Monday was the first sitting legislature day for the province’s two new party leaders, and in comments made to reporters, it’s clear the focus will be much of the same, but the approach may be a little different.
NDP leader Ryan Meili spoke with reporters about his priorities Monday afternoon, while Premier Scott Moe spoke about his government’s plan following his Friday meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
With the changes to the parties, there is one thing that remains the same – the Saskatchewan Party is the government, and passes legislation including budgets and the NDP is the opposition, charged with holding the government to account. The roles are clear, and the leaders are confident in their roles.
“The opposition has a job to do and the government has a job to do, and we feel we have a strong mandate to deliver on the foundations of what we ran on in 2016, and what our party stands for,” Moe said.
“We’re looking forward to starting that this spring under our leadership.”
Moe was responding to criticism from Meili that he doesn’t have a mandate, and that he should call an election. But Moe remained firm, arguing the mandate given the government in the 2016 general election was very clear.
“We have a party that will remained focused on the growth … of the value of our exports, the economy, jobs across the province, as well as the growth of our population, and doing it in a fiscally sustainable manner,” the newly-chosen premier said.
“(We will) ensure that when we come forward with a commitment, we’re able to follow through with that commitment and fund that commitment.”
That mandate, plus providing services Saskatchewan people have come to rely on, will remain the focus of government heading into the budget, Moe said.
“That’s exactly the mandate I will deliver on, and this same team will deliver on into the future.”
First up, the budget. That document, which sets out the spending and funding formula for the next fiscal year, will be delivered in April. Both parties will be watching closely to see what it contains.
“There will be a real focus on the budget we’re bringing forward, as we’re in year two of our plan to balance the budget on behalf of the people of the province of Saskatchewan,” Moe said.
‘It’s important to note that we do have a three year plan and we remain on track to achieve that plan within those three years.”
The budget, he said, will contribute to the overarching goals of growing the economy and ensuring a competitive business environment.
But Meili and the NDP have some concerns.
“I think we just need to show very clearly that the Saskatchewan NDP is ready to point out the flaws of the Sask. Party and be ready for this upcoming budget, which everything signals is going to be another austerity budget,” the newly-chosen Leader of the Opposition said.
He mentioned cuts that he says slow down the economy. The NDP, Meili indicated, would point to where they would go instead if they were in power.
He took particular issue with Moe’s plans to further cut public sector jobs and/or wages.
“This commitment to cut 1,200 jobs, that’s a very strange way to pay for taking the PST off certain types of insurance,” he said.
“That doesn’t signal a good understanding of economic management. Past experiences cutting civil servants hasn’t saved money, and doesn’t take any pressure off necessary public services. It hurts people in the short term, there’s no evidence it helps managing the budget, and certainly not stimulating the economy.”
His main focus, he said, would be to ensure cuts don’t effect the most vulnerable. Instead, he would encourage the Sask. Party to invest in areas that grow the economy while taking care of people, such as early childhood development. Meili also suggested the government take a look at resource royalty structures and corporate tax rates.
The two leaders have drastically different styles from their predecessors. Neither were particularly known for heckling in the house of commons, and both have said they will seek to build consensus when possible. Both were questioned on their demeanour and whether it will carry over into the legislature.
“My focus has always been on the ideas and the issues,”Meili said.
“I’m going to continue to be there making sure we’re asking very difficult questions, and making sure the premier has to respond to his actions and the actions of his government. I think that can be largely done with questions.”
Moe said anytime there’s just one new party leader, different dynamics emerge. With two, there will definitely be a different dynamic in government.
He also touched on his approach. The question came from a reporter asking what his relationship would be like with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Moe stressed he will hold his ground on the government’s priorities, but acknowledged he might take a different approach than Wall did.
“I will be very collaborative in nature, but I will always call them when I see them,” he said.
Even without having faced off yet as party leaders in question period, both men found some common ground on a major issue affecting Saskatchewan — mental health and addictions.
Meili wondered aloud what happened to federal funding that had been allocated for that reason, and vowed to question the provincial government on that file.
Moe, who did include taking a look at rolling out the previously-developed mental health strategy as part of his leadership race platform, responded to a question about rural crime with an answer out of a page of fellow leadership candidate Gord Wyant’s book. Wyant, who was recently named deputy premier, spoke about a holistic approach to dealing with crime and drug addiction. Moe echoed those words when questioned about rural crime Friday.
He commended the RCMP for reaching out to rural communities, but said the conversation has to go a step deeper.
“We’re trying to open up the conversation around some of the root issues if you will,” he said, “mental health, drug and alcohol addictions in the province and how we can work and do better on behalf of the Province of Saskatchewan. That’s a very collaborative approach that takes more than just justice. It takes more than just policing and correction. It takes more than just health and it takes more than just the Ministry of Social Services. We have a number of ministers working together to see if we can find a way forward, not just to deal with it from the enforcement side, but to deal with the root issues of some of the crime that is occurring.”