Controversy upstages coming election in final session of Sask. Legislative Assembly

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post Premier of Saskatchewan Scott Moe gives comments in a press conference during the 2024-2025 Saskatchewan Budget release at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 in Regina.

Opposition Leader Carla Beck said the divides between the two parties are very real and, through emergency debate in the fall on the Parents’ Bill of Rights, the NDP “found its feet, found its voice.”

Alec Salloum

Regina Leader-Post

At the end of the 29th Legislature, little thought was being paid to the coming election or the conclusion of the fourth and final session of this current government.

Instead, the allegations made on the floor of the assembly by Speaker Randy Weekes occupied the forefront of discussion.

Nonetheless, the session wrapped Thursday and voters will head to the polls on or before Oct. 28 to decide if the Saskatchewan Party will get another chance to form government, seeking its fifth straight majority.

The final day of session concluded with MLAs from both sides on the assembly floor meeting each other halfway to shake hands, give hugs and say farewells.

Premier Scott Moe spoke on Thursday about the number of MLAs not seeking re-election.

“We’re losing people with such historical knowledge. They have experience. They’re incredibly competent individuals,” said Moe. “We are losing so much, but there’s much coming.”

The premier added that “we were all new MLAs at one point.”

From the current roster of government caucus MLAs, a total of 15 are not returning. Thirteen of them are not seeking re-election while two lost their nominations.

Two more MLAs who were elected to the Sask. Party are serving as independents and will not be returning. Two others resigned, one passed away and another, Nadine Wilson, formed a new party.

Moe fought back against the idea that the “wheels were coming off” the party and offered a recommendation.

“Don’t hang out on social media,” said the premier, who has made several announcements on social media, including his plan last fall to halt carbon tax collection on natural gas for home heating.

As for whether he’s concerned about once secure seats that now have new candidates vying for positions: “We’re worried about every seat in the province,” Moe said before adding, “we’re going to run on the plan that we released in this budget: the Classrooms, Care and Communities (slogan).”

Carla Beck, leader of the Opposition, extended an olive branch in her closing remarks. However, during the farewell, she made a point of saying that “some of those dust-ups we had, especially in committee … I’ve never been more angry.”

Beck said the divides between the two parties are very real and, through emergency debate in the fall on the Parents’ Bill of Rights, she said “this (NDP) team found its feet, found its voice, and it solidified us.”

“I’m very proud of you all,” Beck said to her team of MLAs. “I think this province has always liked a good underdog story.”

Polling seems to indicate slight losses by the Sask. Party and modest gains by the NDP.

However, when unfavourable poll results were published in February, Sask. Party executive director Patrick Bundrock said “we are doubtful that these poll results are accurate.”

The Insightrix polling showed that 49 per cent of decided respondents would cast a ballot in favour of the NDP while 47 per cent said they would vote for the Sask. Party.

The latest polls from 338Canada on March 16 project the Sask. Party securing 38 seats to the NDP’s 23, representing a 10-seat loss by the governing party.

In the final stretch of the latest session, the NDP raised issues of lobbying and questions about government MLAs benefiting from government contracts. This culminated in a formal request to the conflict of interest commissioner to investigate Jeremy Cockrill and Gary Grewal and their respective connections to Fortress Windows and Doors and the Sunrise and Thriftlodge motels

Moe said he believes all MLAs have adhered to the rules set out by the commissioner.

“If there’s anyone that has fallen outside of those rules, yeah, we’re going to have a serious conversation,” he said, not specifying what repercussions could come from such a finding.

Beck said she wanted to see Grewal and Cockrill address the issue on Thursday but neither one answered questions from reporters. As for the formal request sent to the commissioner, Beck said the premier “has those letters. I would invite him to read them.”

Weekes, who served as a Sask. Party MLA since 1999, expressed concerns in an interview last week about the manner in which the Parents’ Bill of Rights (Bill 137) was introduced and brought into power by way of emergency session and the notwithstanding clause. Weekes expressed his belief that it was a way to head off a rightward drain of party members and voters, and to appease the Saskatchewan United Party (SUP).

On that note, SUP founder Nadine Wilson, the party’s only elected MLA, has stepped down as leader but still intends to run this year.

The SUP is now helmed by Jon Hromek, who ran for the party in the 2023 byelection. He garnered 35 more votes than the NDP candidate and 22.7 per cent of the vote compared to the successful Sask. Party MLA, Blaine McLeod, who received 53.4 per cent of the vote share.

As the SUP looks to mount a more sizeable challenge this year, the party says it plans to run in almost all 61 constituencies, with Hromek reprising his attempt at winning Lumsden-Morse.