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In the waning days of 2022, Saskatchewan’s population has continued to rise to record highs, with 1,205,119 people now calling this province home.

Health Minister Paul Merriman announced the official population count at a news conference on Thursday morning, noting that the vast majority of newcomers to Saskatchewan have come from abroad.

“In 2022, we have seen a record level of immigration to the province, with 10,000 newcomers calling the province home in the most recent quarter,” he said. “That’s 22,000 newcomers this year alone.”

Approximately 3,000 Ukrainian refugees have come to Saskatchewan in 2022.

Serhii Burlak is one of them. He arrived in July, after fleeing western Ukraine. He said he’s been welcomed with open arms, and has felt buoyed by the long history of Ukrainians finding a home in Saskatchewan.

“When I chose Saskatoon, my grandparents told me, ‘Oh, really, Saskatoon? Your great-grandfather was there,’ ” said Burlak. “So it’s a family tradition.”

Dasha Zaporozehts also came to Saskatoon from Ukraine this year, arriving with her husband and “our daughters, two dogs, four cats, and a small suitcase for us,” she said.

After they “lost everything” in the war, Canada has given her family the security to start a new life, she added.

“Here in Saskatoon, we started life from a new white page.”

More displaced Ukrainians are expected to arrive early in the new year, as the government is in the process of planning a fifth resettlement flight.

“All hands were – and continue to be – on deck as our government, along with provincial settlement organizations, work to help impacted Ukrainians search for a safe and secure home,” Mr. Merriman said.

He is “very grateful to have such a quick-growing population,” as the province continues to face labour shortages, he added.

“Saskatchewan is ready to meet the challenge.”

Mr. Merriman said one of the province’s top priorities is finding more workers – internationally, or from elsewhere in Canada – who can help alleviate the growing stresses on every part of the health care system.

The province’s paramedic services are deeply understaffed.

While Mr. Merriman said the provincial government allocated funding for 70 more paramedic positions in this year’s budget – and more than half of those have been filled – the need remains significant.

“[Paramedics] are doing an absolutely amazing job in some very challenging weather,” he said. “These are very challenging times, and we’re working to make sure that their time in the emergency room and when they do drop off a patient [is short], so they can turn that around pretty quick. We’re also working on community paramedicine, where they can go to people’s homes.”

Hospitals and rural health care centres also badly need more workers.

This fall, a delegation from Saskatchewan visited the Philippines, where Mr. Merriman said they made 160 conditional offers to “very high-calibre nurses” to work in the province.

He said those new arrivals will help take the pressure off overstressed facilities in the months ahead, as more nurses arrive.

“We’re trying to get them over as soon as possible, but we have to stage them in,” he said. “We can’t bring 160 individuals over right away.”

As these nurses and other health care workers arrive, Mr. Merriman said the province is encouraging them to make their home in rural areas, where they are needed most.

“Rural Saskatchewan will be our focus, because what we’re seeing is when there’s disruptions within rural Saskatchewan, every body flows into the city, which can overwhelm the ERs. So we want to stabilize that. That’s the root cause of some of our issues in our ERs in … Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.”

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