Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt is back in a familiar spot.
NDP leader Ryan Meili shuffled his shadow cabinet on Tuesday, returning Rancourt to her old role as Critic for Social Services. The Prince Albert MLA will also take on critic portfolio positions for Housing, Community-Based Organizations and SGI.
Rancourt said she’s pleased to be back in her old role, especially since it comes with the housing portfolio, which she called a good fit.
She said increasing housing starts and pushing the province to hire more social workers will be her two biggest priorities as she takes on those responsibilities.
“I know those (social) workers really do want to work with these families and ensure that they’re getting all the services that they need, but right now their caseloads are too high and family members and children are falling through the cracks,” Rancourt explained. “We need to make sure recruitment is top notch and that caseload management is reviewed.”
Rancourt said she wants the provincial government to conduct a review of current caseload standards and practices. She’s hopeful there will be some movement on the file sooner rather than later, but added it is difficult to set a hard deadline.
In August, the Ministry of Social Services budget forecast estimated a $20 million increase in expenses largely due to increased caseloads in Child and Family Services. According to Social Services Minister Paul Merriman, in-home services and emergency calls, where a social worker provides care to children in crisis alongside first responders, are responsible for those spending increases.
Prior to that, the government increased spending by more than $12 million for Child and Family Programs in 2018-19. That list includes costs for things like extended family care, foster care arrangements, and assisted adoption and youth services programs, among others. However, it also cut funding to programs like the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement, which stopped taking new applications in July, and work readiness programs designed to move residents from social assistance to the job force.
“You see more and more families struggling and case loads getting higher and higher, with social services employees … not being able to meet the needs of these families,” Rancourt explained.
Rancourt said she also plans on keeping an eye on housing starts and the need for more affordable housing. According to an August report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Saskatchewan had Canada’s second-largest drop-off in year-over-year housing starts. Only Prince Edward Island was lower. In total, year-over-year housing starts dropped by 12 per cent across the country.
The Prince Albert Northcote MLA wasn’t he only critic caught up in the critic portfolio shuffle. Newly elected Regina Northeast MLA Yens Pedersen takes on the Agriculture, Environment and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation critic portfolios while Danielle Chartier takes on Mental Health and Addictions. Vicki Mowat is the NDP’s new Health Critic while Trent Wotherspoon will serve as the new Finance Critic.