come up with a plan to address it because, you’re right, we’re all getting older and because this problem is not going to go away, it needs to be tackled.

Q: So how do you enforce your recommendations?
A: Well, as an Ombudsman we only make recommendations. But in this case, we notified the organizations, the Ministry, the health regions, and Santa Maria that we will follow up within six months to see how they’re progressing with the recommendations.

One of the benefits of being an Ombudsman is we do have the power to go public with what we recommend. Lots of times just shining attention on an issue is enough to get the government moving on something.

Q: That sounds like you’ve made a tremendous contribution to the province and if you can keep the heat on….
A: Yes, I think it was. We tried to write our report so that it was very reader-friendly.  Our goal was  to set out some very basic information about how long-term care works in the province to facilitate a good discussion about going forward and how we’re going to tackle this issue.

Q: Well, that’s really interesting. Thank you very much, Mary for talking to me today.
A: You’re welcome.

Apr 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

There were several interesting provincial budgets this week with provisions impacting the cost of health care for seniors.

The Saskatchewan budget removed 6,000 seniors from the province’s drug plan. Previously the threshold of $80,255 was the cutoff for the drug plan. Anyone with a taxable income in excess of that amount was not eligible for the program. Now, the threshold will be lowered to $65,515.

The Alberta budget added a new Health Care Contribution Levy payable through the income tax system that will cost each Albertan up to $1,000 per year. Coverage and eligibility for provincial public health care programs remain unchanged. Unlike the previous Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan premium eliminated after 2008 that was a flat fee for individuals, the Levy has a progressive structure (See Table at p.87). Each member of a family filing an income tax return who has income over $50,000 will be subject to the levy and seniors are not exempt.

On another note, Mr. Money Moustache, a Canadian blogger living in the U.S. was recently profiled in the Globe & Mail. He and his wife retired at age 30. He says A Lifetime of Riches is As Simple As a Few Habits. This means doing less pointless driving around in your car and making fewer visits to restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. He also says alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, TV watching, video game playing, procrastination, unhealthy eating, sedentary living, and unnecessary shopping are other habits that stand between the average person and a truly wealthy life.

On Brighter Life, Sun Life VP Kevin Press presents blogs that will refresh your understanding of employee pension plans and employee benefit plans. He notes that Canadians who do not enjoy employer-sponsored benefit plan membership are at a significant disadvantage because provincial plans provide limited levels of coverage. What’s more, your reimbursements for health and dental claims are not taxable. So you’re almost always better off if your employer sponsors a plan versus paying you a higher salary.

And finally, an interesting post on Our Big Fat Wallet about getting compensated for a flight delay. Dan booked his ticket with Travelocity and he was not notified when the return flight was cancelled. Fortunately, the airline re-booked him several hours later and he received a $100 rebate from Travelocity and $75 from his Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite card that provides coverage of up to $500 per trip for trip delays of four hours or more.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.