NDP leader Ryan Meili says Saskatchewan residents should look at Alberta and Ontario to see what another four years of Saskatchewan Party rule will look like in the province.
Meili spoke to media in Prince Albert Thursday morning before heading to a chamber of commerce event. He was in the city to meet with organizations and to attend Thursday evening’s Saskatchewan Rivers nomination meeting.
In a wide-ranging interview, he addressed everything from his party’s plans ahead of this year’s election to crime prevention and Prince Albert’s back-alley curfew bylaw.
One topic he focused on at length was the performance of the Saskatchewan Party and premier Scott Moe, as well as what he expects when the legislature returns for its spring sitting Monday.
“Just like you we’re hearing rumours of a potential early election,” Meili said. “despite having put in place rules for regular election dates, if they decide to go early the only reason they would is because it’s good for the Sask. Party. They put politics before people.”
Meili said the NDP is going to continue to “point out the flaws,” — he mentioned education and health funding, as well as economic struggles and the PST on construction and restaurant meals.
“Our job now … is to be putting forth our programs.” That, he said, includes keeping big projects in-province. He said the Moose Jaw powerplant project is an example of another project going to a big US company and of Sask. Workers missing out.
According to Phil Tank of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the premier refused to rule out an early election all.
“Our election is Oct. 26,” Moe said.
“That is the election date we have set. That is the election date that we continue to plan for. In saying that, the premier of the province has the prerogative to call an election at any point in time prior to that.”
He said other premiers have called early elections.
“That’s happened before in this province,” he said. “Four years for us would be up some time here this spring, but as I say, Oct. 26 is the date that we’re preparing for.”
The other thing Moe is preparing for is the spring budget. Meili said he expects some goodies coming residents’ way, but warned the document will be a “trojan horse” for what he says the party is really planning.
“I look at this budget … with a lot of skepticism. This is their budget where they’ll try to convince people that they’re not going to do bad things anymore,” Meili said.
He looked back to 2017, a budget he characterized as being filled with cuts to education, post-secondary, health care, the elimination of STC and the PST hike.
“That’s who this government really is. We’ll see a few dollars thrown at projects, we’ll see no major cuts. This budget doesn’t matter. It’s the 2021 budget that matters. People need to be looking to what’s happening in Ontario, what’s happening in Alberta, to see a preview of what we’re going to see from the Sask. Party. If they get … another four years, the cuts are going to be drastic.”
Meili said he believes the province will try to “spin” things one way. He said, for example, that an increase to the social services budget just means that more people are on social services, not that there’s more money for people in poverty.
“I think people should be paying not a ton of attention to this budget because this budget is a trojan horse of sorts for what they’ll really do if they’re re-election.”
Meili also criticized Moe or his responses to unrest, such as rail blockades and labour action, and difficult conversations surrounding topics such as Indigenous rights and climate change.
“It’s very complex. You’ve got folks who are anxious about jobs in the future, folks anxious about getting crops to the market this year. You’ve also got people that are deeply concerned about reconciliation and the lack of action. You’ve seen people that are deeply concerned about climate change. This is complex and difficult to work our way around.”
Meili said he believes there are answers that would grow the economy and create jobs but also include Indigenous people and reduce emissions while addressing climate change.
“Complex solutions like that can only be reached by people around the table. My call to folks on all sides of this is to get together and talk. That includes the folks who are protesting and blockading. That includes federal leadership and includes the proponents of projects. Make sure that people are at the table, trying to come to an agreement.”
Meili continued, saying “folks like Scott Moe and Andrew Scheer” and others “have been really trying to stoke the flames of this dispute.”
He said growing unrest is a sign that a different style of leadership is needed.
“One of the things I’ve seen from Scott Moe in particular. He’s of this stripe, the Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, the polarizing populists who are seeing a problem and saying ‘how can I make that worse for my own political gain?’ Instead of saying how can I use the political capital I have to bring a peaceful end to the struggles.:”
The said he was the same approach in the Unifor Crown strikes and the Co-op strike in Regina where Moe didn’t act, Meili felt, in a way that was productive by failing to meet during the Crown strike and by waiting too long to appoint a mediator in the Co-op action.
“When it comes to the railroad blockades, which we want to see brought down, he actually used language that inflamed the tensions further. This isn’t the kind of leadership we need right now.”
When asked whether he thought politicians were failing to have those difficult, important conversations, he also critical of the federal government’s approach.
“I think there was a role in the last three years for Justin Trudeau and his government to be active on the Wet’suwet’en file. They have given lots of talk about reconciliation and finding that balance between development and action on climate change, but I don’t think we’ve seen enough actual work and leadership,” he said.
“That’s something we have publicly called for and will continue to do. A big part of our approach is leadership that listens, that actually makes sure we’re in the room and we deeply understand. It’s so easy for people to see a headline, to see a tweet and make up their mind and pick a side, hate somebody else. But that’s how we wind up in a more polarized, more difficult situation.”