Legislature sits for last time ahead of fall election

The Saskatchewan Legislature./ Herald File Photo

Saskatchewan’s elected political parties have debated and passed legislation and argued their vision for the province’s future on the legislature floor.

Now, it’s up to the voters to decide.

After adjourning the spring session of the legislature earlier this year ahead of shutting much of the province down to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the parties met for a modified sitting over the past few weeks.

Over that time, they debated and scrutinized the 2020-21 provincial budget and discussed issues such as education, suicide, addictions and mental health interventions and the novel coronavirus response.

That modified sitting, which only saw 15 MLAs sitting in the legislature at one time and allowed both question period and committee meetings to proceed. It was the result of negotiations between the ruling Sask. Party and opposition NDP.

Friday morning, ahead of the last sitting of the current government, both parties put out statements touting their vision for Saskatchewan’s future.

The Saskatchewan Party touted their ten-year plan for Saskatchewan’s growth, released last year, which looks to increase the province’s population while promoting trade and further development of agricultural and digital sectors, along with increasing revenue earned from the province’s natural resource sectors.

Premier Moe said in a statement that his government’s actions have set the province up for years of economic success.

“During the spring session, we introduced a budget that will ensure our province continues on the path of growth while we manage an unprecedented health care challenge,” he said.

“The budget includes a two-year, $7.5 billion capital plan that will create thousands of jobs while preparing Saskatchewan for the recovery to come. Saskatchewan is well-positioned for an economic comeback. We have a strong financial foundation. We have determined and talented people. And we produce what a growing world requires — food fuel and fertilizer. I believe Saskatchewan will get through the current challenges and emerge even stronger.”

The government’s release also highlighted record funding for education and health care, revenue sharing increases, new long-term care facilities in Grenfell and La Ronge and $715 million to improve highway safety and efficiency.

The province also said it is set to establish three new trade and investment offices in Japan, India and Singapore.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed the basic fundamentals of the Saskatchewan economy,” Moe said. “Once the crisis passes, the world will continue to grow, and demand for Saskatchewan products will be strong. We need to be in a position to capitalize on that demand. The new trade offices will help us diversify our markets and help Saskatchewan exporters make connections with international buyers, which will mean more jobs here at home.”

 While the main focus of the spring session was to pass and debate the budget, other pieces of legislation were discussed too. The government moved to create a nuclear secretariat to coordinate nuclear policy and programs and plan for the deployment of clean energy small modular reactors. They also introduced amendments to legislation designed to protect the rights of legal firearm and handgun owners in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan also became the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact Clare’s Law legislation during this past session.

As for the NDP, they called the Sask. Party’s budget “incomplete and inadequate.”

The opposition said they spent their three-week session pushing the government “to put people first in education, long-term care and economic recovery planning.”

They spent time arguing the Sask. party was setting up for post-election plans for cuts and sell-offs, an allegation the Sask. Party has denied.

“Saskatchewan people, who have sacrificed so much in recent months, face a clear choice between a tired government that won’t be honest about their plans for cuts and sell-offs, and an NDP opposition committed to investing in people,” Meili said in a statement. “The Premier didn’t want to present a budget or face us in the Legislature. We gave the Premier a chance to present a budget and a recovery plan. He hid instead behind a cut-and-paste budget from before the pandemic that added no new funding for education or healthcare, childcare or seniors’ care.”

The NDP is pitching a complete and fully-funded plan for teachers and students to return to classrooms in the fall, investments in health and long-term care, and the need to release standard economic forecasts, which the NDP said “were noticeably absent” in the budget.

They also criticized the Sask. Party’s rejection of Cumberland MLA Doyle Vermette’s bill to develop a suicide prevention strategy — the first bill of its kind to be voted down by any jurisdiction in Canada.

Instead, the Sask. Party pushed their suicide prevention plan, which critics have said falls far short of what’s needed.

“With no new spending in healthcare since before the pandemic, this budget completely failed the people of Saskatchewan,” said NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat. “In the few weeks of session alone, we heard countless stories about people facing long waits for surgeries or struggling in long-term care, while the toll of our failure to address the mental health and addictions crisis continues to grow.”

The NDP said they welcomed the only new budget item, additional spending on infrastructure, but said that it falls far short, and criticized that there was nothing to ensure Sask. companies and workers come first when those contracts are rewarded.

“It’s clear that the people of Saskatchewan have been left with a choice – whether they want a government that will put people first or one that will continue to let people down,” Meili said.

Some MLAs not returning

While the two parties took one last chance to trade barbs in the legislature Friday, Premier Scott Moe also issued a statement thanking retiring MLAs for their service.

Seven Sask. Party MLAs and four NDP representatives have announced they are stepping down and won’t be seeking re-election.

“Politics is a partisan calling, but on both sides of the assembly there are people of goodwill who are motivated by essentially the same thing,” Moe said. “We all love this province. We all want to build a strong, resilient, inclusive Saskatchewan. On behalf of the entire province, I want to thank my departing colleagues for their sacrifice and commitment as we worked together to build a better Saskatchewan.”

 Leaving on the government side are Dan D’Autremont (representing Cannington), Nancy Heppner (Martensville-Warman), Greg Brkich (Arm River), Glen Hart (Last Mountain-Touchwood), Herb Cox (The Battlefords), Larry Doke (Cutknife-Turtleford) and Warren Michelson (Moose Jaw North). Warren McCall (Regina Elphinstone-Centre), David Forbes (Saskatoon Centre), Danielle Chartier (Saskatoon Riversdale) and Cathy Sproule (Saskatoon Nutuna) are the New Democrats stepping down.

“These folks are exemplary citizens who have never forgotten why they were elected,” Moe said. “It was a great honour to serve with them. I know MLAs on both sides of the house join me in wishing our colleagues the very best as they begin the next chapter in their life.”

Parties nominating candidates ahead of Oct. 26 vote

With the legislative business of this government behind us, the six registered Saskatchewan political parties are beginning to nominate candidates.

In town, the Sask. Party has nominated incumbent Joe Hargrave for Prince Albert Carlton and Alanna Ross for Prince Albert Northcote.

They’ll take on Troy Parenteau and incumbent Nicole Rancourt of the NDP.

As for surrounding communities, the Saskatchewan Rivers riding will see Sask. Party incumbent Nadine Wilson take on NDP nominee Lyle Whitefish.

Premier Scott Moe will return as the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Rosthern-Shellbrook. He’s the only candidate nominated so far in that riding.

The Batoche riding will see former MLA Lon Borgerson take on incumbent Delbert Kirsch. East of that race, the Melfort riding will pit incumbent Todd Goudy against Lorne Schroeder. The two recently faced off in a byelection, with Goudy coming away with the victory.

While the province’s Liberal, Green and Progressive Conservative parties have all begun nominating candidates, none have been named for nearby ridings.

The province will also have a new party on the ballot this election, the Wexit Saskatchewan party.

The provincial election will be held on October 26.